Friday, 17 May 2013

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia: Why we need to move on from Mr Humphries.

Welcome to my post for the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Please leave a comment here (on my blog) to go into the draw for any of my back catalogue.   Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17th) – their link is: 

Today is a good day to talk about the inherent homophobia in TV programming over the last three decades.

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 newsreaders. Angry 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. Openly gay people are shown on TV with relationships, almost I hate to say it, too cosy. I'd like to see a UK version of The New Normal over here. Mr Angry could choke on his gin and tonic once more. I want the programme world shaken up again.

Thank you for ploughing through my past. Leave a comment here to be entered into the draw for a pick from my back catalogue and don't forget to hop through the other authors


  1. Another really interesting post!It's so interesting to see how far things have changed over the years but a shame it hasn't gone further. Thank goodness for events like this to promote discussion!

  2. Great post, Sue! Hopefully more change will be on the horizon:)

  3. Great post! I enjoyed reading about the changes. There is quite a ways to go though.
    debby236 at gm ail dot com

  4. We do seem to have made some bounds forward, and as gays (hopefully followed by others of the LGBT community) become more visible to society at large, they will be depicted as they are in life - human, first and foremost.

  5. An excellent post, Sue! Thank you for sharing your memories. I assume we're much the same age, as I was identifying with quite a bit of this! :-) Especially the innocence (ignorance?) of our early and teen years... Not that it was entirely our faults, but I remember it taking quite an effort to even realise that there were 'cones of silence' to break free of. Thank goodness we did! ♥

  6. Thank you for taking part in the hop!

  7. Thank you for taking part in the hop!

  8. I enjoyed reading through your fascinating post. Like Julie, I recognized things as a contemporary. Things have been progressing.

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.
    sophiarose1816 at gmail dot com

  9. I remember being happily shocked that the US QAF was so much more explicit than the UK one (though I liked the UK writing better, and always preferred Nathan to Justin). Hmm.


  10. It was so interesting reading your recollections. Things are definitely changing for the better. Even here in NZ we have just had same sex marriage legalised. Yay! Your books rock Sue.

  11. There was a calm, and lonely gay character on a show called Soap. The character, played by Billy Crystal, was often the voice of reason. This was in the 80s?? I think? Not much progress since then...
    brendurbanist at gmail dot com

  12. Great post, thanks for expressing a backstory that I lived through, too. IMO I'd also hold up Modern Family as an example of a TV series (US) that has a gay couple in it where the humour and family dynamics rely on the sharp and witty characterisation, not the gay/straight-ness.

  13. Thank you for your great post. Thanks for participating in the blog hop!
    awindandbooks at gmail dot com

  14. Great post! I am now cataloging how LGBT people are represented in German TV. But I was never one to watch much TV so I might not come far.
    Please count me in. Dorome at gmx dot de

  15. Wow, what a terrific post!
    Here's to the day that we no longer have a need for a Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia!

  16. I can't help to agree with the boom that there have been a boom gay characters on TV lately and well before. I know I use to love watching Will & Grace for the comical relief and for the relationship drama. It is hard to find a show with gay characters. Such shows as The New Normal and Partner(2012 show canceled after 5 episodes) were good fun to watch until they got cancelled. Now all we have on mainstream tv is Glee and Modern Family. For those who have cable can probably enjoy Shameless on Showtime or in the UK on Channel 4.

    humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

  17. Please count me in. Another great post to help with the cause.


  18. Thank you for the great post! I think TV shows have a huge influence on people's opinions/perceptions in the way they portray GLBTQ characters. Especially for those people who have no direct contact with them. So it is a really good trend to see more, and more realistic gay charaters on TV. Watching those camp gays on early TV shows, many folks still believe all gays are flamboyant or effeminate :-( The "hair dresser" stereotype. So sad. So hopefully, new TV shows might change that!!!

    stormymonday AT gmx DOT net

  19. Awesome post, sue - I think I may already own all or most of your books.

  20. Hi Sue! Thanks for being a part of the hop. Do I want to be in your drawing? absolutely!

  21. I am one of the strange few - not a big Tv fan. I have one Tv in the house and it is off unless the hubby is home. I do feel that the Tv shows and news feeds have way too much influence with today's youth. If they see it on Tv it must be true - too many believe that. Thanks for supporting this great cause.

  22. Super post, Sue. John Inman and Larry Grayson are happy but very guilty memories, now I know how unsound they were. But I think that Julian and Sandy, though equally camp - "Bone to varda your dolly old eek" - are in a different league because of the clever way they played the system right under the snooty noses of the Beeb.

  23. That was an awesome post. I am too young and American to have heard a lot about the shows that you talked about so I learned a lot. Thank you for doing the hop.


  24. Thanks for the great post.

  25. I fell in love with QaF! Nathan, Stuart and Vince... sigh! :D
    creativebarbwire at gmail dot com

  26. Thank you so much for your post and participating in this amazing hop!

  27. I have always loved British TV and get my fixes from BBCA and PBS. BTW my local PBS still runs Are You Being Served late at night. Always wished Dawn French's vicar swung the other way. Thanks for hopping.

  28. Great post, Sue...I love that things are changing. I love that openly gay couples of all shapes and sizes are a common occurrence in today's media.

  29. Great post I grew up in the same era as you and loved Mr Humphreys!!! I also watched "Queer as Folk" WOW that was an amazing program loved it.

  30. I'm a Brit transplant to the US but I grew up in South Devon, UK and Are You Being Served? and Eastenders were my first real exposure to gay men. (Didn't realize at the time that the two men in my village that shared a house were actually a couple - found that out years later). :-) I actually knew several GLBT people my parents age and older. It wasn't talked about much (we're British, c'mon), but there was a general acceptance. My mum didn't treat them any different so why should I?

    I have a brave cousin who was "obviously gay" in the mid-80's. How it was a surprise to my aunt and uncle when he came out a few years later is a mystery. :-)

    I don't watch TV anymore, but I'm glad that more and more shows have GLBT characters and there are less in the lines of Mr. Humphries and more "normal". :-)

  31. I think the first time I saw gay characters on screen was in the old Melrose Place. He was a regular guy (Dough) with a regular life, and went through some homophobic discrimination (not all the time though). I think this had a huge impact on me in a way that I didn't think it was right to discriminate against homosexuals and that their lives weren't any different from ours.

    Funny that you should mention that the flamboyant types on TV weren't allowed to kiss and were only there to be laughed at/with. This was tackled in the USA version of QaF when Emmett was on TV in a news section of the "Queer Guy".

    eripike at gmail dot com

  32. Thanks so much for your post in this blog hop! Such an important subject. I haven't seen any of these shows, though I have seen the US version of QaF, which was steamy!
    OceanAkers @

  33. I really enjoyed your post. That's for being in the hop.
    sstrode at scrtc dot com

  34. Great post. I'm not familiar with shows from the UK (being from the U.S. myself) but I can identify with our version of QaF breaking down barriers. Sometimes I wonder if it was necessarily good attention since people seem to think that all gay men are extremely promiscuous, but it did bring attention to a lot of issues in politics and family structures and bullying and rejection and many other important things.

    I remember growing up and my parents voicing their disgust at even the hint of homosexuality on TV or in movies. My mother loves HouseHunters, a show where people are house-shopping. She still changes the channel when a gay couple is on the show. It boggles my mind...that is the most normal, relatable portrayal of gay couples I can think of!

    bloodandfires (at) yahoo (dot) com

  35. Thank you for the post.

    peggy1984 at live dot com

  36. I really liked your post :)

    Thanks for participating in this great hop!