In 1999 a Channel 4 series not only changed the landscape for homosexuality on television but television in general. Queer as Folk introduced viewing audiences to the lives of a group of gay men living in Manchester that regularly frequented the infamous Canal Street.
But after making such an impact on audiences the world over, and after all the series was re-made for an American audience (which ran for five seasons), it makes you wonder whether this type of programme would get commissioned now.
It’s been more than 10 years since we last saw Stuart, Vince, and Nathan and all the other characters popping up on our screens, but the impact they left is phenomenal. Before the show gay men had representation on television – after all Dale Winton and Julian Clary were extremely popular – but this was the first time a group of gay characters were central to an entire series, and not just a few extra characters added on at the end.
Since the show left the airwaves it paved the way for multiple gay characters and storylines in a whole variety of different shows. It isn’t unusual these days to turn on any soap opera and see several gay characters, something that wasn’t really seen before the turn of the new millennium, which was just after Queer as Folk. Gay men and women now had a significant part in soaps, dramas and comedy shows, allowing the public to see that gay people are everywhere and that we’re just normal people.
However, whereas we do get multiple gay characters frequenting the Rovers Return or the Queen Vic, gay specific shows seem to be very few and far between. There was Sugar Rush on Channel 4 that came around in 2004, and now we have Lip Service, which was first introduced in 2010, but that means that in the 11 years between Queer as Folk and Lip Service there was only one other UK television show that focused primarily on gay characters.
Maybe it’s because there just aren’t people out there writing these kinds of programmes now or maybe they feel that after Queer as Folk there wasn’t much more to be done – I mean who would want to take on the amazing Russell T Davies? But it could also have something to do with attitudes. In the last few years there have been multiple complaints made to Ofcom regarding gay people on screen in shows such as Coronation Street, Eastenders and Torchwood, but why is this? Surely attitudes have become more diverse in the last 10 years since Queer as Folk came out, or maybe due to the lack of gay central shows people are forgetting about the impact that was made a decade ago, or maybe it’s as simple as people were a little bit more open and curious back in the 90s.
It does appear that given the length of time between these gay central shows and the complaints received about soap operas, that if Queer as Folk were to be pitched today and not 10 years ago, then it wouldn’t have been made. Then again if it had never been made in the first place I doubt there would be many gay people in soaps today.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, just recently it was announced that comedian Sue Perkins will be staring in a comedy series for BBC2 called Heading Out, which will see Perkins play a vet who is afraid to come out to her parents.
So maybe we are about to turn a corner and see more LGBT focused programmes again where gay people play the leads, but whether something like Queer As Folk will come along again is a different matter all together.
Watch the first episode of Queer As Folk below (probably only available in the UK).