Gay Kissing and the BBC

21/06/2011 at 11:58 am (Gay, TV)

It is believed that the very first gay kiss on television has surfaced.  Dusted off and exposed, there are some surprising facts about this inaugural lip lock in the drama Columbe. Despite the fact that this is between two brothers – which is massively controversial in itself – it’s the same-sex kissing that is grabbing the attention.

The first of these surprising facts is that appearing alongside actor Richard Pascoe was tough guy Sean Connery.  Connery was a Mr Universe contender, footballer and Bond-to-be.  Another remarkable fact is the year in which Columbe was made, and by who.  In 1960, homosexuality in the UK was still very much illegal.  That is to say, homosexual acts between men, over the age of 21, were decriminalised in England in 1967.  This would’ve been an incredibly edgy production for any drama, especially for the two channels in the UK at the time, BBC and ITV.  And it was the now-perceived “old guard” BBC who shot this piece.

1960 was an incredibly eventful time for the BBC, primarily for the opening of Television Centre.  This was a bold, exciting new era.  The austerity of the 1950’s in the UK were still very much evident.  Despite the Birth Of The Teenager in the previous decade, from my understanding it didn’t seem to reach British shores in quite the same way.  Of course, Great Britain was to get its chance to shine in the coming years, but by all accounts 1960 in the UK was a very conservative environment.

If this newly discovered “first male-to-male kiss on TV, film or on stage” (Derek Fiddy – TV Consultant, BFI) was indeed broadcast, it would have been an incredibly brave move.  Yes, the BBC has broadcasted pioneering dramas in the past.  In fact, I think we sometimes forget what the BBC is capable of.  But as no one seems to have any recollection of the broadcast of Columbe (again, from the snippets of information on this story so far), how do we know it was even shown?  I would like to believe it was, but it would undoubtedly have received complaints – “Dear Auntie Beeb, queers AND incest!?” – especially with only one other channel broadcasting at the time. With no reminiscences about this at all, I’m dubious that it reached any living rooms at all.

Saying that, the sheer fact it was made highlights brave decisions. Not only to dramatise a controversial French play, but to perform it and make it too. That in itself is a remarkable achievement.  Let’s not forget people are still complaining to the BBC about gay men kissing in EastEnders. I still remember the outrage between the show’s characters Colin and Barry having a rather chaste pecking in 1986, which actually led to physical and verbal abuse against the actors in real life.

You might think the British viewing public isn’t ready for the Gay Kiss on TV.  Seems it’s been 50 years overdue.


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