A gaggle of gays in soapland
Actually I was at the gym and as usual casting a few glances over at the TV screens in front of me as I sweated and toiled on the cardio machines. I'm slowly getting there....but oh Mary, sometimes it’s SUCH a chore keeping fit!
Anyway, what should pop up on one of the screens but "Emmerdale" (which I only usually catch fleetingly whilst, oddly enough, at the gym - I'm not what you'd call a regular viewer) with two very handsome young men attending their very own civil partnership ceremony!! Wahey!!
One of the characters, Paul Lambert, played by the gorgeous Matthew Bose, has been a regular in the show since 2004.
Paul's hubbie to be, Jonny Foster, is a newer arrival, portrayed by Richard Grieve (who same of you may remember from years back in "Neighbours" as hunky motorcyclist Sam Kratz - another gorge fella! I think I preferred him with his fake dyed black hair then though, as opposed to his au naturele grey look of now...) Anyhow as said, the two characters became civil partners in last week's Ermintrude, I mean Emmerdale. We saw Paul and Jonny exchanging vows in a registry office and later attending a reception held for them by all of the locals (actually this was meant to be the proper partnership ceremony, but the story's too complicated to go into here) with everyone totally accepting and encouraging of their union. Perhaps a slightly idealistic depiction, but as I was staring up at the TV screen, watching two men kissing and being welcomed into the collective bosom of a small Yorkshire community as a bona fide couple, it got me to thinking, just HOW VERY FAR things have come in terms of the visibility of gays and lesbians in soap operas, not to mention many other forms of media.
Okay, so not everyone's going to be so nice the world over about being gay, as I was recently discussing. But attitudes are changing. There's been a veritable gaggle of gay characters springing up in soaps of late. In addition to Paul and Jonny in Emmerdale, we've got Sean and boyf Marcus in
Flashback to 30 or so years ago or so and it was a very different story. The presence of gay and lesbian characters in soaps, not to say dramas or comedies, was much less frequent. When they did appear they were usually sad and tortured souls and same-sex relationships were few and far between. Then as the 1980s arrived, things slowly started to change...
So, I thought that the ground-breaking knot-tying of two gays on prime-time TV was ample opportunity to look back at some gay and lesbian soap characters from the past to see exactly how far we've come...
I searched high and low on the internet for some info about him. The result of which was this rather blurry pic of Gordon Mark 2. So I'll try to fill in the blanks a bit with that thing called memory. Gordon was the nice but ginger son of the posh residents of Brookside Close, Paul and Annabelle Collins. (Brookside being set in
Flash forward a few years to the mid 1990s and the Jordache family arrived in
Anyway, back in soapland, daughter and university student Beth soon revealed that she was a lesbian and had a snog with a fellow neighbour, Margaret (on the right, above). Whilst this was a flash in the pan for Margaret (she soon went scuttling back to men) for Beth, a full-scale coming out was on the cards. Bigoted Mum Mandy couldn’t accept it but Beth was adamant…later on she had a relationship with female college lecturer Chris and then bisexual student Viv.
Beth was probably one of the most sympathetic and believable lesbian characters to appear on TV, much of which can be attributed to actress Anna Friel’s excellent, down-to-earth portrayal. I’ll never forget one scene on an Irish beach when Mandy tells Beth she can’t accept her daughter’s sexuality, protesting that “It’s not natural!” to which Beth quietly but surely replies: “To me it’s the most natural thing in the world”. She was a sensitive but strong girl who was also (luckily) attractive in the looks department and refreshing proof that not all lesbians are truck driver types with short cropped hair and dungarees. Beth was evidence that a normal girl on a normal housing estate could also be gay. One of the greatest tragedies of all was her untimely killing off. When the police catch up with the Jordaches for the killing of Trevor, Beth and Mandy are banged up in jail. Whilst undergoing trial for murder, Beth one night dies of a rare heart condition (oh please) leaving Mandy grief-stricken. And promptly became known as Beth Fag-ash. Whoops. Although Anna Friel had made the decision to leave the series, I thought this was a totally unnecessary, not to say cruel way of disposing of the character. Viewers and dykes across the country were up in arms, and rightly so. Still, Beth will always have a place in people’s hearts and her character won’t be forgotten. Sadly these days, all Anna Friel seems to do are cr*p ads for hair products and credit cards. Beth seems to have been the highlight of her career.
Played by the totally yummy Bruno Langley (seen more recently as the short-lived, out-for-himself Dr Who companion, Adam!), Todd was actually the first ever homosexual character to appear on “The Street” Considering that the Manchester-based soap debuted in 1960, it was about bloody time! The young lad made his first appearance in the soap in 2001. A mere teenager, poised to take his “A” levels until he got involved with schoolgirl mother Sarah-Louise and fathered her child. Gasp!
However things started to change when he became interested in Sarah’s handsome blond brother-in-law, Nick. Todd – double gasp! – planted a kiss on the sleeping Nick’s lips, only to be rebuffed. Pretending that it was an act of drunkenness, Todd laid low for a while until getting into a secret relationship with a male nurse, Karl Foster. They had an affair behind Sarah’s back and even slept in her bed! However Todd wanted to stay with Sarah and his unborn child, whilst keeping Karl as his “bit on the side”, something Karl didn’t take kindly to and he dumped Todd. Inevitably Todd was found out and confessed his sexuality to Sarah…Eventually he left for London though did return for a guest appearance a few years after, wherein we discovered he was having an on-off relationship with a guy and had finished his law studies, which was a step forward… Quite a well-done coming out storyline and convincingly played by Bruno Langley, who managed to portray the conflicts a father to be with a girlfriend might feel when he discovers where his true inclinations lie.
Colin was a graphic designer (that's him on the left, above) and also one of the first yuppies to appear in a soap (this was 1986), not to the mention the show’s first ever gay character (well, Eastenders only started in 1985 so this was pretty good going – unlike Coronation Street which took several decades to acknowledge the existence of gay people). Cor blimey, guvnor! Woofters in the square! Eastbenders! Erm, well fortunately that WASN’T the general reaction that Colin received in
And relationships? First off, Colin had an affair with the younger, laddish but cute Barry (on the right in the piccie above). This was almost a “father and son” relationship with Colin cast in the role of the mentor and Barry the acolyte. And in 1987 we saw the first ever gay screen kiss on UK TV when Colin kissed Barry on … the forehead!! … leading to a mass of protest from viewers and the right-wing Press. Er, hello?!
Unfortunately Colin and Bazzer’s relationship didn’t last, but later Colin met a fellow yuppie, Guido. The couple shared another on-screen kiss – this time, a mere peck on the lips! - which again caused moral outrage across the nation. Honestly! Things definitely have changed since then eh?
Colin later contracted multiple sclerosis and promptly left the square, another badly-thought out and insulting departure for a gay character. Apparently Michael C wanted the character to contract HIV but the writers decided otherwise, so he quit. Can’t say I blame him. However in real life, Michael Cashman is openly gay and a political activist; he has frequently campaigned for gay rights for many years too. Good on you, Mike!
Della and Binnie
Then in the mid 1990s a pair of lipstick lezzers arrived in the square. Della was setting up her own hair salon, Kool for Cuts (dig the name) and Binnie was a barmaid in the Queen Vic. Oh Arthur! Would you adam and eve it? Lezzers in normal professions! It has to be said, the actresses who played Della and Binnie were not especially brilliant but at least they got some fairly good story lines. Della was a bit of a closet case whereas Binnie wasn't and grew tired of all of the subterfuge. Finally Della confounded expectations and proved her worth by snogging Binnie in the square in front of a load of gawping extras. Oh, and there were some funny scenes when one the girls explained to the less-than-enlightened Peggy Mitchell "What lesbians do". The sapphic duo didn't last very long in the show though, mainly because the writers didn't seem to know what to do with their characters and after about a year they were packed off to
Oh dear. These two were not a pair of desperately convincing characters, probably due to the half-hearted, performances of the actors playing them. They were just a bit too ordinary and ... well, dull. Still, again, this was a definite move forward from mincing John Inman portrayals, proving the "everyman" status of homos. Simon and Tony were involved in another agonising "coming out" plot line, well Tony anyway, who couldn't decide if he liked boys or girls or not, thus causing Simon much grief. Tonyyyy vacillated between dropping his trousers for Simon and – to make things more complicated - Simon’s sister Tiffany, before deciding that it was Simon he wanted after all. If this all sounds a bit cr*p it was quite well done, including an episode where Tony, Simon and Tiff all go to Blackpool and Tony (ostensibly dating Tiff) reveals that he’s actually attracted to Simon and hesitantly kisses him. Eventually Si and Tone get it together and even an initially outraged Tiffany eventually comes round to this development. But then along comes a poodle-haired journalist called Polly (and the lady who played her lived in
Well I’ve rabbited on about our
Homosexuality rears its head in
Over the course of several seasons, Steven then attempted to prove his "heterosexuality" by "trying it out" with a string of women like Claudia and Sammy-Jo and even fathering a little boy called Danny, all to no avail. However much he tried to deny it, Steven was a disco-dancing, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy. Well, okay, maybe he wasn't quite so flamboyant in the slick and sophisticated world of Dynasty but you get the picture...
After a few normal occurences like getting blown up on an oil rig, undergoing plastic surgery and coming back as a completely different actor (above) Steven later gave into his true feelings and became involved with a cute guy called Luke Fuller (played by real-life stalwart gay actor Bill Campbell). Unfortunately Luke was sadly killed in the much derided Moldavian massacre plot line. Then along came a lawyer called Bart Falmont who turned Steven's head and in one episode the twosome have a hilariously homoerotic fight in a gynasium, though unfortunately no truly naughty shenanigans ensued. This was the problem with "Dynasy". It was okay to have gay characters but they were never seen actually acting on their desires, unlike straight couples like Fallon and Jeff or Alexis and Dex, who were constantly snogging and romping semi-naked all over the place. Even blue-rinse Blake and his walking clothes-horse wife Krystal were permitted to exhibit more passion than whiter than white Steven. Such was the period and climate during which "Dynasty" was made, I guess.
Steven actually left Denver and was absent for the final season of Dynasty, however he has the last laugh when he returns in the "Reunion" special, now happily shacked up with Bart Falmont in Washington! Father Blake comes to visit and - gasp! - has actually come round to the idea of having a homo son, and declares his change of heart on these matters. About time, Blake! The crowning glory for Steven comes at the very end, when the entire Carrington family reunite round the dinner table. Not only is Blake's ex-wife and arch baddie Alexis allowed to join in proceedings, Steven and Bart are accepted as part of the clan and are seen happily chowing down with the rest of the family. Homosexuality was finally seen to be embraced within the (primarily heterosexual) family unit! And three cheers for that.
Were there any gay or lesbian characters in the great state of Texas? Hardly any, according to Dallas. If memory serves correct, Lucy Ewing fancied some fella who turned out to be gay in the early episodes, but none of the regulars showed any leanings in that direction. Shameful. The same can be said of Dallas' long-running spin-off, Knots Landing. Doubly shameful! Especially as we got characters so OTT and camp as Abby. One would assume there were a few gay writers in there somewhere...
Meanwhile, over in
Prisoner: Cell Block H
For those of you who don't know, Prisoner was a long-running soap set in a women's prison, Wentworth Detention Centre in Melbourne and ran from 1979-1986. It had the p*ss frequently ripped out of it by critics and was frequently regarded as "that programme you switch on after rolling in from the pub". Admittedly it did fulfil the latter function rather well and I for one was hooked on the show for a long time (in fact, ahem, I've been catching up on lots of old episodes on Youtube recently - very addictive). And one of the groundbreaking elements of Prisoner was that it portrayed lesbian characters long before its UK and US counterparts (as Val Lehman, who played top dog Bea Smith, has been keen to point out).
So which flaming mongrels were dykes exactly?
A big, cuddly, lovable lesbian who arrived circa 1980. A bit of a hard case early on, but she mellowed as time went by. Judy was a cab driver from the US (so not a bona fide Aussie) and got herself deliberately put into prison so she could be with her drug-dealing girlfriend Sharon Gilmour. Sharon was a real manipulative madam though and soon "went off" Judy. Sharon also ended up dead several episodes later, at the hands of sadistic prison warder Jock Stewart, after attempting to blackmail him when she overheard him threatening another prisoner. When a gleeful and gloating Stewart as good as admitted what he'd done to Judy, she went on the warpath and organised a series of prison protests. Good on you Jude!
Whilst remaining a likeable character, it has to be said Judy wasn't so fortunate in the relationship stakes. She took a liking to a few fellow female prisoners but nothing came of that aside from wistful looks and a few comments. A few years later Judy fell in love with the ditzy but sweet Pixie Mason, who came to realise how Judy felt and accepted it, although she didn't exactly want to consummate things! When Pixie was cruelly raped and transferred to a mental institution, Judy wrote and dedicated a song to her - "Pixie's Song" - which actually became a hit when Judy befriended a pop star. Like you do. Although her sexuality did become increasingly neutered over her years in "Prisoner", Judy's character did at least show the "normal" and human side of lesbianism, which is considerably more than can be said for...
Joan "The Freak"
One of Miss Ferguson's most dreaded props were the black gloves she would don to give some of the women "body searches" (that's her on the left above, giving the unfortunate young Doreen a frisking). She also took a liking to the prettier female prisoners and poor Hannah Simpson is the first object of her sights. When Hannah threatens to tell the governor about Joan, we get a bit of an insight into what made Joan the way she is. She reveals to Hannah that in her previous job working in another prison, she fell in love with a young female inmate called Audrey, who reciprocated her feelings. However when the other women got wind of the affair, they killed Audrey, thus leading Joan to go on a bashing spree in revenge and turning her into the bitter and twisted creature she is now. Mmmm. A slightly simplistic bit of psychology?
When the women of Wentworth get wise to Joan's ways, they christen her "The Freak". Well, this was several years before the term "politically correct" had entered into general usage. But it's perhaps more than a little justified as over the course of a few years we see Joan doing many devious and nasty things and carrying out more than the odd "body search". And a few years later (circa 1985) we finally get to see Joan embarking on a proper a relationship with a fellow female officer, Terri Malone! (Oddly enough played by the very same actress who portrayed Sharon Gimour). However happiness in soapland is never eternal and right from the start Joan and Terri's relationship is characterised as an ultra-fraught one. No sooner have they moved in together then Terri's parents discover their daughter's "leanings" and reject her, leading to heartache...later it transpires that Terri isn't a 100% dyke but bisexual and brings home and sh*gs her male boss right under Joan's nose. Nice! The two attempt to negotiate an "open" relationship but it's too much for Joan to handle, and her and Terri soon split, leaving a desolate Joaney to take it out on the prisoners again. Whilst it was good to see Joan properly involved with another woman (actress Maggie Kirkpatrick had apparently insisted that the character was given such a storyline) this could hardly be called a "right-on" portrayal of a gay relationship with its portrayal of a neurotic and destructive affair. Yes soap operas are often less than subtle, but still...even Maggie K said that she thought it was one of the most cliche-ridden pieces of garbage she'd had to perform.
However much you can criticise the characterisation of the Freak - lesbianism equated with villainy is undoubtedly a very dodgy proposition - as said, Maggie K always gave the part her all and her portrayal made for rivetting viewing. And actually, re-reading what I said earlier, I think I was wrong, as the Freak DID have her moments of humanity, which came to the fore particularly during her ill-fated relationships with other women. And I forgot to mention Joan's father, Major Ferguson, with whom she shared a special bond and was able to show her softer side (slightly crude stereotyping again though - with a father in the military and an absent mother is this why she turned out to be a dyke?) When those aforementioned relationships went down the pan and her father died, the monster Joan re-emerged.
Well...I think it's time to wrap up this extravaganza now, ladies and gents. Of course there are other gay and lesbian characters in other shows who I've refrained from mentioning who you might have thought of. So tell me who they are!
And it's funny if you compare TV of the 1980s/early 90s with now. In the 2000s we had "Queer As Folk" - both the UK and US versions with their honest portrayals of gay and lesbian characters - not only in terms of showing healthy, well-adjusted individuals having same-sex relationships but also erm, what they actually got up to! It's a sign of the times too that we now have comedy shows like "Will and Grace" with leading gay characters. And of course the more positive, overt representations in soaps that I mentioned at the start of this post. A whole lotta history for gays and lesbians and a whole lot more to come!