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Lesbians: out on the box

Take a trip down memory lane with our TV timeline

Gemma Rose & Jess Banham

Fri, 21 Dec 2012 14:31:27 GMT | Updated 4 years today

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1989)

This television mini-series is an adaption of Jeanette Winterson's 1985 novel of the same name. Believed to be semi-autobiographical, the series follows Jessica's life from when she was seven to seventeen. In the show, Jessica develops feelings for Melanie that goes beyond a friendship, and which makes her question and rebel against the religious values that her strict mother had raised her by.


Emmerdale (1993)

This was the year when character Zoe Tate came out as a lesbian on Emmerdale. Sarah and Lee from AfterEllen said that she was, "possibly the best representation of a lesbian ever to grace British soap land. Emmerdale is still the only soap to allow its lesbian resident to exist without having to wear a sign around her neck that constantly reinforced her sexuality…No other British soap opera has managed this since."


Brookside (1994)

1994 saw the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British television in the soap, Brookside. The kiss, which was watched by six million people, helped to bring lesbians into mainstream telly even though there were a few protestors at the time. The London Olympics 2012 paid homage to the infamous scene during its opening ceremony.


A Village Affair (1995)

The 1989 novel A Village Affair by English romance author Joanna Trollope was televised by ITV in 1995. Starring Sophie Ward and Kerry Fox, the story is set in rural England and follows Alice and her husband Martin, a rich but seemingly dull man as they settle in to a new village. Their outwardly happy marriage is soon disturbed when Alice and another village resident Clodough begin a scandalous affair, particularly in context of the devout religious community around them. Many have criticised the portrayal of Alice's sexuality in the novel, implying that she only fell for Clodough because she was missing out on life.


Queer As Folk (1999)

Chronicling the lives of three young gay men living in Manchester's gay scene, Queer as Folk is albeit superficially, a realistic representation of gay urban life in the 1990s, and the three protagonists- Stuart, Vince, and Nathan, are all gay.  Often described as a groundbreaking drama, Queer as Folk became particularly controversial when it aired a 15-year old having sex with an older man, at a time when the age of consent for gay men in the UK was 18. There were a couple of lesbians in it too.


Tipping the Velvet (2002)

Based on the 1998 novel by Sarah Waters, this BBC television adaption tells the story of a young woman named Nan who falls in love with a male impersonator, Kitty. The use of dildos in the scenes with Diana caused many viewers to protest, despite the BBC allowing it, but I think this is Victorian erotica and romance at its finest. It also features one of my all time favourite romantic lines in television history, "You smell like a mermaid."


Sugar Rush (2005)

Ah, the Channel 4 classic based on the novel by Julie Burchill about 15-year-old Kim who just moved to Brighton. How can anyone forget her masturbating with a toothbrush thinking about her best friend, Sugar? The characters are funny and relatable in their own way, and not stereotyped. This British teen drama tackles it all really: sex, sexuality, growing up, families, friendship, and will always remain a personal favourite. 


Fingersmith (2005)

My favourite television adaption of a novel will always be Fingersmith, a BBC mini-series that is based on Sarah Waters' acclaimed novel of the same name. The story which is set in 1862, follows the lives of two young women, from opposite ends of the spectrum, one living amongst pick-pockets, and the other a young heiress in a large gothic mansion. The series is a tangled web of lies, love, manipulation and deceit, and the shocking turn in events half way through the show will always be one of my favourite television twists.  


The Night Watch (2006)

Set in the 1940s against the turbulent background of London, this adaption of another Sarah Water's novel, follows four Londoners -Kay, Helen, Viv and Duncan, who are inextricably linked by their individual wartime experiences. The narrative technique is unique in this series as it moves back in time, bringing together the past and the present, and showing just how bittersweet the post war victory was.


Torchwood (2006)

Starring openly gay actor John Barrowman, Torchwood is a spin-off of the popular Doctor Who, starring many queer characters, including four bisexual characters. A lesbian-themed storyline was first introduced in the second episode where character Gwen is sent to investigate a women named Carys, whose body has been possessed by a sex-starved alien. A very odd storyline this one, as the alien demands, "orgasmic energy" in order for Carys to survive, and after much kissing, Gwen is rescued by the alien herself, who admits in the end, that she can only be fulfilled by a man. Lesbian alien pheromones anyone?


Hollyoaks (2008)

Zoe Lister who played Zoe Carpenter in Hollyoaks had previously expressed interest in a lesbian storyline, when she told a reporter, "I'd definitely do a lesbian love scene in Hollyoaks. That would be a really good story." Her wishes were answered, as in 2008 things heated up as characters Zoe Carpenter and Sarah Barnes had a lesbian fling during a girlie getaway. I will add however copious amounts of alcohol were consumed the night more, making their lesbian "relationship" somewhat less authentic.


Skins (2009)

Forget Tony and Michelle or Cassie and Sid, Emily and Naomi are perhaps the most popular couple in Skins history. Referred to by fans as 'Naomily' they came together after Emily's chasing and Naomi struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. Audiences loved these two, and their relationship kept us hanging on across two series. Word on the street is that they will appear in the Skins send-off series next year. Yay!


Waterloo Road (2009)

Set in Greater Manchester, Waterloo Road is a British drama about a high school, which first aired in 2006 on BBC one. Starring Sarah-Jane Potts, the actress who played Saint in Sugar Rush, her lesbian character Jo Lipsett brings a rush of excitement to the staffroom. Heather Peace also played the role of Head of English as character Nicki Boston in the final part of the seventh series and is set to return in the second part of series 8!


Coronation Street (2010)

In 2010, Brooke Vincent and Sacha Parkinson (Sophie and Sian respectively, pictured) took on Weatherfield's first ever lesbian storyline. The two 18-year-olds began to fall in love after they took a vow of chastity together at the church, and after defending their relationship against pretty much the entire street, we all thought they were in it for the long run…


Lip Service (2010)

In 2010, we were treated to a serial drama that portrayed the lives of a group of lesbians living in Glasgow, Scotland. The characterisation was very strong and believable, and made us all fall in love with Detective Sergeant Sam Murray, played by Heather Peace and my absolute favourite Australian actress Anna Skellern, who plays the charismatic and loveable sexy Lexy, also a DIVA cover star.


Candy Bar Girls (2011)

Channel 5's reality show goal was to challenge lesbian stereotypes by focusing more sensitively on their lives rather than the, "girl-on-girl" lifestyle which is often sensationalised in hetero-normative media. Set in the London club, the show featured pole dancers, former Big Brother housemate Shabby Katchadourian and lesbian DJ's living and working in Soho.


Shameless (2011)

The Manchester based comedy Shameless is one of the latest long running UK TV show's to feature not just lesbians, but a full-on lesbian sex-scene. The series saw the fictional estate's loud mouth resident Mimi Maguire and her neighbour Avril Powell get pretty hot and heated in the sheets, which is always positive when so few lesbian sex scenes are shown on television, though as Malone herself recognises, "Shameless sex scenes are cringey" and sometimes I couldn't agree more!


Upstairs Downstair (2012)

Set in 1938, the second series of this BBC One's drama featured a steamy lesbian affair between two of the aristocratic characters. At a time when sex was largely oppressed in society, this is an exciting storyline to watch unfold as Doctor Who star, Alex Kingston and Silent Witness actress, Emilia Fox enliven 165 Eaton Place. It is heavily suspected that the lesbian storyline is an attempt by the BBC to heat up the show so it can compete with costume drama rival Downton Abbey.


Last Tango in Halifax (2012)

The series is partly inspired by the writer's mother who fell in love with an old school friend whom she discovered through the website Friends Reunited. Teachers Kate and Caroline embark on an affair after Caroline's husband leaves her for another woman, though Caroline's apparent confusion over her sexuality causes Kate to feel disheartened about the status of their relationship. We won't give the ending away in case you're still enjoying it on catch-up! The six-part series has been declared a triumph against TV's ageism proving that love and romance are still very much prominent in the lives of 60, 70 and even 80-year olds. We look forward to a new series in 2013. 

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