There have been a couple of anniversaries/life events which have brought me to reflect on the importance ofChannel 4 to a young, burgeoning ‘homosexual’ like me in the mid 1980s.
I am from a generation that found the UK Channel 4 of the 1980s a channel of liberation and wish that we still had something similar. In today’s media the story is of the self with you the story rather your story through a different lens.
As a creation, Channel 4 aimed to bring marginalised voices to TV viewers. Initially never intended to be a mainstream channel it’s creation and content upset parliamentarians with content, both explicitly and implicitly, portraying different gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lives and experiences in 1980s Britain and beyond. It has to be remembered that other marginalised lives were also offered an opportunity to be seen and heard.
Secretly watching Channel 4 I was left in no doubt what a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender identity was. For example, it had a great series of 1960s films and I loved watching them. Films like Victim(1961), A Taste of Honey(1961), Darling(1965) and The Killing of Sister George(1968) offered a few examples about, or featured a gay or lesbian character. It was never a mystery to me that gay and lesbian people existed. While soaps such as BBC TV’s EastEnders had a gay character, the programmes and films on Channel 4 didn’t seem to have to package gay and lesbian people in a mainstream way. This may have been because it was part licence funded and part independent meaning it could be more explicit or radical. The Film Four Production arm would produce or contribute funding to My Beautiful Laundrette(1985), Maurice(1987) and Prick Up Your Ears(1987).
Everything was late at night, after the watershed and on my black and white television. The attached aerial would never offer the best picture quality but I glimpsed a different life. Yes, there were trials and tribulations of being lesbian, gay or bisexual but I knew people like how I felt existed. That was enough because other TV channels never seemed to offer the reasoned content of Channel 4. The channels output continued to the end of the 1980s with the start of Out on Tuesday(1989) which eventually morphed into Out and now moved to a Wednesday.
As a beacon of hope in a decade that offered a Conservative government with a leader who did not believe in society, lacked the understanding of experiences of HIV and AIDS patients nor agreed about same sex families or that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people could ever be mentioned in schools leading to the introduction of legislation Section 28 (2A in Scotland), a mere five minutes of a Derek Jarman film was liberating but, I have to admit, a little bewildering to my young eyes, raised with the comedy Are You Being Served. Still it had some nudity!
Punk subculture had evolved by 1982 when Channel 4 emerged, but continued the ethos of an identity that was not hidden but taken to the streets. It might be said that Queer as Folk(1999) was the most important programme for a generation. It was for me but as an early teen in the 1980s I won’t forget the contribution that Channel 4 films and programmes offered to find a place; where I belonged.
Now, it is a shadow of a former self. Chasing a populism whence once it shunned. Maybe identity politics started in the 1980s but it was more reasoned then. It was informative and less shouty than today.
It is amazing that one channel offered so much but has been replaced by so many media outlets that lack insight. Now it is all Four Drag Queens And A Cooked Breakfast in Benidorm. I wonder if those times will ever come back again? Or, with the passing of the wonderfully aloof Network 7 TV presenter Magenta De Vine is nothing different or individual anymore, despite our myriad of identity politics?