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British Television  
 
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The actor revealed many years later that the day after the play had aired in 1959 he was set upon by a group of elderly women on the top of a London bus. They attacked him with their handbags for daring to play a "queer" and in so doing to sully forever their image of him as a real man.

The BBC responded with some original plays and episodes of popular series, such as Z Cars set in Liverpool. In Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring (1961) the homo-emotional story of David and Jonathan was updated: safely, the protagonists become brothers not friends and one dies early in the piece. In John Hopkins' play Horror of Darkness (1965), a character played by Nicol Williamson tells another male, ostensibly straight, that he loves him. A few scenes later, however, the gay man slits his throat and dies. Off-screen.

Sponsor Message.

Throughout the 1960s, both before the 1967 Act decriminalizing male homosexuality and immediately after, homosexuality was an inescapable topic of television drama and documentary. It was a sure-fire way to provoke the right-wing press to foaming fury if the depiction was in any way sympathetic or encouraging.

In tandem with the generally liberal viewpoints and relatively diverse characterizations were the endless comic queens with flapping wrists and piping voices whose one-note coy rapaciousness found their apogee in Clarence, whose gushing come-on ("Hello, honky tonks!") to a straight man each week on The Dick Emery Show became a late 1960s national catchphrase and shorthand for queer-baiting until Larry Grayson's "What a gay day!" on The Larry Grayson Show and John Inman's "I'm free!" on Are You Being Served? in the following decade.

Homosexuality with a Political Edge

It was not until the advent of Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1969 that any kind of political edge was given to gay or camp humor. Owing something to BBC Radio's anarchic The Goon Show (1951-1960) and also to the virtually unrestrained "campery" of Round the Horne (1965-1969) with its two very "bold" gay characters, Julian and Sandy, Python put the boot into all kinds of establishment stupidity, including its hypocritical stance over homosexuality, no matter that it was now--in certain circumstances--legal.

One of the Python team, Graham Chapman, became the first popular entertainer to talk openly about his gayness, being interviewed with his lover in the inaugural edition of the fortnightly newspaper Gay News (London).

Chapman would remain the exception for quite a few years, despite the inroads made by the United States import, gay liberation. This wave of political consciousness manifested itself in various "access" slots. These featured gays and lesbians talking about their lives without the mediation of interviewers, biased editing, and shadowy lighting.

Mainstream television followed the gay liberation lead slowly and--doubtless because the dramatic possibilities of victimhood were being eroded by the philosophy of personal politics and "coming out"--reluctantly. Singer Tom Robinson's gay anthem "(Sing If You're) Glad To Be Gay" received its first public performance on a Sunday afternoon show for teenagers in 1977; and a comedy series, inspired by the success of Soap in the United States, called Agony (1979-1981) featured a very out and--in contrast to the other characters--very well adjusted pair of gay men.

The real breakthrough had occurred in 1975 with the broadcast, on commercial television (the BBC had turned down the project), of the life of "effeminate homosexual" Quentin Crisp. This was victimhood with a gay lib message: to your own self be true. The public response to The Naked Civil Servant, in the United Kingdom and in many other countries, was overwhelmingly positive.

The Naked Civil Servant earned awards for its star John Hurt and enduring fame on the talk show circuit for its subject Quentin Crisp. Its prestige did not, however, lead to other productions in which an openly gay or lesbian person was the lead character, save for modestly produced "single plays" of which Only Connect (1979) remains the most provocative and compelling.

This short play by Noel Greig and Drew Griffiths, former members of the Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company, centers upon the brief encounter between a gay student researching early gay rights activist Edward Carpenter and an elderly man, once a bed partner of Carpenter, with whom the young man sleeps.

The 1980s and 1990s

Big budget mini-series in the 1980s such as Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown did include homosexual characters--as adolescent crushes, aristocratic decadents, or pathological villains.

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