Valentine’s Day 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the first transmission by Channel Four of the world’s first nationally networked television series aimed at a gay and lesbian audience. The Channel’s groundbreaking Out on Tuesday (later OUT) series ran between 1989 and 1994 and achieved a culture change in the representation of sexuality on our TV screens.
The series was the culmination of work done by a lot of lesbians and gay men – campaigners, journalists, and a very small number of us working in television – for more positive and more regular representation on British television. I was the commissioning editor at Channel 4 who developed the idea for a gay and lesbian series inside the channel and finally persuaded Channel 4 to back the idea.
The journey towards creating the series was a long and bumpy ride – involving questions in Parliament, a campaign by anti-permissive society activist Mary Whitehouse and tabloid newspaper hysteria – and it unfolded against a backdrop of the early years of AIDS and the draconian Section 28 anti-gay legislation.
What emerged was a multi-strand, largely factual based one-hour weekly programme aimed at the almost impossible task of representing a plethora of lesbian and gay lives, culture and politics. Over the course of five years it covered a diversity of subjects including then controversial stories such as gays in Nazi Germany; gay club drug culture; lesbian mothers; and the sometimes antagonistic relationship between gay men and lesbians. It ranged across international stories, experimental formats, debates and just plain gay trivia! Many of the stories were being aired on TV for the first time.
It featured some of the then small number of out lesbian and gay celebs, including Ian McKellen, Paul Gambacinni, Beatrix Campbell and Paul O’Grady. It was a ratings success for Channel 4 gaining regularly high figures for factual television series. It also generated a huge number of powerful comments from viewers, overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic about the experience of seeing a few of our experiences appearing in a mainstream slot on television.