When EastEnders co-creator Tony Holland was a jobbing television producer in 1975, he took a sitcom idea to the head of Thames Television drama, Verity Lambert. The comedy would rest on a gay couple whose emotional wellbeing was complicated by their class divide. It was to be called The Unlikely Lads. Lambert scored a hit later that year with the wonderful TV adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s memoir, The Naked Civil Servant. At the time, Lambert deferred on Holland’s project, contending that two shows with a central gay thread a year would be one too many for the socially conservative British public taste. The idea would come to fruition a decade on in the characters of Colin and Barry on EastEnders, the first gay men to kiss on a British soap opera. Twenty-two years later, Ellen DeGeneres caused shockwaves across America by breaking the glass closet, declaring her lesbianism on her sitcom, Ellen – a first for US TV. The bedding, homeware and clothing giant JC Penney cut its advertising. Death threats followed. Yet in the ensuing 20 years, Ellen has become not just one of the most powerful women in the American entertainment canon but the most recognisable public face of a new vanguard raising visibility and awareness of LGBT people on TV.
April 15 / The Guardian