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British soap opera cut first gay romance due to government’s anti-gay legislation

EastEnders allegedly axed a groundbreaking gay romance over fears that it would run afoul of "Section 28"

colin, barry, eastenders, gay, soap opera

Colin (Michael Cashman) and Barry (Gary Hailes) — Photo: BBC

Long-running British soap opera EastEnders cut a planned romance between two gay characters in the 1980s due to the introduction of anti-gay legislation.

The show, which has been airing since 1985, caused public outrage in 1987 when it aired a relationship between characters Barry Clark and Colin Russell. The couple shared the first ever same-sex kiss in a British soap opera — a simple kiss on the forehead — but that was enough for the show to be branded “filth” and “EastBenders” by angry viewers.

Actor Gary Hailes, who played Barry, has now revealed that their relationship was expected to progress much further, including Barry coming out to his family and receiving homophobic backlash, but the storyline was axed after the government passed “Section 28.”

Section 28 was an amendment to existing legislation which prohibited local governments from “[promoting] homosexuality or [publishing] material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” and banned schools from teaching the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

As then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said in 1987, “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.”

Speaking on the Distinct Nostalgia podcast, Hailes said EastEnders abandoned the gay plotline in December 1987 “because of Section 28.”

The legislation came into effect in May 1988, but the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which aired EastEnders, opted to axe the storyline ahead of the amendment’s introduction.

“The BBC found themselves in a difficult position. They had to be seen to be doing right by the law,” he said of the broadcaster. “There was stuff we shot of Barry coming out to his dad and the backlash. They changed it and that helped put the brakes on what they could do with the characters.”

He added: “Like Romeo and Juliet they were not allowed to be together.””

Section 28 wasn’t repealed in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland until 2003. In Scotland, the amendment was repealed in 2000.

Though Hailes’ character was cut from the soap opera, the character of Colin Russell — portrayed by Michael Cashman — persisted, and the BBC ultimately decided to pursue a new same-sex romance storyline in 1988, after the legislation had come into effect.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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