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British Television  
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Nevertheless, Queer as Folk's influence can be seen in the refreshing approach a series such as the revamped Crossroads (2001- ) has taken to its queer incumbents, who are involved in all aspects of the plot-lines, not just those dealing with homosexuality.

With the new century a strong gay and lesbian presence is making itself felt. Openly gay and lesbian people present a range of faces, voices, attitudes, and opinions. These include comics Julian Clary, Graham Norton, and Rhona Cameron; drag queen Lily Savage, aka Paul O'Grady; political analysts Matthew Parris and Bea Campbell; actors Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry; and pop stars Elton John, George Michael, Boy George, and Stephen Gately.

In popular drama series, a gay or a lesbian regular character is almost essential for a good conduct medal. In 2001 even the cop series The Bill began employing a gay police officer in its Sun Hill police station, sixteen years after the show began. Coronation Street is the only holdout: no gay or lesbian sightings in its forty plus years of existence. However, the series does feature a (male to female) character who was recently granted that ultimate soap opera accolade: the big wedding.

Not just one but two gay men were included in the second British edition of the wildly successful reality TV show Big Brother (2001), one of whom won the contest by a substantial margin; a lesbian had been a "housemate" in the first one.


British television's nearly 80-year history has, until recently, embraced lesbians and gays as Them rather than Us. With the rise of "niche television," a much more demanding gay and lesbian audience, and many more openly gay and lesbian people working in all aspects of television, an appetite for a more diversified and nuanced approach to all kinds of sexuality is surely about to be satisfied.

While, for some, British television has assiduously opened up dialogue and debate since the 1960s, for others the medium remains one dimensional and sensationalist, with gays and lesbians presented mainly as figures of fun, or mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

In truth, British television has consistently worked to broaden knowledge of the human condition. Many talented people, of all sexual hues, have labored--sometimes at considerable risk--to present a balanced view of a marginalized sexuality.

Television's contribution to gay culture has still not been properly researched or promoted, despite the best efforts of Keith Howes (whose thousand-page, three thousand-entry encyclopaedia of gay television and radio, Broadcasting It, was published in 1993) and of Stephen Bourne, who has presented gay and lesbian plays, variety shows, soap opera tributes and documentaries each July at London's National Film Theatre since 1992.

Despite the teeming and relatively welcoming queer landscape at present on display on British television, the innate insularity and knee-jerk conservatism of the British Isles should never be underestimated. For more than a few diehard Little Englanders, queers remain resolutely mired in the mirthful piping of Are You Being Served? and the dangerous depths of political agitation for more "recruitment" of children and teenagers as represented by the ubiquitous activist Peter Tatchell on news flashes and discussion programs.

Keith G. Howes

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arts >> Overview:  American Television, Drama

American television has made significant strides in its portrayal of homosexuals in dramatic series and movies, but cable networks have been more daring than the "big three" broadcast networks.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present

Twentieth-century efforts to reform British law and public opinions about homosexuality met with mixed results, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in recognizing the rights of its glbtq citizens.

arts >> Barrowman, John

Accomplished actor and singer John Barrowman has won plaudits as a musical theater star, as well as for his roles in film and television.

arts >> Boy George (George O'Dowd)

A pop icon with a rich soulful voice, Boy George, who fronted the band Culture Club in the 1980s, managed to survive homophobia, drug addiction, and fame.

literature >> Carpenter, Edward

Edward Carpenter, a champion of both women's and homosexuals' liberation, was one of the great socialist visionaries of England at the turn of the twentieth century.

arts >> Cashman, Michael

British politician Michael Cashman gained fame as an actor before becoming a Labour Party member of the European Parliament where he worked diligently on behalf of equal rights.

arts >> Chapman, Graham

Comic actor and writer Graham Chapman, a member of Britain's madcap Monty Python troupe, was in the vanguard of actors to come out publicly as gay.

arts >> Crisp, Quentin

"Not merely a self-confessed homosexual, but a self-evident one," actor, writer, performance artist, and wit Quentin Crisp left as his most significant legacy an example of courage.

arts >> Cumming, Alan

Versatile actor Alan Cumming has performed a wide variety of roles on stage, screen, and television, earning numerous awards for his acting and also for his support of glbtq causes.

arts >> Fry, Stephen

British actor Stephen Fry, who scored a triumph as Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde, is also an accomplished comic, novelist, memoirist, and philanthropist.

arts >> Gately, Stephen

Singer, songwriter, and actor Stephen Gately gained fame as one of the lead vocalists in the Irish pop group Boyzone.

arts >> Gielgud, Sir John

Sir John Gielgud has long been acknowledged as one of the greatest British actors of the twentieth century.

arts >> Inman, John

Acclaimed comic actor John Inman gained international fame for his endearing portrayal of the fey salesman Mr. Humphries on the television series Are You Being Served?.

arts >> Overview:  Interior Design

The career of interior design has been stereotyped as gay; although this stereotype often invites ridicule, it stems from a cultural perception that gay men may have special skills in the area of artistic design and fashion trends.

arts >> John, Sir Elton

Pop superstar Elton John's combination of melodic skills, dynamic charisma, and raucous performance style have make him a remarkably popular musical artist.

arts >> McKellen, Sir Ian

Arguably the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation, Ian McKellen was the first British subject to be knighted after publicly revealing his homosexuality, an event that proved more controversial within the gay community than in the mainstream.

arts >> Michael, George

Popular singer and songwriter George Michael, who confirmed his long-rumored homosexuality after an arrest for "lewd behavior" in 1998, has devoted much effort to AIDS charities since 1992.

arts >> Norton, Graham

A smash hit on British television, comedian and talk-show host Graham Norton has been out, proud, and outrageous from the beginning of his career.

arts >> Robinson, Tom

British rocker and activist Tom Robinson was embraced by the gay rights movement in the late 1970s, but became the subject of controversy in the 1990s when he chose to live with a woman and become a father.

literature >> Sackville-West, Vita

Best known for her relationship with Virginia Woolf and for her scandalous love affairs, Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

literature >> Shaffer, Sir Peter

British dramatist Peter Shaffer emerged in the 1960s in the paradoxical guise of the last great twentieth-century poet of the numinous who was also capable of writing commercially successful plays that could be turned into equally successful films.

social sciences >> Tatchell, Peter

British activist Peter Tatchell, a vocal proponent of glbtq rights since the early 1970s, is controversial figure even within the glbtq community.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Winterson, Jeanette

Jeanette Winterson's prize-winning novels exploring lesbian and gender issues have quickly gained a following not only among lesbian and gay readers but also among mainstream readers as well.

social sciences >> Wolfenden Report

The Wolfenden Report, a 1957 British government study, recommended that homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private no longer be criminalized in England.

arts >> Young, Will

The first winner of the British Pop Idol talent show, Will Young has gone on to achieve success as a recording artist and actor, while also using his celebrity to advocate for good causes.


Howes, Keith G. Broadcasting It : An Encyclopaedia of Homosexuality on Film, Radio and TV in the UK, 1923-1993. London: Cassell, 1993.

Sanderson, Terry. Mediawatch. London: Cassell, 1995.


    Citation Information
    Author: Howes, Keith G.  
    Entry Title: British Television  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 6, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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