Did The BBC Defend Eastender‘s Gay Bed Scene Just To Placate Homophobes?

Two weeks ago, in its primetime soap EastEnders, the BBC showed resident gay couple Christian Clarke and Syed Masood in bed. On Thursday it was forced to release a public statement to defend it. This means two things: there are still viewers out there for whom homosexuality is of such concern a nod to its existence warrants complaint, and there were enough of them to require a broadcaster to feel it had to respond. It won’t have helped that one of the characters was a Pakistani-British Muslim…

It is, however, to remind ourselves that homophobia does not just come in the extremity of thugs throwing punches in the street but the gentility of a bigot writing an email from their living room. They are very clearly different but share an entrenched ignorance at the heart of the matter…

The “explicit” objection is easily solved (even by David Cameron): if it fits within the pre-watershed guidelines, you’re good to go. Yet here’s the rub: the explicitness of a romantic scene is too often dependent on which genders are in it. A man eating a woman’s face will go undetected, but if it happens to be another man, the BBC must brace itself. It’s like maths for homophobes. One heterosexual heavy petting equals one gay peck. Or is it a cuddle? A brisk handshake? The EastEnders characters in question were simply holding each other in bed, but for some an act otherwise seen as harmless, romantic even, was seen as harmful and perverse. It wasn’t, it was said, an appropriate image for children. In contrast to the naturalness of straight relationships, it was something it needed to protect the innocent from.

These are not their children’s thoughts of course but entirely their own. They, who deem noticing the existence of homosexuality as damaging, when it is in averting their child’s gaze that they cause harm. Some of their children will be straight and left (at best) battling the confused ignorance their parent’s special brand of “censorship come outrage” have bestowed them with. Others will be gay and, sunken within the tragedy of an unaccepting home, will be deprived the smallest escape of another world, of seeing a part of themselves on screen and knowing they are OK.

Guardian writer Frances Ryan discussing the BBC’s recent defense of an in-bed scene between two gay characters on the soap opera Eastenders. Much to the BBC’s credit they said, “We approach our portrayal of homosexual relationships in exactly the same way as we do heterosexual relationships”, and then added that UK gays got civil unions in 2005. They also mentioned that many viewers supported Eastender’s portrayal of gay relationships.

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  • EdWoody

    Your question doesn’t even make sense. How could defending the piece possibly placate the people who disliked it?

  • Jaroslaw

    EdWoody – I think the implication of the question was that BBC should have just ignored it entirely. Although if you go to the link in #1,, you will see apparently BBC responds to every inquiry.

  • robert in NYC

    East Enders was originally written by a gay man and had quite a bit of gay content earlier on. Years later, it has reintroduced gay characters to reflect the times in which UK gays are living in a country with civil partnerships and the marriage equality discussion about to begin. The shows we get in the U.S. are nine years behind current episodes airing in the UK. What we see are episodes going as far back as 2002. The acting is superb I might add and situations quite credible. The majority of British viewers do in fact support gay content, although the Christian Women’s group of the UK is making noise about banning all gay content, there chances are slim. Full frontal nudity of both genders, explicit mostly straight sexual situations, foul language are more or less permitted after 9 p.m. in the UK on network stations, not just cable stations, not much censorship or viewer obfuscation after 9 p.m. when children are supposed to be in bed during the week. The British attitude is, if you don’t like it, switch channels or don’t watch t.v. at all.

  • robert in NYC

    “Their chances are slim”, I meant to have written in the last post.

  • Roy

    The BBC does like to drum up publicity for their soap. Eastenders and Coronation Street have been on for years and have always had gay characters. They are on at 7 or 730 each night, and people always complain there. Remember they do not have separation of church and state, and they also pay for a TV license, per television. That is what funds the BBC and the BBC programming. If you ever saw the original Queer as Folk, that was on regular television there. So they are much more risque there, than here.

  • Alfred

    On the statement web page, click on ‘Responses to complaints’. You will find plenty of stupid reasons people have complained, not limited to: a man drowning a cat in a post-watershed crime drama, news coverage of a violent protest focusing too much on the violence, and a pre-school programme using non-standard English.

    We have some very inclusive television here in the United Kingdom, and most people have no objection to this. There will always be a few idiots; not just homophobic idiots, but people who feel the need to switch on the computer every time something ‘offends’ them. As nothing more than a technicality, the BBC will respond to these idiots. And then ignore them.

    An episode of another BBC programme, ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’, featured a gay couple (yes, it was a civil partnership but the television stations have no control of that). On Channel 4, another terrestrial station, Shameless featured a gay couple complete with simulated sex scenes. On that note I conclude that I am grateful for the television we have, and care not for those with homophobic agenda.

  • robert in NYC

    Absolutely right, Roy. Over here, most of the risque stuff is only shown on cable stations and in the UK, these appear on network stations. While watching Brothers & Sisters, not once do I recall seeing a risque sex scene let alone an erotic kissing scene between the two gay characters, not that its always necessary, it was all basically saccharin for the most part. I believe Coronation Street has been on for more than 50 years, the longest series in the history of tv in the world. It was on when I was child in the early 60s, now I’ve given away my age.

  • robert in NYC

    Well said, Alfred!

  • Mike

    I’m just glad that EastEnders is showing a candid and regular type of relationship as opposed to Sean Tully on Corrie who’s everyone’s chubby best friend, unlucky in love (although they’re gonna get his character married off, whatever), and is flamboyant enough to not be seen as a sexual being like most other characters on the show (hell, he’s been getting less action than Sexy Spex Deirdre Barlow).

  • Alix

    Where is the placation? They reacted to supposed homophobia and defended their editorial choice.

  • robert in NYC

    The BBC only received 125 complaints out of millions of viewers who support gay content. This is a non-starter. Well done BBC for standing up to the bigots who have nothing else better to do with their sorry, uninteresting lives.

  • Ksb1978

    @robert in NYC: Never heard of the internet? I watched East Enders years ago on YouTube and other websites. And they weren’t years behind.Overall the show isn’t really all that interesting and the acting is questionable at times like any Soap opera. Just because it’s from the UK doesn’t make it superior. I stopped watching some years ago.

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