Television producer and screen writer
Queer as Folk broadcast
“Living as a gay man is a political act’
Russell T Davies
Welshman Russell T Davies is a gay screenwriting icon. In 1998 he wrote a drama series for UK TV Channel 4. It was about a group of friends in Manchester’s gay scene. Before this programme, Gay TV characters were usually in small roles. He wanted the gay characters at the centre of the story. He wanted to champion acceptance of LGBT+ people.
Channel 4’s decision to make Queer as Folk was revolutionary and brave. At the time a British Social Attitudes survey revealed that 49 per cent of British people thought homosexual relationships were either “always wrong” or “mostly wrong. Section 28 had been in force for over ten years. The age of consent was unequal. There were no civil partnerships and no same sex marriage. Davies wanted to show this inequality.
The title of the series comes from a dialect expression from some parts of Northern England, ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’, meaning ‘there’s nothing as strange as people’.
Queer as Folk was sexy and fun. It wasn’t a lecture. It was about family and friends. It was written with care and from the heart. We see best friends Stuart and Vince, and 15-year-old Nathan, deal with love, friendships, clubbing, coming out and homophobia. Nathan’s story affected all teenagers trying to make their own identity. It appealed to to people who moved to a city with hopes of finding ‘their people’. This was the first time many gay teenagers saw same-sex affection, and gay sex.
He didn’t make the friends perfect. They were often careless and even selfish. Davies highlighted the very funny things that made them human.
The first eight episodes were on TV in early 1999. It was shown at 10.30pm on a weekday. Davies thought only three people would watch. 3.5 million viewers watched each episode. The Daily Express complained it was ‘cultural propaganda’ to convince viewers that ‘homosexuality is normal behaviour’. Some gay commentators were also furious. They complained that the show did not tackle Aids.
Davies was clear he did not want to represent an entire community. He said he just wants to write good telly, that’s all. The series was certainly not perfect. There was a lack of sexual and racial diversity. But at the time it changed everything.
It gave people hope and showed the importance of queer spaces and friendships. The energy and confidence of the show was freeing. It showed gay men being proud. Hundreds of people celebrated the show’s 20th birthday on social media. They shared memories of how watching Queer as Folk made them feel visible, understood and not alone.
Since Queer as Folk Davies has gone on to deliver some of the UK’s most loved TV series including Bob and Rose, The Second Coming, Casanova, Doctor Who and the acclaimed mini-series A Very English Scandal.
The UK remains a very homophobic society. It still inflicts terrible damage on LGBT people from the earliest age. Thanks to the struggle of LGBT activists, attitudes are changing. We can also thank Stuart, Vince and Nathan.
Voices and Visibility 2019