Gay Representation on TV ~ Outside the Margins with Sue Brown

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I wrote this blog post a couple of years ago and I’m proud of it. As I’ve struggled to find a non-ranty issue (seriously, I’ve been very ranty over the last few days) I thought I’d show this post some love again.

I grew up in the UK in the 1970s and 80s, pre AIDS, and the era of cosy sitcoms, and TV programming that was naturally sexist, racist, and definitely homophobic. As a society I’m not sure we were ready to be aware of how wrong that was. Political correctness, diversity training, and equal opportunities… the seeds were sown but it hadn’t made it as far as the BBC. This was the era that was shocked at women newsreadersAngry of Tunbridge Wells  wrote angry letters to the Radio Times and Points of View expressing their displeasure as frivolous ‘gels’ attempting to read the news. Of course, once we got a female Prime Minister, who had steel balls, their arguments were sealed in a lead coffin and dropped into the nearest ocean.


Okay, I have set the scene and I want to talk about three programmes that had an effect on me. I grew up with images of gay people as camp, effeminate people, such as John Inman in Are You Being Served? or Melvin Hayes in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Although the characters sexual orientation was never explicitly mentioned, the limp wrists and mincing walk screamed queer. They were much loved characters by the nation. Middle-aged women wanted to hug them. The characters (and the actors) were cosy and the acceptable face of homosexuality because you could laugh at them and with them. They weren’t real, they didn’t have partners or lives. You didn’t see them being hugged or kissed. They were always alone, and that made them acceptable to the viewing public. “Inman reported that four or five members of the group Campaign for Homosexual Equality picketed one of his shows in protest as they believed his persona did not help their cause. Inman said that ‘they thought I was over exaggerating the gay character. But I don’t think I do. In fact there are people far more camp than Mr. Humphries walking around this country. Anyway, I know for a fact that an enormous number of viewers like Mr. Humphries and don’t really care whether he’s camp or not. So far from doing harm to the homosexual image, I feel I might be doing some good.'” (from Wikipedia – don’t shoot me)

As a kid, and then a teenager, I never thought about gay people at all, except as they were portrayed on the TV. I can remember certain landmarks that changed my opinion. The moments when I realised that gay people… I say people, I mean men. I wasn’t even aware of lesbians… weren’t all mincing and limp-wristed flamboyant characters. As with heterosexuals, gay people were ‘human’. When you look at my first example you are probably going to roll your eyes.


Brideshead Revisited was the huge drama of 1981. Before you say, did you see Sebastian? He was effeminate. He was… but he wasn’t. And Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons together were hot! Hey, I was fourteen years old, give me a break. Teenage girls wet their knickers over these two. I was finally seeing two men together, comfortable in each other’s company, even if they were toffs and one walked around with a teddy bear. You didn’t see anything. It was lovie drama, and acceptable – just.

The real shocker came with Brookside and then EastEnders, who shock horror, had a gay relationship, and then OMG they showed them kissing. My God, the yuppie poofs (as declared by the tabloid The Sun) actually laid mouths on each other in 1989. The world is coming to an end. This at a time when Margaret Thatcher’s government was promoting family values and ‘the children might be watching.” Sounds familiar, huh?

It was a series of small revelations to me that a) it really didn’t bother me to see two men, and later two women kiss, and b) how much it bothered other people. Why? Every time there was any form of expression of gay love on the screen, Mr and Mrs Angry went wild.


The AIDS era programming was full of films of men dying with the most appalling of conditions. That is for another longer blog. I want to move onto…

The first time I can remember seeing a programme saying we here, we’re queer and fucking deal with it. Queer as Folk,the UK version bloody exploded onto the screens in 1999. I LOVED it. It took no prisoners and Mr and Mrs Angry could go forth and multiply (in the missionary position of course). This was about celebrating being gay. No tentative kisses, no cosy queens. This was full on in-your-face being gay, the good, the bad and the bloody gorgeous. Was it good for gay people? Is it a responsibility a programme should have to bear?

Russell T. Davies, the creator on the subject.

“A gay teacher told me that Nathan inspired a 15-year-old boy at his school to come out. (Good.) In the yard, he was beaten up so severely, he had his cheekbones crushed. (Bad.) The teacher was so shocked that he and other staff members came out. (Good.) They formed a policy against homophobic bullying, to the extent that the word “gay” is no longer used as an insult in that school. (Good.) But weigh it up. Do three Goods cancel one Bad? Is that policy worth that kid’s face?”

Since QAF there have been many depictions of gay characters on TV. Most soaps have gay storylines, and wow, lesbians have made an appearance. Bisexuals and transgender people are pretty much non-existent, but that reflects current thinking to some extent. Are gays reflected positively in programmes now? I don’t know, I don’t watch TV anymore. I am not the person to ask. I do know since Channel 4 stopped making and showing them, gay movies on mainstream TV are virtually non-existent.

We have moved on from Mr Humphries. When I wrote this blog originally I say that openly gay people are shown on TV with relationships, almost I hate to say it, too cosy. I wanted the programme world shaken up again so that Mr Angry could choke on his gin and tonic once more.  Russell T. Davies did his best with Cucumber for the middle-aged guys and Banana for the young guys.


Is that it? Where are the others? Do we have to wait another two decades for something loud and proud?


~Sue Brown


Title: The Layered Mask
Author: Sue Brown
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publication Date: 07/22/2015
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Genre: M/M Romance, Regency


hreatened by his father with disinheritance, Lord Edwin Nash arrives in London with a sole purpose: to find a wife. A more than eligible bachelor, and titled to boot, the society matrons see to it he’ll be shackled to one of the girls by the end of the season.

During a masquerade ball, Nash hides from the ladies vying for his attention. He is discovered by Lord Thomas Downe, the Duke of Lynwood. Nash is horrified when Downe calmly tells him that he knows the secret that Nash has hidden for years, and that he sees through the mask that Edwin presents to the rest of the world.
And then he offers him an alternative.



“Good evening, Downe.”
Thomas Downe, the present Duke of Lynwood, smiled at the greeting from his friend. “Evening, Leicester. I’m surprised to see you here. The weather has been foul.”
Lord Leicester sat in the high wing-back chair next to his. They were the closest to the fire in the large study, and Downe appreciated the warmth after the chill of the winter’s day. “I was in London to see my solicitor. The rain was so heavy I’ve delayed my return to the country for a day or two. Can’t afford to lose another carriage to the mud.”
“Or the horses,” Downe said.
At the start of the winter, Leicester had been lucky to survive a serious accident after a landslip that had cost him a new carriage and pair.
“Or the horses,” Leicester agreed. “I thought I was going to lose my stable master. He was distraught after the accident. It was only the gift of Gideon’s foal that calmed him down.”
Downe smiled at his friend. “I’m only too pleased to restore calm in your household.”
Gideon was Downe’s prize bay stallion and giving his first foal was no small gift, but then Leicester was no ordinary friend. Downe would have given twice that to have his friend happy and laughing next to him.
Leicester looked speculatively at Downe. “If you don’t mind me saying, you look a little gloomy.”
“I—” Downe expelled a long breath. “I can’t deny I feel a little below par today.”
“For any particular reason?” Leicester smiled and murmured his thanks as a footman brought a pot of coffee and set it at the small table by his elbow.
Downe waited until the footman had poured the coffee and retreated before he answered. “’Twas my birthday a sennight ago.”
“Seven-and-twenty.” Leicester smiled. “I remember.”
“You always remember, my dear friend. You sent me a fine red.”
“More than one, as I recall. But why should that make you gloomy?”
Downe huffed loudly. “The Valentine’s Ball is in a few days.”
Leicester groaned just as loudly. “You think I don’t know? Charlotte and Elizabeth have driven me to distraction with their preparations.”
“They are coming?” Downe was surprised. Leicester’s wife and children spent most of the year in the country, none of them having a taste for Town.
“My eldest grandchild is being presented this year. They will be in town for the season.”
“I had no idea she was old enough to be presented to the king. The last time I saw, she was a mere slip of a thing.” Life was flying by far too quickly for Downe’s liking.
“To me she’s still a mere slip of a thing, as are you, my friend.”
Downe shook his head. “I am getting old, Monty. It is time I took a wife and started a family.”
Leicester frowned. “What brought this on? I thought matrimony was the last thing on your mind.”
“I’m….” Downe trailed off. In truth, the thought of a wife and squalling brats made him feel nauseous, but Leicester knew that as well as he did.
“Lonely?” Leicester suggested gently.
“Sometimes,” Downe agreed.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve been involved with anyone.”
“Over three years aside from the occasional visit to the Blue.”
The end of Downe’s last relationship had been so vicious, it had curdled his desire for another for a while. But “for a while” had extended beyond Downe’s expectations as he had dealt with the loss of his parents and his sister had been widowed and returned to the family household. The Blue, a brothel he had been visiting for many years, satiated his physical desires. The madam was handsomely paid to supply his demands and keep her mouth shut.
Leicester frowned, his green eyes fierce. “You don’t want a wife, Thomas.”
Downe smiled at him. “You only call me Thomas when you think I’m being stupid.”
“Or when we made love.”
Downe didn’t bother to look around to see if anyone was listening. They were in a safe place where they could be honest with each other. “Or when we made love. But that was a long time ago.”
Leicester leaned forward and took Downe’s hand. “Do you need…? We could go upstairs.”
Downe looked at their entwined hands. Despite the fact Leicester was fifteen years older than him, he was one of the most attractive men Downe had ever met, his dark hair graying slightly at the temples and green eyes framed by long lashes. A few years ago, he would have jumped at the opportunity to take Leicester to bed. As a young man, Downe had fallen desperately in love with Leicester, but age had brought wisdom and more than a little resignation. The attraction between them was mutual and occasionally flared into something physical, but they weren’t destined for anything long-term because Leicester’s heart belonged to someone else. Downe accepted their friendship as a blessing because Leicester had shown him how to be the man he was today.
He brushed the back of Leicester’s knuckles. “I am tempted,” he admitted, his voice hoarse in its honesty. “But it wouldn’t help. Not today.”
Leicester pressed a hot kiss into Downe’s palm. “I understand, my friend. I truly do.” He let go of Downe’s hand and sat back to signal for more coffee.
“If your wife is in town, will you be at the dinner tonight?” Downe asked.
“Of course. She has plans to visit my son. His wife is unwell, and she wants to check on her.”
“Will Asher be here?”
Leicester’s face softened as Downe mentioned the name of the man he had loved for over twenty years. They were the owners of the Gentlemen’s Club and an enigma Downe had never cracked. The love between them was passionate and fierce, but as far as everyone knew, they had never consummated it. They both had taken lovers over the years, yet their hearts remained only for each other.
“He will be.”
“I look forward to seeing him.”
Downe had been away from London for many weeks dealing with business interests at his various properties. He’d missed his weekly dinner at the club and looked forward to reconnecting himself with his friends. “Tell me what’s been happening.”
“Did you hear about Walsey?” Leicester asked.
“He was found balls-deep in some young whore when he should have been in Parliament.”
Downe wrinkled his brow. The Walsey he knew was a terrible bore and someone to avoid at all costs. “Deadly-dull, God-fearing Walsey?”
“The very same.”
“So he can get it up for a young filly. Good for him.”
Leicester’s lips twitched. “It wasn’t a young filly.”
Downe’s eyes opened wide. “He was screwing a boy? The old hypocrite!” Downe had been subject to many a lecture on sodomy when he’d had the misfortune to cross paths with Walsey.
“Caught hook, line, and sinker by his wife.”
“Where is he now?”
Leicester sobered. “He’s in Newgate.”
The amusement slid off Downe’s face. All of them faced the possibility of the same nightmare. Being caught with a man and sentenced to hard labor—or worse.
“What’s going to happen to him?”
“His wife is determined to have her pound of flesh.”
“Is there something we can do?”
“I don’t know, my friend. I really don’t know.”
They both knew that attempting to intervene laid them open to the same kind of charges.
“We should be extra careful,” Downe said.
“I agree, but that doesn’t mean you need to take a wife. Even at your vast age of seven-and-twenty. You have plenty of time to make that decision.”
“You were married with two children by my age,” Downe pointed out.
“Because I knew I could never have Asher.” Leicester gave a wry smile. “My wife is a remarkable woman.”
“She knows.”
It wasn’t a question. Downe had met Leicester’s wife on more than one occasion, and he knew that she was, as Leicester said, a remarkable woman, aware of where her husband’s true heart lay. She accepted it for a stable marriage, a beautiful home, two children, and many dogs. Downe knew that many wives among his acquaintance did the same. He didn’t like imposing that on any woman, but the alternative…. The alternative was Walsey’s fate.

It didn’t stop him being lonely, though.


The Layered Mask on Goodreads

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Amazon UK
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About Sue Brown

Sue Brown is owned by her dog and two children. When she isn’t following their orders, she can be found plotting at her laptop. In fact she hides so she can plot and has got expert at ignoring the orders.

Sue discovered M/M erotica at the time she woke up to find two men kissing on her favourite television series. The kissing was hot and tender and Sue wanted to write about this men. She may be late to the party, but she’s made up for it since, writing fan fiction until she was brave enough to venture out into the world of original fiction.

Sue’s internet links


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3 thoughts on “Gay Representation on TV ~ Outside the Margins with Sue Brown

  1. Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking post. I don’t watch much TV anymore – just not that many shows that seem worth giving up reading time. 🙂 But, I do love both the British and American Queer as Folk series.

    And, I think the question, “Do three “goods” make a “bad” worthwhile?” something that has to continually be assessed. It seems that history shows that “bad” often has to happen to get to the “good.”

  2. I still vividly remember that night Queer as Folk was first shown. I was like “holy shit, is this real? I have never seen anything more radical in my life. The content was such a massive leap from anything seen before, Not simply the sex, though that took all the headlines of course. But the details of the characters lives. The feeling of authenticity and the variety of experience and character types. Not just a single lonely gay guy in a cast of straight characters. It was very much a story of a whole community. It was amazing and still the bes thing RTD was ever done.

  3. Being British too, this is the world I grew up in, though I don’t remember Are You Being Served & Aint Half Hot Mum. Having read Brideshead Revisted & seen it when it was repeated on ITV a few years ago & it was beautiful to watch.

    I watched Queer As Folk when I was at university & it struck me as incredible – the representation on mainstream TV of a group of people who were otherwise marginalised or ignored by TV. It was glorious. Vibrant, new & exciting. RTD’s QAF was ground-breaking.

    However since then in many ways, representation seems to have stalled & there is an element of tokenism with gay characters now – all shows have them! In many ways that is ok as it shows there is a growing awareness & possibly an acceptance by programme makers that we’re not all the same. That said, there seems to be more representation of gay men than lesbians & bisexuals, asexuals & trans people are not represented at all.

    However, the stereotypes attached to gay characters in soaps/dramas are irritating in the extreme, as irritating as the stereotypes given to female characters too & not only in TV drama, but also films (especially) or books (how many books always have the woman as a bitch & the little girl dressed in pink? Drives me mad!!). I actually watch very little TV these days as a result. Does this stereotyping negate the characters we see though? Personally I don’t think so. Progress, albeit slow is happening.

    I watch little TV, preferring to read & I do think some of what I read would make amazing TV. A certain pair of FBI characters I’ve read 9 books about would make a glorious series or set of films & certainly push boundaries of stereotypes.

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