When Mary Whitehouse used to say, “I don’t like sex on the television”, the traditional response was, “Well, why don’t you try it on the kitchen table, then?”. If she were alive today, she’d be turning in her grave. Sex on the television? When isn’t there sex on the television? I’m waiting for the first dogging session on Teletubbies – during which Tinky-Winky can let us know once and for all what exactly that handbag represents.
Most people I know quite like a bit of rumpy-pumpy with their viewing and, in these days of equal opportunities, gay people aren’t denied their fair share of broadcast sex.
Not that it pleases everyone, of course. The Daily Star has been having a fit of the 1970’s-style vapours over the Corrie gay story (see news item). “Get this filth off TV” screech its headlines between pictures of bare-breasted women and sordid exposes of film stars’ love lives.
Last month saw a plethora of gay love over the airways. As well as Todd and Karl on Corrie there was Adam and Ian going at it in a polytunnel on The Archers, and then King James I and his friend, the Catholic fanatic Thomas Percy in Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, took time out from blowing up Parliament to blow each other off. There was also Noah and the rent boy on Footballers Wives (conveniently condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who doesn’t seem to have anything better to do than watch rubbish on the box). We also received news that there was to be a black gay Christian character on The Bill (Christian? Now that is pervy).
All this is music to the ears of Liz Hoggard, who wrote in The Observer about her enjoyment in watching gay sex and her desire to see more of it – only hornier. “Why are male gay sex scenes on TV so disappointingly vanilla (Queer as Folk and This Life being honourable exceptions)?” she wanted to know. “Women love to watch decorative men tumble between the sheets together (remember, 60% of viewers tuning into Queer as Folk were female). It’s not exactly rocket science. If you appreciate the unclothed male form, then two at once is even better.”
Ms Hoggard says that a lesbian couple that she knows spends many happy hours downloading gay male porn from the internet. “PC lesbian videos are so tame,” they complain. “It’s all hand-holding and brushing each other’s hair. Gay male sex is hot!”
This opinion is shared by Lauren Henderson, an American gal writing in The Guardian magazine. “If I want to watch sizzling gay-on-gay action these days I hardly need to rent porn any more. Hooray! All that money and video store embarrassment saved.”
She’s noticed a huge rise in gay-themed shows in the United States, too. “It seems every time you turn on your TV here in New York, there’s another insanely hot gay couple getting off with each other.” She can’t help noticing a bit of an anomaly, though. “Fascinatingly, this explosion of gays being presented sympathetically on TV comes just as America is busy debating the pros and cons of gay marriage… And as every talk show host has put it ‘Gays should absolutely have the right to make each other as miserable as straights.”
Back in this country, even our own mumsy Lorraine Kelly used her column in The Sun to tell critics of Coronation Street’s gay story line to stop carping. “I believe the scriptwriters, producers and young actors will portray these difficult and controversial scenes with honesty and, above all, a bit of humour mixed in with the angst.”
Lorraine had to acknowledge that one in five voted in a Sun poll to say they didn’t want to see a gay kiss. She retorted: “I don’t particularly want to watch ANY Corrie characters playing tonsil tennis. I am still haunted by scenes of Ken and Dierdre in bed together which were screened years ago. Todd and Karl will have to work really hard to be as disturbing as that.”
Which brings us neatly to the gay kiss on The Archers. Before it happened, fans of the show were wondering how the embrace would be made explicit, given that its portrayal would depend on sound alone. In other words, how do you do aural sex?
The Sunday Express’ radio critic, Ruth Cowan, was waiting with great anticipation to find out how it was to be brought off (so to speak). “If the sound effects are anything like as realistic as the farmyards noises chances are we’ll mistake it for Linda Snell’s waste disposal unit going haywire.”
In the end it was described by Robert Hanks, the radio critic of The Independent, “When the boys finally found themselves alone in the polytunnel, the kiss was a quiet and tasteful affair – none of the prolonged ‘Mmmm-ing’ that used to be the best indicator of passion.”
I didn’t hear the episode myself but presumably the familiar tum-ti-tum-ti-tum theme arrived just in time to cover any embarrassing unzipping sounds or “you like that big dick, dontcha”-style dialogue. Overall, Mr Hanks was pleased with the result. “Broadcasting House wasn’t struck by lightning. Presumably the Almighty gave up on Ambridge morals in about 1989, when Shula had sex on a picnic rug in a field with a journalist from the Borchester Echo. If Shula goes, anything goes. At any rate, it’s nice that the Archers can now do gay without doing camp. Heavens, it’s almost grown up.”
Indeed, the actor who plays Adam, Andrew Wincott (happily heterosexual father of a 10-year old daughter, of course), told The Mail on Sunday that he didn’t know what the fuss was about. “Adam is not an effete queen – he is a rounded character – a hardworking farmer, but sincere and kind. I don’t think a gay man in love feels any different from a man who loves a woman.”
The Sun, in the meantime, kept on in its infantile way, tutting like crazy over a three-second sequence deleted from Footballers’ Wives in which anal penetration is supposed to have taken place. “Outrageous,” gagged the paper, as it told of the usual “storm of protest”. “The scene will never be broadcast,” the paper predicted, before revealing that the bumming would be shown in what is described, without a hint of irony, as a “behind-the-scenes special.”
So why this sudden surge in homo-sex? The Mail on Sunday thinks it has the answer. And it is, of course, the good old “gay mafia” – this time in the form of Shed Productions, an independent company that makes Footballers’ Wives (“with its brutality and displays of lesbian sex”).
“Shed Productions is establishing itself as the leading purveyor of prime-time sex,” wrote Angello Johnson, in The Mail on Sunday, “indeed, its next project will further cement this reputation. The aptly named Bombshell is an ITV drama about Army life which promises to expose widespread homosexuality in the ranks.”
Shed Productions, the paper reveals, is run by four “proudly and openly gay friends” – Eileen Gallagher, Brian Park, Ann McManus and Maureen Chadwick. All had worked at Granada Television with the man who came up with the idea for Footballers’ Wives, Paul Marquess, now head of drama at Thames Television. “Together they form an influential clique whose imprint is visible across commercial television. They have been involved in writing and producing many soap operas, including Coronation Street, Brookside, Family Affairs and The Bill – all of which have introduced gay storylines.”
Mike Hollingsworth, a former director of programmes at TV-am and a critic of the present pushing of boundaries, is quoted in the article as saying “It’s no surprise to hear people say that Shed is putting out its own sexual agenda. All sorts of groups are selling their views on television and I don’t know where it will end if drama continues on this road.”
Of course, some people think it doesn’t go far enough. Gay storylines make great drama. Gay life, lived to the full, is intrinsically dramatic and incident-packed. Could it be that producers are only now latching on to the endless possibilities and starting to explore them?
But even that doesn’t suit some people. Rupert Smith in The Guardian wanted to know why gay characters in soap always arrive with “a vast amount of baggage.” The truth is that all soap characters are weighed down with about 50 suitcases-worth of past mistakes. Without all those forgotten children, missing relatives and dark secrets, the story wouldn’t be sustainable over the long haul (remember, soaps extend for decades and sometimes, if the Archers goes on much longer, centuries).
Mr Smith makes a more apt point about Will & Grace, which started off as a comedy about a gay man living with a straight woman, and now seems to be about something else entirely. “It’s so hell-bent in involving its characters in stories that don’t revolve around their sexual preferences that it seems to have lost the plot somewhat,” he wrote.
Whether the current obsession with gaiety in broadcast drama is a flash in the pan, or whether homos are here to stay, we will have to wait and see.
But certainly, it’s nice to see our lives – in all their magnificent messiness – reflected back at us from the rackety box in the corner.