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British Television  
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But the lives of gay people and the culture they were developing went largely unreported on mainstream television. Two series of Gay Life--"about homosexuals"--came and went around midnight in the London area in 1980-1981, but it would be another eight years before television--in the shape of ITV's pioneering Channel 4--would open the airwaves to a series "by and for" gay men and lesbians: Out on Tuesday.

Two huge blockades were placed in front of the free flow of non-problematic representations and depictions in the 1980s. The advent of AIDS once again drove homosexuality back into its medical-psychiatric problem box. The hysterical climate engendered by the disease and by increasing media-stoked fears about "recruitment" and "promotion" led to the enactment of legislation prohibiting local authorities from in any way positively promoting homosexuality in its schools or other services. This outrage--known as Section 28--inspired a group of lesbians to invade the BBC's Six O'Clock News to protest: a most un-BBC thing to do.

Despite its being created by a gay man (Tony Warren, who based at least one of its beloved female characters on himself), Britain's most enduring and beloved drama serial, the Manchester-located Coronation Street, has never had--and at time of this writing still does not have--a gay or lesbian "Street" resident or even a regular visitor.

The soaps that followed, notably Channel 4's Brookside and the BBC's EastEnders--both gutsy and relatively fearless-- presented a gay couple apiece in the 1980s: not always to the liking of the gay community or to the rabidly homophobic tabloid press. Questions were even asked in parliament when EastEnders' Colin kissed an admirer for a few seconds.

Gay men were not easy for British television. Most soaps were scheduled during family viewing hours, thus ensuring that any display of physical affection came under strict scrutiny. Such restrictions on natural, spontaneous behavior rendered any true exploration of character and emotion virtually impossible.

Lesbians, on the other hand, were much more to 1990s television's liking, especially in the wake of the Madonna-led "lipstick lesbian" phenomenon. As well as two well received literary adaptations in 1990, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (based on the Jeannette Winterson novel) and Portrait of a Marriage (which includes the story of Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefussis), female couples appeared on both Brookside and EastEnders.

The most durable lesbian has proved to be veterinarian Zoe Tate (played by Leah Bracknell) in Emmerdale. Bracknell first appeared in the role in 1993 and is still going strong, winning television audience awards for the character.

EastEnders tried again with gays: bisexual Tony Hills and his lover Simon Raymond debuted in 1996; the results were mixed and after a year or so they were written out.

With the relative easing of the AIDS epidemic in Britain, renewed pressure came from sections of the gay and lesbian community to depict homosexuals honestly. To fill the gap came a loud and proud late-night BBC series called Gaytime TV: commercially oriented, youthful, fast and flashy. The show was not to everybody's liking but it was sufficiently appealing to run for four summers.

The End of the Twentieth Century

By the end of the century, homosexuality was a staple in every British drama and comedy series. Every night somebody or other was either saying they were gay or denying they were; pundits and politicians were for and against; the issue and a whole raft of sub-issues were on every discussion program or talk show. Achingly predictable most of it and, ultimately, unenlightening because of the rigid parameters in which queer lives were set.

Like a comet roaring across a night sky came Channel 4's Queer as Folk (1999), a rambunctious comedy-drama set in Manchester's Gay Village. Unapologetic, taboo-tweaking, and uncaring about presenting a good public face, its mainly gay characters played havoc with previously acceptable notions of "homosexual TV drama." Written by Russell T. Davies, it was the Naked Civil Servant of the late twentieth century, spawning a sequel and a successful United States version.

The New Century

With Queer as Folk many gay men, though by no means all, felt that, at last, they had a television drama series designed for them: sexy, confrontational, and presenting complex moral issues in an entertaining way. To date, however, only one series peopled almost entirely by gays has subsequently surfaced: Metrosexuality (2001), also from Channel 4.

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