The first transmission by Channel Four of the world’s first nationally networked television series aimed at a gay and lesbian audience took place on Valentine’s Day 1989. 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 host 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, Audre Lorde, 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 very significant numbers 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.
In November 2019 a two day event, Remembering Channel 4’s Out on Tuesday, was held at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI). Screenings and discussions explored “this pioneering and influential UK television series, featuring the programme’s commissioner and some of its series producers and filmmakers, alongside other contributors involved in making the programmes for the series.”
Recordings of the event can be watched here.
An episode from the first series of Out on Tuesday was screened at BFI Southbank on 15 September 2022 as part of the Channel 4:40 Years of Revolution season, marking the 40th anniversary of the channel. The session Out and Proud featured Veronica 4 Rose, a documentary about young lesbians directed by Melanie Chait and transmitted on C4 in 1983, and episode 7 series 1 of Out on Tuesday, transmitted on 28 March 1989. The event was introduced by Caroline Spry and Programme Notes can be read here.