Growing up in the 70’s, the portrayal of anyone who wasn’t straight was far and few between. Aged fourteen, I knew I was gay, and longed to see some kind of gay representation on the TV. On one occasion, over the Christmas period, My Nana nodded at thetelevision presenter on screen and said, “He always works at Christmas, because his gay.” Her reasoning behind the comment was that he had no ‘wife and kids’ to spend it with.
Thankfully, around the same time the Maureen Lipman evening comedy series; Agony came to my salvation. Amongst the usual 1970’s stereotypes, including; the Immature, posh husband, interfering Jewish mother and ultra glam boss, were two gay men called, Rob (Jeremy Bulloch) and Michael (Peter Denyer). What was ground breaking for this light entertainment show (and a blessing for me to see) were two gay men who were, (hold the front page now) in a stable, loving relationship. I’m sure their portrayal later helped my nana come to terms with me being gay, and it certainly helped me feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. Even when the writers decided to kill of one of the gay characters (is there some kind of ancient media law that this has to always happen?) the blow was somewhat softened when Michael’s doppelganger (no sniggering at the back there!) reappeared as a gay Australian.
The only other gay character I could find back then was Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal) in the late night American sitcom, Soap. Although he was put through the mill, story wise, his character stood up to his homophobic father, which again was extremely liberating for a teenager like me. At he beginning of the 80’s, AIDS put a stop to any positive portrayal of gay men in the media. But then the soap operas gradually brought in nice but dull gay characters. First off we had posh boy, Gordon Collins, in Brookside. Unfortunately his most controversial storyline was to have a polite conversation with Sheila ‘I’ll smile when hell freezes over’ Grant, about the pink triangle he wore on his lapel.
Although the present uproar surrounding the Eastenders storyline to me feels justified, back in the 80’s, Middle England got their royal blue knickers in a twist, over Colin Russell’s (Michael Cashman) peck on the forehead to his boyfriend Barry Clark. The red top papers turned this innocent gesture of love, into a full-on aggressive front page homophobic hate campaign, branding the program ‘filth’, while rebranding the show as ‘Eastbenders’. Thatcher’s government also jumped on the band wagon of hate, where they discussed in parliament whether it right to show gay relationships as ‘normal’ before the watershed.
Since then, things have greatly improved. These days, just about every soap opera has at least one LGBT character. However, it is programs like Skins, Hollyoaks and Doctor Who that now ensure the younger LGBT crowd, no longer need to stay up late in search of a positive LGBT role model.