30 March 2011

EastEnders: Colin and Barry - Gays In Albert Square - And The First Gay Kiss In UK Soaps...

In 1986, EastEnders introduced Colin Russell, a gay man, into the Albert Square mob.

Neat in his ways, armed with a Filofax and one of those trendy keyrings which beeped if you whistled for them, Colin was still subjected to homophobic bigotry by other residents of the Square. That guardian of Walford morals Dot Cotton was shocked by the "goings on" at Colin's, especially when he took up with young east-end lad Barry Clark.

Back then, Barry was "under age" too - he was under 21!

Michael Cashman, himself a gay man, and Gary Hailes, were excellent as Colin and Barry.

And soon that now reformed homophobe Dot was a good pal of Colin's.

The 1980s saw several very significant steps forward in English soaps, which simply didn't "do" gays before then. Oh sure, there had (apparently) been a shock confession of homosexuality from a character in BBC radio serial The Dales in the late 1960s, and its successor Waggoners' Walk flirted with the subject a couple of times. The first story-line featured a gay character who "reformed" and got married! Waggoners' second attempt - in 1980 - was more promising, but the BBC promptly axed the show.

Afternoon TV "drama series" (note: not soap!) Together (1980-1981) introduced a gay story-line in March 1981, not long before the series ended.

My memories of that are all very hazy, and the show, tucked away in the afternoon schedules, attracted little attention, only ran to two series, and soon disappeared - as did Southern TV, which produced it. Together had quite a cosy, traditional atmosphere on the whole.

Brookside was the first major early evening UK TV soap to feature a regular gay character when young Gordon Collins (Nigel Crowley/Mark Burgess) "came out" in the mid-1980s.

But, for me, Colin and Barry were special. They made me think a bit, opened my eyes a little.

With gay characters appearing in two of the TV soap operas, and many openly gay pop stars flitting through the pop charts, it was an interesting era.

AIDS was being touted in some tabloids as a "gay plague", but work elsewhere in the media was ensuring that gays were getting a fairer deal, and making many of us question our attitudes to the gay community.

Colin and Barry were merely allowed a kiss on the forehead in 1987 - which caused outrage, but in January 1989 Colin and his next partner, Guido
Smith (Nicholas Donovan), shared the first mouth-to-mouth gay kiss in UK soap.

Steam was coming out of the ears of at least one tabloid newspaper.

The whole Colin/Barry/Guido story-line was absolutely groundbreaking. I shall always remember the 1980s EastEnders gay characters.

They contributed to the phrase "woolly-woofter" dropping out of my vocabulary - forever.


entssouthwales said...

Interesting read!

Totally forgot about Colin and Barry - they were indeed good characters. I don't think Gordon Collins became gay until he "regenerated" into Mark Burgess - I a ctually have a signed pic of him somewhere in my collection!

Drew said...

Hello, Andy - from another Andy!

I seem to recall that Annabelle discovered Gordon was gay as part of the leaving story-line for the original actor, but would be interested to have further information on this.

Anonymous said...

I find it so strange that the lesbian kiss in Brookside in the '90s is mentioned so much, but the truly controversial gay male kisses in 1980s EastEnders are not. Truth to tell, a lot of people simply found the Margaret/Beth kiss titillating - especially men. It was pathetic.