chapter  4
9 Pages

One queen and his screen: Lesbian and gay television


When the editors of this book contacted me to say they wanted to include ‘One Queen andHis Screen’, I was simultaneously flattered and alarmed; flattered because it was considered interesting enough to be worth unearthing and reprinting, but alarmed because it is not a piece written with a standard academic voice or swathed in the usual methodological accoutrements. It has, for example, no footnotes, and makes only the slightest, glancing references to other writers who have tackled this topic, so compared with some other pieces in this book, it could well look flimsy, whimsical and distressingly deficient in theoretical muscle. Yet I don’t want to apologise for how it was written, since it was originally commissioned for a book aimed not at an academic audience, but at a wider public interested in the social and cultural history of non-heterosexual life in Britain. As such, it sat in that book alongside a batch of similar overview pieces surveying lesbian and/or gay perspectives on other cultural fields (film, literature, theatre, fashion), a range of autobiographical accounts that considered the personal journeys of individuals (both celebrities and non-celebrities) and a small and only slightly poisonous bouquet of political polemics. Consequently, the tone used here deliberately minimised the usual academic trappings, and it would be disingenuous to deny the relief I felt in removing those manacles before squaring up to the keyboard. (There is a wider issue that could be debated here, if space permitted, namely the question of why so many working in what I fear I must in shorthand terms call the ‘queer academy’ remain so oddly, staunchly determined to make their writing as reader-unfriendly as possible.)

This chapter was written as a history – a brazenly selective one, undeniably, but nonetheless an attempt to trace some lines across the terrain of the cultural past. Years later, looked at in a different century, three things have happened to that history. First, the expansion (would it be too tacky to say ‘explosion’?) of representations on television of non-heterosexual characters and themes has meant that writing a single chapter of this type is probably all but impossible today. I was pushing my luck writing this survey in the first half of the 1990s, as the essay itself acknowledges, but where could one start now? How could I find room for

Big Brother ’s predilection for camp men (and its almost phobic paucity of lesbians); John Paul’s doe-eyed tribulations in Hollyoaks (if only he’d found solace with Justin, as he did inside my head …); the post-queer, pan-sexual perv-fest of Torchwood; and the flirtatious gay/straight buddy-shenanigans of Alan Carr and Justin Lee Collins? Would there be space to reflect on the conundrum that the two most plausibly gay men in Will and Grace are Grace and Karen, or to tease out the power-dynamics of the drag queen special editions of The Weakest Link, where the only woman we see, quizmistress Anne Robinson, is the most masculine person on screen?