The Curate's Sin?

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With the piece on Cucumber finally posted before the premiere of It's A Sin.. has the representation of bisexuality in Russell T Davies's 'gay life in the UK' dramas improved in the past six years?

Let's just say that, once again, the acting is great, the direction, camera work and editing are great, and the soundtrack is great too.

The problem, as ever, is with the script…

Episode one

We start off with Ritchie. It is September 1981, and he's eating with his parents and sister before going off to study law, with the aim of becoming a barrister.

It's A Sin - Ritchie

Feeling old bit: Give or take a year, I was born at the same time as the lead characters (and RTD). Thanks to a gap year plan that involved being in New York in 1980/81 falling through [1]It didn't feel like a good thing to have happened at the time, but that it did is one of the big reasons I am still here… I started university at exactly the same time many of them do, and was also at somewhere that was a cheap and easy journey to/from Central London. The first week there, I was browsing a copy of London listings magazine, Time Out, in the student shop, looked at the gay section and saw a mention that a new group was starting: the London Bisexual Group. It's not only the series that starts at this point, so does the current UK bi community.

"I'll go through your wardrobe next week" says his mother, which will lead to a rush to his stock of magazines like Him Exclusive and – very probably – Zipper, [2]We only see the "pper" bit of the title, but the typeface is right, as is the content. The issue number of 60 is notably too high for 1981, though I think. I can find an '1982' issue for sale that's … Continue reading and put them in his suitcase because of their male nudes.

It's A Sin - copy of Zipper

The time-travelling copy of Alex McKenna's Zipper magazine

Feeling old bit: note no erections, or any explicit shots of anyone being sexual with anyone else! I can remember a serious 'by a doctor' book that had some b/w medical photos of genitals, including at least a couple of erections, plus a m/f couple having intercourse in a variety of positions. [3]Dr Martin Cole's Fundamentals of Sex (1971), aka "Dr Cole's Sex Book Shocker" (Daily Mirror). My (now obviously to me gay/bisexual) chemistry teacher brought it into school one day and let us have a … Continue reading It was a couple of years after I saw real people being sexual with each other before I saw erections in porn, thanks to VHS tapes.

It turns out they live on the Isle of Wight, and on the ferry to the mainland, his father says:

"There's some things your mother didn't pack. [Gives him a packet of condoms] I don't want you getting some girl in trouble. But make sure they all get used.

"Your mother's right, it is different on the mainland..

".. It's a lot more fun."

Ritchie chucks the condoms overboard…

Feeling old bit: At the time, condom use between men was incredibly rare. I can't find any mention of them in the 1977 edition of The Joy of Gay Sex [4]HIV was already spreading in the USA when it was written. I see from notes inside that I bought my copy as an import in 1983 for £8.95. even if I look for some of the slang words. Assorted STIs as a result weren't, [5]The chemistry teacher mentioned above also did the sex education and mentioned a 'friend' who had been to the local STI clinic so often they were just asked "Is it front or back this time?" but the bacterial ones were all curable – Hep B was only just being seen as an issue, and a vaccine for that was just around the corner. It is a bit of evidence that he's not interested in sex with women though.

Then it's hello Roscoe on a building site. He's wearing white socks – is this a deliberate 'white socks as a sign of being gay' thing, [6]A real thing at the time! Unlike the music posters we're about to see in the background, all of which seem to be modern fakes. I wonder? (If not, why have the shot?)

It's A Sin - Roscoe

It's A Sin - Roscoe's white socks

.. and his white socks

His family know he's gay and they are not impressed. His mother is showing a copy of Gay News presumably found in his room [7]He won't have got it from WH Smiths – they stopped carrying it in their shops and wholesalers – and so lots of other shops – in 1978 until 1982 because of its coverage of the … Continue reading to a group of Nigerian friends – there were more people on Twitter going 'why not cast someone who can speak Yoruba?' than talking about the representation of bisexuality – and calling for him to be saved from "the pit of sodomy".

It's A Sin - Twitter comments on the quality of Yoruba

His sister gives him £120 to help him escape being taken back to Nigeria, if necessary via taking the whole family back:

"You're not going to ruin my life too! Roscoe, if they send you back home, they will beat you and bleed you. In the name of God, they will kill you and then they'll throw your body into the forest and leave you for the animals."

I'm wondering if this scene is partly in atonement for the way that in Cucumber Dean is revealed at the end to have lied about being thrown out by his family, something none of the other characters questioned. 'Look! I get that some black people do have to leave their home to survive!'

Before long, he's saying his goodbye's:

"I'm going now. So thank you very much and if you need to forward any mail, I'll be staying at 23 Piss Off Avenue, London W Fuck. Thank you and goodbye."

In a short top and skirt.

It's A Sin - Roscoe leaves home

Then we meet Colin, a young Steve Coogan look-alike from Wales who's come to London to work as an apprentice sales assistant in a Saville Row tailors [8]Would they really have advertised that post somewhere he could see? How was he interviewed? I am not convinced.. and has arranged to live at somewhere that rents out rooms.

It's A Sin - Colin

Colin

Feeling old bit: he has to note the length of his phone calls and whether they were before or after 6pm. No 'inclusive minutes' in 1981, and 'long-distance' calls were expensive.

His version of "making friends" involves looking at another young man (the landlady's son?) taking his top off. He also doesn't go out, as he tells his mum, but stays in eating crisps while This Is Your Life is on.

It's A Sin - Colin 'making friends' by looking at another young man take their top off

Colin "making friends"

At work, he's sexually harassed by his much older boss:

Mr Hart: "Come on, take your shirt off. Come on, shirt off."

Colin: "Huh?"

Mr Hart: "You gotta take the arm and you've got to clean it. And clean it again. Got that, Colin? Clean it and clean it again. [Fondles Colin.] Clean it and clean it again. [Fondles Colin again.] And clean it, and clean it again. [Fondles Colin again.] Clean it, and clean it again! [Fondles Colin again.] And then under the arm. [Fondles Colin again.]"

It's A Sin - Colin being sexually harassed by Mr Hart

This is what sexual harassment looks like

Colin's rescued by another salesman, Henry, who'd given a look when Colin was called back for this as he leaving. Safely in the pub, Henry says:

"If he says anything, if he even suggests little extramural activity, just give me the nod. I can always find ways to introduce his wife into the conversation."

So.. first example of bisexuality in the series and it's a predatory married man going for his younger male staff.

Mr Hart didn't have to be married. RTD chose to write that last line. If he hadn't, they'd be nothing to suggest Mr Hart wasn't gay – there's never been a shortage of much older gay men after 18 year old men and prepared to push boundaries to get them after all.

Next, Henry's saying he's clocked Colin as not being straight:

Henry: "I've got to say, he does pick them very well. Mr. Hart does tend to know, if you see what I mean? .. I don't suppose there's a girlfriend waiting back home in Wales, is there? Perhaps a boyfriend?"

Colin: "No".

Henry: "But would there be? If you could? You don't have to worry about me. I'm not remotely interested. .. I live in Hackney with a very nice man from the Algarve and we've been together for decades.

".. So there isn't? A boyfriend?"

Colin: "No."

Henry: "But you'd like there to be?"

Colin: "Yes. Oh my, God!" [laughs]

Henry: "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. [shouts] Another pint for the bender, please!" [points at Colin]

.. outing people, in what really doesn't look to be a gay bar, such a laugh!

Meanwhile in some gay bar, Ritchie is looking somewhat nervous at a disco that's playing Soft Cell's cover of Tainted Love.

Feeling old bit: That was a smash hit [9]The best selling single in the UK that year, in fact. The duo lost many tens of thousands of pounds because of having another cover on the B-side and losing the composing royalties they'd have got by … Continue reading and lead singer Marc Almond's screamingly camp persona – 'a memorable performance on "Top of the Pops'" is Wikipedia's version – was one of the images of gay men of the year.

Next day at college, he's checking out other men while doing some reading. In the background an out-of-focus female student is talking to an equally out-of-focus male one and we can suddenly hear them (clunk!):

Her: "So, the other day I was talking to my friend, and he said they found 41 men with this cancer thing and they all died at the same time in New York and they were all gay.

Him: "What, they all died on the same day?"

Her: "Yeah, that's what it said, 'cause my uncle lives in Brooklyn. He said all 41 had exactly the same cancer."

It's A Sin - Ritchie ignoring Aids for the first time

The first time Ritchie is shown to be ignoring the as yet unnamed Aids, but not the last

The cancer will be Kaposi's sarcoma, and the story's source is clearly the historic – and horribly prefiguring – piece in the New York Times on 3rd July 1981, "Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals". (Note that only eight had died by the time of publication and many were in the San Francisco area, so the "at the same time" and "in New York" bits would have been inaccurate rumour.)

So, we're thirteen minutes into the series and the as yet unnamed Aids has arrived.

Also prefiguring his attitude, Ritchie isn't really listening and is more interested in someone he was checking out earlier. Another student spots him drooling.

It's A Sin - Jill spots Ritchie drooling over Ash

Jill (gesturing centre) and Ash (left)

Jill: "His name's Ash. He's from Welwyn Garden City and he's a bender, so you're in with a chance. .. Do you wanna meet him then? Ash?"

Ritchie: "I'm not, I wasn't, I was just literally looking."

Jill: "So, you're not gay then?"

Ritchie: "No! Oh, my God, no!

[Cut to a bar later]

"I'm more like bisexual really, 'cause, you know, then you can fancy anyone in the room. Walk into a party, there's double the choice."

It's A Sin - Ritchie denies he's gay and says he's 'more like bisexual really'

Sadly, we don't see her face

Ah yes, the Woody Allen joke about "bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night". That one would have been at least six years old – it's a quotation used in the New York Times from 1st December 1975 as part of a 'Woody Allen at 40' feature on him.

As I suspect most of you will know, it wasn't true then: most of your gender won't be interested and many of the others won't be interested in a bisexual.

It will also become a lot less true for bisexual men over the course of the series: the 1988 Cosmopolitan Singles Survey shows how women being interested in even a bisexual man they saw as "special" would soon be seen.

(Also a lot less true now is Woody Allen being seen as a good thing to be associated with…)

How does Jill introduce Ritchie to Ash?

"This is Ritchie, he says he's bisexual, so he can have sex with you or me, so what do you wanna do? Wrestle for him?"

It's A Sin - Ash being told Ritchie 'says he's bisexual'

Ash having Jill introduce Ritchie to him

Skipping over the "he says" for a bit.. I don't know about you, but if a woman ever said that about me, I would think it's extremely likely she wanted to have sex with me.

Alas for her, Ritchie only has eyes for Ash. And then another man. And then another man. And then another pair of men. Three 'intimacy coordinators' are credited at the end, and they will have spent a great deal of time with Ritchie, but no time at all with Jill or any other woman.

So it looks very much like Jill's "he says" is some accurate gaydar on her part.

Yes, it's perfectly OK to have a bisexual identity without having been sexual with more than one gender. I did.

But even by this point, I was going 'this is the "gay really" stereotype' of bisexuality. It's not even the "just a phase" one, given that he's never once seen as interested in the clearly very willing Jill or any other woman.

Remember the homosexual only porn collection? Remember those condoms chucked away earlier? Would someone who would be interested in sex with women do that? (Yes, but they'd have to be a 'contraception is the woman's job' prick…) We're about to find out that his sexual fantasies centre around Steve Austin, hero of The Six Million Dollar Man series and he pointedly doesn't mention his equivalent, Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman, despite her being played by (the still gorgeous over forty years later) Lindsay Wagner. [10]I cannot remember ever having had a sexual fantasy involving just one of them.. just a threesome with both.

As I said about Cucumber, "Any one of those faults would be ok.. had there been some actual positive representation of bisexuality as bisexuality in the series. And there isn't."

Writing that exchange – having Ritchie say "I'm more like bisexual really" and then come out with someone else's joke – was a choice. Had RTD not written it, he'd have been treated as gay from the start, confirming what we've already seen and what we're about to see and what we see later.

Instead, he chose yet again to reinforce another harmful stereotype about bisexuals.

It's not even as if it would have been difficult to show Ritchie having any attraction to women! Include some female tits and bums in the porn collection along with all the male ones! Make some prick remark about contraception being for women! Let Jill get lucky(?) and shag him! Even after he turns up in tears after failing with Ash, they're shown in the same bed, but clothed.

Because Ritchie is also kind of crap. Ash tells him he "needs a bit of a wash .. your arse". He also wonders if Ritchie picked him for being "exotic" and gets such a stream of cluelessness back that I didn't expect them to be in the same room ever again.

There's a quick sequence of switching over to Colin who is on upstairs (then, the smoking section) on a Routemaster bus (with no ads?!?) with Henry (who turns out to be at least 48 despite looking much younger!) on the way to meet his partner of thirty years, Juan Pablo.

It's A Sin - Henry and Colin on a bus

As well as the 1981 smoking on the top deck of London buses, see the Sony Walkman being worn behind them

Next on a journey is Ritchie and Jill, on the Isle of Wight ferry, around Christmas. She won't be in the room when he comes out to his parents. (Who turn out to do micro-aggressions too.) Fortunately for Ritchie, his father insists the pair have separate rooms.

When Jill "Ritchie needs a word" drops him in it, it turns out not to be that he's gay, oops, bisexual or – his father's fear – that she's pregnant that he's coming out about, but that he's dropping law in favour of drama plus English…

Cut to New Year's Eve 1981/82, presumably back in London, when the pair of friends are off to what looks very like a gay pub, then he's off to have sex with least six different men, including a threesome. And Ash. Was that supposed to be one very busy night? Probably not, even though the sequence ends with Jill being introduced to at least some of those shags.

Back in the tailors, Colin's told Juan Pablo has a pneumonia, possibly psittacosis – do I believe Colin would recognise that as being 'parrot fever'? No, especially as he doesn't think people get it. Then Henry himself is off ill.

By April 1982 or so, [11]A neighbour of Henry and Juan Pablo calls the latter "A bloody Argie", so the Falklands War must have at least started. Henry's been replaced permanently at work, and turns out to have been taken to hospital a week ago. Colin lies – "I'm his nephew" – to visit and discovers he's alone in a locked ward, and visitors need full scrubs, mask and gloves to visit. Henry also has some KS lesions. Oh, just like those men in the US. (Juan Pablo's been taken home to Portugal by his mother.) Henry's wonders if it was some mould in the kitchen that lead to both of them being ill, when there's a knock at the door – it's his lunch, left outside the room.

Feeling old bit: yep, this is how early Aids patients were often treated.

Colin's response is to go the gay bar where Roscoe works, where he's welcomed by the gang, and taken off by them to a house party.. at Ritchie / Ash / Jill / Roscoe's place. The massive place is a hundred quid a week between them.. oh, Colin wants the last spare bed. Before long he's nicknamed Gladys.

Ritchie is sat looking unimpressed listening to someone older:

Someone: "The government knows all about it, right, and they're keeping it quiet, 'cause there's a strain of 'flu and it affects only gay men and it kills them. It's called GRID, it started in America and it's coming over here."

Ritchie: "You can't have a gay ;flu and no one dies of 'flu any more."

Someone: "They're dying in San Francisco. My friend said it's a plague."

Ritchie: "Don't be ridiculous. That would be all over the news."

Feeling old bit: Grid was an early name for Aids: "Gay-related immune deficiency". It was in at least some of the gay press: Capital Gay, which someone in the series must have been reading if only for the pub and club listings, started a regular column on it this year – the first UK death of this epidemic had been in December 1981 and the news from the US gay scene, followed avidly for trends, was increasingly dreadful.

Suddenly, it's 5th September 1982. Ash reads the Sunday Times, primarily so that we can be shown the 'Concern over mystery illness' story in it.. 232 dead in the USA, at least two – one of whom will be Terry Higgins in July – in the UK. They're not sure what's causing it, but it has a new name: AIDS.

.. except that this is fake news! As shown, the article repeats a large chunks of the text.

It's A Sin - a 1981 story about Aids

Look towards the end for the duplicated paragraphs

(Given that they must have had to ask for permission to attribute this to the Sunday Times, I wonder if it was granted in part because the real paper is embarrassed that under Andrew Neil, it later ran a notorious series of 'you can't get HIV via heterosexual sex' / 'HIV doesn't cause Aids anyway' stories.)

Feeling old bit: I can see the series takes the approach of 'the numbers don't matter, this was a tragedy regardless of how many it affected', but it's noticeable that something you have to pause the video to read properly is the first and last time we see any numbers about the scale of the epidemic in the UK.

It's then time for a series of 'where do you see yourself going'-style interviews.

In five years' time, Ritchie wants:

".. everything. West End, I want my name in lights, big movie posters with me on them."

.. even if he'd be happy just with background work.

In ten years' time, Colin will:

".. be happy still working here"

And Roscoe reckons that:

"Give me five, six years, I'll be stinking rich. Every single teacher I ever had, I wanna drive past them in my big, shiny car, like, 'Fuck you.'"

No-one bothers to ask Jill what she wants.

Cut to Henry having died, and masked / gloved / scrubbed nurses moving his body into a sealed container and disinfecting his bed.

Cut to Ritchie going:

"I just wanna be happy."

It'd have been slightly better with the last two shots the other way around, but the contrast is still effective.

Episode two

It's December 1983, so two years after the first death in the UK pandemic..

What could have been done: .. and it's also several months after the huge shift towards safer sex between men that happened over the spring and summer of 1983 in the UK. It was obviously something that not everyone adopted, but it was a massive and almost unprecedented change in a community's behaviour. HIV tests didn't yet exist, but the rate of gonorrhoea in gay and bisexual men visiting one of the main STI clinics in London had been consistently high (about one in seven) throughout 1982, dropped in spring 1983, and dropped still further, to under one in ten, in summer 1983. Over the same period, it rose in the clinic's heterosexual male patients, ending up as over one in ten. That being higher than the gay/bisexual men's figure hadn't been seen for over a decade, if not longer.

And there's not a word about it anywhere in the series.

We will see one condom later, but apart from that, it's like How to Have Sex in an Epidemic from earlier in the year and the rest had never happened. Even the stories that are shown later in the episode are 'people are dying!' ones or 'Aids: fact or science fiction?'

Why this matters: this was the queer male community looking after itself in a way that was both necessary – it'll be over three years before the icebergs and monoliths of 'Aids: don't die of ignorance' here – and in a way that non-members of the community simply wouldn't get. Note that, for example, the title of How to Have Sex in an Epidemic is not the clueless 'stop having sex' that Jill will later come out with, but it's around how to continue having sex. Its message was that you could still have sex as often and with as many people as before, but changing what you did would very probably stop you getting Aids.

Feeling old bit: it's really striking that there's barely any community-generated sex-positive health promotion anywhere in the series, yet that saved thousands of lives here.

What could have been done: .. and it's eight months since the first broadcast [12]Two days after the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest! of Killer in the Village, in BBC TV's flagship Horizon series of documentaries.

Title shot of BBC 2's Killer in the Village documentary about Aids

The main title of BBC 2's unforgettable 'Killer in the Village' documentary broadcast in April 1983

The 'village' is Greenwich Village in New York.

BBC 2's Killer in the Village shows the door of New York's (in)famous Mineshaft club

Although the programme doesn't name it, this is the door of New York's (in)famous Mineshaft club

It had its problems [13]No-one would say.. "In their personal relationships, gay men are free from feminine restraints. In heterosexual relationships, the male traditionally is the hunter. When both are hunters, the effect … Continue reading not least because it's before the discovery of HIV, so various causes are wondered about: poppers, 'immune overload' (e.g. a consequence of being fucked by lots of sexual partners), the CMV that the authors of How to Have Sex in an Epidemic wondered about, etc.

BBC 2's Killer in the Village shows a contact trace sheet

The 'out of California' man on the contact tracing sheet would become infamous after being misidentified as "Patient Zero" in 'When the Band Played On'

Regardless, if you saw it as a gay or bisexual man, you were left in no doubt that it was real, it was affecting more than gay men, and it was going to affect you, if it hasn't done so already: "There have been deaths here too. Aids has already arrived in Britain. Do we already have the hidden seeds of an epidemic here?" That the drop in gonorrhoea mentioned started around the same time may well not have been a coincidence.

Back in the imaginary world where neither of those happened, Ritchie and Jill are singing in a club on the Isle of Wight as his parents and sister (and not many others) look on, not particularly impressed. The barman is more interested, though.

It's A Sin: December 1983, Ritchie and Jill working towards an Equity card

It's A Sin - Ritchie's parents being unimpressed as his singing

May all your audiences be better than this one!

There's some dramatic irony in his father reckoning that Barry Manilow is "queer", which his mother rubbishes. Oh. Given that Manilow is clearly on the record as having loved the woman he married in the 1960s and the end of that marriage was not related to his sexual orientation – he came out as gay in 2017 – I'm counting that as minor fault in terms of bisexual representation.

The bomb mentioned will be the IRA's Harrods bombing, which killed six earlier that month. Now, we'd be just past that in UK Aids deaths, so I suspect this is a subtle "his parents think London is risky because of a bomb, but don't know/care about the greater risk to him from Aids" thing.

Ha, I thought so – Ritchie's "Might take a while" getting the barman to sign his sheet to help him get an Equity card [14]In order to get acting work in the UK at the time, almost everywhere wanted you to be a member of the Equity union.. but you couldn't join without already having done a chunk of performance work. … Continue reading translates as "exchanging handjobs with him under the pier".

At least until Ritchie mentions that he's going back to London when suddenly the barman isn't interested any more.

"Oh, my God, don't be so stupid! It's Americans you don't sleep with, not Londoners, Americans!"

Feeling old bit: some early Aids sexual health promotion leaflets did indeed advise against having sex with Americans. At least one from THT did, for example. [15]A couple of decades later, the ethics of giving HIV prevalence figures for various groups of men was still being discussed in the HIV sector. Could you ask a gay bar in, say, Manchester to put up … Continue reading The outcome was predictable: lots of men in London saying they were Canadian.. despite their American accents.

The funny thing is that the sex they're having is completely safe in terms of HIV…

Back in London, Roscoe is all dressed up for a wedding. In a contrast to Ash earlier and Ritchie's gay magazines, Colin's reading a 2000 AD comic in bed as Roscoe gets ready to leave. It's his sister's wedding, and she's very pregnant. It doesn't look like he actually goes inside to see it, although she spots him – their parents are there.

A bit later, some of the realities of anonymous casual sex available on the scene are made clear to Colin:

Colin: "Who was he?"

Roscoe: "Dunno."

Colin: "Don't you even know his name?"

Roscoe: "Have you ever had sex?"

.. at least Roscoe had seen his shag's face, which wouldn't always be the case.

Colin's also in demand for an expenses paid work trip to New York. The downside is that it's with Mr Hart. The gang tease him about his reluctance:

"For God sake .. I'd suck him off to get to New York!"

"You'd suck him off to get to Ealing Broadway."

They're en route to the bar Roscoe works at, where someone tries to drop off some health promotion leaflets..

It's A Sin: leaflets entitled AIDS? / GRID? / GCS? / SLIM?

One way to be thrown out of the bar

Feeling old bit: GCS was 'Gay Compromise Syndrome', yet another early name for Aids. SLIM was a reference to the classic Aids symptom of losing lots of weight and was also very widely used in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yes, there were places that saw such stuff as bad for business, but as we've seen from the gonorrhoea figures, info had started being spread widely long before this scene.

Ritchie goes off on one, despite Jill's best efforts:

Ritchie: "Every time we go out, it's this shit. The whole thing is a pack of lies."

Jill: "No, but that man, Pete, he said he met this man, who said he was -"

Ritchie: "Oh, he said, she said, they said. They're always saying something, but do you wanna know the truth? Do you know what it really is, AIDS? It's a racket, it's a money-making scheme for drugs companies."

.. you'd have to be rather stupid to think that in the UK, not least as we're still a few years in the timeline away from there being any medicine to treat HIV itself, but that doesn't stop Ritchie continuing..

"Do you seriously think there's an illness that only kills gay men? It can calculate that
you're gay and kill you, but no one else?

"Hm, what about bisexuals, do they only get sick every other day?"

The third and last use of 'bisexual'..

.. is a biphobic joke. Thanks, Russell

I hope you enjoyed that 'bisexual = half gay' biphobic joke, because it's the third and last time anyone says "bisexual" in the entire series.

"And they say it's a cancer, but you can't catch cancer. [16]It turned out that Karposi's sarcoma is caused by a virus, so yes, you can. It did explain something doctors had been wondering about: why did so many gay and bisexual men with Aids get KS, but not … Continue reading Cancer is not a thing that can get caught. It's not like a cold or a cough, it's cancer. It doesn't transmit. Just imagine it, gay cancer. How is a cancer gay? I mean, what does it look like? Is it pink? Where is it? Is it in the wrists?

"I mean, for God's sake. You get all these stories and all these rumours, and all these nightmares, because that's what they want you to think, that lot. They wanna scare us and stop us having sex and make us really boring, basically because they can't get laid. That's the truth. [17]There was quite a lot of sex happening amongst the people doing the health promotion, trust me.

"'Cause according to them, how does it work, this Aids thing? Okay, they say it's spread by poppers. They say it arrived from outer space on a comet. And they say that God created it to strike us dead! They say it was created in a laboratory to kill us. They say it's the Russians. They say we got it from the jungle. They say it's caused by friction! They say it's in the spunk. They say Freddie Laker spread it, when he introduced cheap flights. They say there's one patient zero spreading it wherever he goes. They say it affects homosexuals, Haitians and haemophiliacs, like there's a disease which has targeted the letter H. Who's it gonna get next? People from Hartlepool and Hampshire and Hull?

"Don't you see what all of these things have got in common? They're not true! And how do I know? How do I know it's not true? Because I'm not stupid! Which means… I don't believe it."

Looking at the other bits of the rant..

.. poppers were considered to be a cause as they're harmful in a variety of ways. They did (and do) help spread HIV – making anal sex easier and bringing blood closer to the walls of the gut – but that's not a cause

.. outer space? There's a theory that some basic building blocks of life arrived via comets, but I didn't remember anyone suggesting they were linked to Aids.. until looking at some archives and yep some idiots did

.. God? Obviously there was religious-based prejudice – Roscoe's just talked about some

.. Soviets? We're still in the middle of the Cold War here, of course, and the KGB had an operation to blame Aids on US biological warfare labs

.. jungle – turned out to be the correct answer! HIV is the result of ancient chimp and monkey viruses crossing over into humans around the start of the 20th Century

.. friction? As with poppers, it's not a cause, but it helps transmission. Lube is great!

.. in the spunk (semen)? Yep. It's why condoms are effective in preventing transmission!

.. Freddie Laker spread it, when he introduced cheap flights? By making travel between the UK and US much cheaper, he probably inadvertently did…

.. one patient zero? (Cue picture of an air steward.) This is the understandably wrong conclusion that some would take from And The Band Played On, published four years later, largely because its author had mistaken the letter 'O' ("[from] Out of California") for a zero on a chart tracing the sexual contacts of some early Aids patients in San Francisco

.. affects homosexuals, Haitians and haemophiliacs? Yep, these were the groups it was first noticed affecting in the USA, via semen and/or blood products, and (along with heroin users) they'd all been mentioned in Killer in the Village. It had longer unnoticed in Haiti, thanks to its (American-supported) dictator being more interested in his personal wealth than a health system. It had also very probably been killing homeless people – the symptoms of the "Junkie 'flu" that had been around in places like New York since the early/mid-1970s match those of Aids – for many years before it was noticed in gay men with health insurance…

Why this matters: this is before the identification of HIV as the cause of the collapse of the immune system that results in an Aids diagnosis, but it doesn't matter. The authors of How to Have Sex in an Epidemic didn't know the exact cause either – they thought it was the combination of several things – but it was very clear that it was sexually transmitted, especially via anal sex (and also transmittable via direct blood contact). Hence the community's invention of safer sex years before the scientists found out exactly what was being protected against.

Feeling old bit: not only does the series start the same month as the London Bisexual Group, Ritchie then ends up in (what's supposed to be) the early gay superclub Heaven, the actual first venue for the LBG's meetings. Sadly, he doesn't go into the toilets, which at one point around then had strobe lights and Beethoven's Ode to Joy playing to celebrate the sex that happened within them.

There's a quick aside that his 21st birthday is coming up and he will be "legal at last". For other men (if no-one else was present) anyway – he's been legal for Jill for nearly five years.. he's just not shown the slightest interest in her or any other woman.

Their older friend Gregory / 'Gloria' doesn't show up to the 21st. Turns out he "hasn't been very well" and Jill is the only one he can talk to about it… having had something like TB.

Feeling old bit: At one point, his doctors wondered if he'd had sex with animals – I suspect being asked this is someone's true story.

"I'll get sacked if word gets out. They sack people for being gay, never mind Aids."

Feeling old bit: yep, there was case law that said it was OK for you to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation, not because you were prejudiced, but you thought someone else might be!

Before long she's acting as an informal 'buddy'. [18]There was soon a 'buddy' system of trained volunteers who provided emotional and practical support to people with Aids, complete with being matched to one or two people for a continuing relationship. Quite a chunk of this was done by lesbians – ditto giving Aids info via things like London's Lesbian & Gay Switchboard – which is why it's particularly noticeable that the series doesn't have a single named lesbian character. According to RTD, five episodes – four hours of TV! – isn't enough to do that… even though it was plenty of time to trash bisexuals.

Gregory turns up at their place a few weeks later, and she gives the mug he's used the best cleaning ever, before later chucking it away, then getting it out of the bin to smash it with a hammer before returning the bits to the bin.

It's A Sin - the mug that someone with Aids drank out of is about to be smashed

Just about to smash the mug that someone with Aids drank out of

Such an over-reaction is rather odd, especially given what she's just done for him and what she knows about the sex lives of at least three of her flatmates. Dramatically, she does have to have some sort of character arc, I suppose, and it does remind me of..

Feeling old bit: the worst reaction I've ever had to coming out as bisexual to someone. It was in the mid/late 1980s when paying an artist friend I'd known for several years for some more of her great paintings. She took the notes I'd given her, went to an envelope she was going to post to someone else, took the cash out of that, and put my notes inside instead. I blame the Daily Mail (she was a reader..)

She visits a doctor for the contraceptive pill – this would be the nearest we see her having any sort of sex life, but she's very open that she doesn't really want it…

Jill: "It's not like I need the pill, to be honest, but you never know. [laughs] I live in hope. [laughs, then gulps as she's given the prescription] I wanted to ask, have you got any… I just thought I'd ask while I'm here, I was wondering if you had any information about Aids?"

Doctor: "What would you want that for?"

Jill: "I just wanna know. You know, any official facts."

Doctor: "Well, it doesn't affect you."

Jill: "I know."

Doctor: "It literally doesn't affect you."

Jill: "I know, but friends of mine, I just wanna help. Have you got anything, any booklet?"

Doctor: "Why would I? I don't understand what you mean. Why on earth would I have anything to do with that?"

Having failed there, as Colin's just about to leave for his short trip to New York, Jill gives him a request list:

"Because there are boys dying all over the world from sex, and I wanna know why. But no one knows, Colin, no one really knows. No one knows anything. And there's nothing in the library, there's nothing on TV, there's nothing in this entire country. There's no information anywhere. We've got this great big killer disease and it's happening in silence."

Feeling old bit: By this point, we're up to July 1984, and this simply isn't true. THT is coming up to its first anniversary as a formal organisation (and has been a registered charity since the start of the year). Capital Gay was covering the epidemic and you could also get imports of US material. On TV, BBC 2's Horizon series had broadcast an updated version of Killer in the Village back in April: "Since [last year] the number of victims has tripled from 1,300 to some 4,000 men, women and babies, with over 1,500 dead."

Roscoe's sister turns up with her newborn, and it's quickly clear that no-one else knows abut the visit, especially not her husband or parents.

In New York – probably not via Laker's Skytrain! – we see Colin being shown needing a map to navigate while walking somewhere where streets are in a rectangular grid and numbered in a regular pattern. He ends up in his room looking at the gay press he's picked up. Notably, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic isn't in the pile.

"1,112 AND COUNTING" is one headline – it's Larry Kramer's article in the New York Native, published back in March. [19]I know the article itself was reprinted, but is getting a new copy of a four month-old newspaper the most impressive thing Colin ever does? 🙂 The number is that of known "serious" Aids cases in the USA – there were many more not (yet) so serious.

In the middle of his reading, Mr Hart turns up with a "rather expensive" bottle of wine with him. And some more sex pestering..

It's A Sin - some more sexual harassment of Colin by Mr Hart

It's A Sin - .. at least until he spots the Aids stories in the gay press Colin's picked up

.. at least until he spots the gay press, with some more "Aids panic" headlines, and decides to go back to his own room to Colin's huge relief.

Back in London, Jill arrives to do some more buddying for Gregory, but his father and sister are there and do not want her around before they take him back to Glasgow to die:

"Thank you for nothing, for encouraging him .. fuck off".

Jill lies to the rest of the gang about discovering he is leaving town via meeting Gregory on the street, but they aren't interested – Ritchie and Jill have their Equity cards, and Gregory was far too old – 30 or 34!?! – for them to want as a partner.

Roscoe: "He was someone we knew, that's all. .. He's walked off owing me ten quid."

She can see what's going to happen, but goes about it the wrong way – the 'just say "no"' approach – and they're not interested:

Jill: "Don't you ever think you should…"

Ritchie: "What?"

Jill: "Stop for a bit."

Ritchie: "Stop what?"

Jill: "Sex."

Ritchie: "Why do you say that?"

Jill: "I don't know."

Ritchie: "No. Why did you say it? Oh, my God, they got you. The thought police, you are infected."

Jill: "No, I'm just saying."

Ritchie: "Jill, don't listen to that shit."

Jill: "Do you know what? I'll listen to whatever I want." [sighs] Because the problem with you is you're too clever."

Ritchie: "Ah, it has been said."

Jill: "No, I mean it. You're too clever by half, like, in your mind, you can think your way out of anything. But think about this, head boy. If there was an illness, and say you had it, and you slept with him and then you slept with him and then you slept with 500 people, like all of you do, every weekend, then tell me, Ritchie, if you're so clever, what's going to stop it spreading? What's gonna save you? Your A Levels? Get smart, idiot. [kisses him on the forehead and leaves]

Ritchie: [scoffs]

Feeling old bit: this is why the community's invention of safer sex was so important.

Colin has finished his three year apprenticeship, but will not be taken on. Mr Hart has decided Colin's job has come to an end and gets his female secretary to do the deed:

Colin: "Am I sacked?"

Her: "No. It's more like you're not employed any more."

..

Colin: "Did I do something wrong?"

Her: "I don't know. Did you?"

Very obviously this is linked to rejecting Mr Hart… just to rub in the evil bisexual sex pest aspect.

Then it's Christmas 1984 and..

.. Roscoe drops some cash through the letterbox at his mother's and runs away;

.. Colin's now working in a copy shop;

.. Jill's reading Capital London Gay's front cover "HTLV-3 retrovirus: can they find an accurate test for the virus?" She's also sitting with the group of older men in the pub who take Aids more seriously;

It's A Sin - 'London Gay' asking about HIV testing

.. we couldn't get the rights to use the real title, Capital Gay?

Feeling old bit: in 1983 HTLV-III was one of the first suggestions for the name of what we now all call HIV. It was a political thing: in the US, Robert Gallo 'discovered' a virus he said was similar to other "human T-cell leukaemia viruses" his team had previously discovered, hence HTLV-III. In France, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier had extracted a virus from an Aids patient's lymph nodes, hence wanting to name it lymphadenopathy-associated virus, or LAV. It turned out that Gallo had been sent samples of the virus he'd 'discovered' by the French team, and.. in order to clean up the scientific plagarism mess (and ensure both shared in the royalties for the tests that Gallo developed) it was later renamed human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. [20]There's lots more in And The Band Played On.. Suffice it to say that Gallo was not a recipient of the Noble Prize for discovering HIV, along with Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier. Instead, Harald zur … Continue reading

.. Oh look, Colin's (secretly?) making some "Christmas Concert for Aids Fund" flyers;

.. Mr Hart's arrested (by rather a lot of police) while cottaging with a young male punk. It's the last we ever see or hear of him;

Feeling old bit: Given the public toilets don't look large enough to have somewhere the police could hide, looking / hoping for sexual activity to happen, I'm surprised they don't show someone dressed as "pretty police", actively soliciting for it before arresting anyone who responded.

.. and Gregory is dead, his stuff being burnt in a bonfire in the garden. Cue Gloria on the soundtrack.

Episode three

March 1986. Ritchie has a series of auditions. He seems more interested in using them to check out some of the other actors.

It's A Sin - Donald

Donald

He goes to a gay pub.. and look, there's one he's been eyeing up, Donald:

Ritchie: "I thought this might be your sort of place."

Donald: "No, I'm just having a drink before I go back to the wife."

Ritchie: "Whoa. That's quite a bit of acting." [chuckles]

Oh, it's a bisexual bit I missed the first time! They end up in bed (Donald's a man, after all..)

The reason I missed it is that, again, this is the only mention of a wife or any female partner or interest for Donald. I think the pair even end up having sex at Donald's place and there is zero sign of her. Again, having the word "wife" word was a choice and, again, the result is a reinforcement of the 'says bi, gay really' stereotype.

And just what is Ritchie referring to, when he says "acting"? That Donald's pretending to be bisexual? The eye contact they've had, and the rest, says he's not straight. It might be the audition they've done, but although we see Ritchie going for several non-gay parts (sample: "I've just been helping her with a French Letter", says his character when caught in the bedroom of someone's daughter) no-one comments on his ability to act straight.

What could have been done: there is nothing in the series around negotiated boundaries in committed relationships. Here, we've been presented with someone who says they're in a long-term relationship, and there's nothing like "I can suck you off, but I can't fuck without condoms", for example, or any other boundary agreed with the wife / long-term partner.

If you want to stretch things beyond breaking point, you could say that because there's literally no sight or sign of Mrs Donald, they've agreed a "you can have sex with men, provided I don't know" boundary, but those are almost always accompanied by "and this is the sort of sex with them that's ok", so even if that's the case, Donald will later be seen almost certainly cheating on that.

There isn't even the excuse that this wasn't an issue for gay men in committed relationships.. it's just that none of the main male characters are ever really shown as being in any sort of one. Instead, they're into anonymous casual sex, or a fuck buddy, or virtually celibate, or in a merely transactional relationship. In fact the only gay men in any sort of 'living together' relationship in the series are both literally killed off in episode one, or are already dead when they're mentioned. [21]The men dying in hospital later are either not getting visitors or their male visitors are shown as friends / buddies too. What an odd message that is: "hey kids, committed gay relationships = death!"

Jill's working on a phone helpline.

Feeling old bit: Hmmm, it's a few months before the National Aids Helpline (and more messy!) so realistically that means one of the lesbian and gay ones or THT. You needed to identify as lesbian or gay to be involved with London's Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and we've seen zero evidence of that from her, so it's very probably meant to be THT.

She's also in the French Revolution musical – sample lyrics: "Beware you rich folk / Beware you wealthy / Here's the big joke, you're not healthy". Oh, the irony.

It's A Sin - in the background, a poster for French Revolution

Look at the poster – what show could it be a parody of??

Roscoe has made it?!? Of course, it's just that he was picked up by someone, Cassius, and is in a flat in a block opposite Parliament. [22]The same block as Jeffery Archer's London home, I think, but lower down.

Colin's very proud of the way he's given a set of keys to the copy shop, to the others' amusement:

Roscoe: "I've had sex with a millionaire, but you've gone and beaten me.."

What could have been done: a bit more on the mix of men united by looking for sex with each other.

Ritchie is still with Donald – no sign, ever, of his wife – and the rest wonder if, gasp, he's now officially what Ritchie reckoned he'd never have, a boyfriend.

We see how wonderful Colin is via producing the best 'photocopies' ever, A3 posters for a 'Save the G[reater] L[ondon] C[ouncil]' rally.. [23]There is no way those are 1980s photocopies – these were individually printed. Look at the evenness of the large solid black areas, or the perfectly spotless light areas. Oh, and look at the … Continue reading

It's A Sin - Colin's perfect photocopies

No-one in the 1980s ever did photocopies as good as this one!

.. but as his boss arrives, he's lying twitching on the floor, having a fit.

In hospital, we hear there's no epilepsy in the family, and no obvious cause.

Ritchie and Donald are snuggled up together watching Donald's TV role at his place, I think – wife? What wife? – and Ash and Roscoe are also watching on a black and white set at the gang's. (Saving a chunk on the licence fee there…)

Feeling old bit: I did laugh at the quality of the 'Look! Shot on 1980s video cameras!'

Turns out Donald wants to fuck Ritchie, and Ritchie wants to fuck Donald. It's their first time fucking together, and Donald gets out a "sheath".. only to lose his erection. Ritchie goes for 'do we need to use one?' and out comes the horrible C-word:

"We're both clean, don't you think? I've not done anything dirty."

Roscoe turns up at Cassius's place, only to have the door opened by a half-dressed (and much older) Arthur Garrison.

"Cassius doesn't live here, what makes you think he does? .. Wait a minute. Did he bring you here? Have you been inside this flat?"

Back at Donald's, it's campy gossip time:

Donald: "I tell you who else, Philip Schofield."

Ritchie: "Oh, if only."

Donald: "I had a friend who worked in The Broom Cupboard. Said he's at it like Billy-o. [24]If that line wasn't cleared with Philip first, I will be astonished. And guess who? My other friend was working at The National, says this one walks around with a boyfriend like it's not even a secret .. Derek Jacobi."

Ritchie: "No way, Claudius!"

Donald: "I-Clavdivs gay! Can you imagine if people found out?"

Ritchie: "Mm, never work again."

Donald: "Never work again. 'Cause you see those people working for Gay Sweatshop and I mean, well done, but they will never ever ever ever get cast in anything else ever again."

Hmm, that's the second 'married a woman, later came out as gay' celebrity mentioned.

Feeling old bit: sample actors at Gay Sweatshop: Antony Sher and Simon Callow. Tom Robinson did the music for several of their shows. You'd also have to be theatrically clueless not to know of many more actors who were known not to be straight but still getting work.

Feeling old bit: I am still greatly amused at the voice of Claudius in the wonderful I, Claudius reading lines like "What a lot of ponking on the Pinky Ponk today" for CBeebies' In The Night Garden.

As Donald's being very helpful in giving a rehearsal piece – and he's been far more successful than Ritchie – we and Ritchie see a mark on his back, just above his pants. Is that a KS lesion? It looks very like a KS lesion. "Oh shit!" says Ritchie's face.

Meanwhile, Colin's back in Wales after his fit. His mum knows and makes it very clear that he can come out to her. Not that he does:

Mum: "You know your flatmate, Roscoe. .. He wears make-up."

Colin: "Yeah."

Mum: "They're a nice little gang, your mates. .. They're nice and they're funny. They're a bit different, aren't they? I was thinking they're a queer little lot I suppose."

Colin: "Yeah."

Mum: "Well, I think that's nice."

He is having issues with his mind though, hearing and seeing things, and while a GP is visiting, has another fit.

Oh look, he's alone in another locked ward. Because he's quickly diagnosed with Aids, with the epilepsy caused by an associated inflammation in his brain:

Consultant: "Have you heard of Aids?"

Mum: "Have I heard of what?"

Consultant: "It's the disease that.. [sighs] ended the life of Rock Hudson? Aids is associated with the homosexual male population."

Mum: "But is Colin going to be all right?"

Consultant: "I did say it's incurable."

Even if the death of Rock Hudson was a big prod to US government action over Aids, oh look, it's the third 'married, then discovered to be gay' celebrity name to be dropped. You'd hope the consultant knew about bisexuality too.

While we're there, let's throw in some (accurate) homophobia:

Senior police officer: "Your son is infectious. So we've been granted a court order for his detention under the Public Heath Act of 1984. No-one is allowed in and he's certainly not allowed out."

Mum: "You mean he's under arrest?"

SPO: "It's important to say that none of this is our fault. AIDS is transmitted by sex with men. If he chose to be part of that cesspit, well, who am I to judge? But my judgment is vital when his disease becomes a public menace. Because that's what he is now, you see? Your son is dangerous to others.

It's a combination of referring to the infamous 1986 remark by James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, that people with Aids were "swirling in a human cesspit of their own making" and being more than a wee bit clunky: "Look! You don't need to be a slut to get Aids!"

At this point, we've not been shown Colin having a single partner, so it's almost like there's no virus necessary: just being gay gives you Aids.

The gang are just as puzzled:

"Well he did talk about some boy. Never said who, like years ago before he moved in.

.. and adding to the depiction of Ritchie and Roscoe as people who have no clue:

Ritchie: "I can't believe it."

Jill: "Gets him, could get anyone."

Ritchie: "I've never had sex with Colin."

Jill: "Oh, that's not the fucking point!" [exits with Ash]

Roscoe: "I share a room with him."

.. before he goes off to strip the room of Colin's stuff, while Ritchie examines his body in the mirror looking for lesions, then phone home from a call box to ask his parents for enough to have a phone line installed at the (diminishing) gang's place.

Feeling old bit: spot the then new phenomenon of phone box 'tart cards' in the background.

It's A Sin - when tart cards were new

No-one's interested in Donald in Heaven, and Ritchie won't answer the door to him either. If either of them ever thought what they had was a "relationship", it is very definitely over.

In Wales, Colin's mum is listening to Welsh TV or radio, as she writes to her MP.. and she gets a turd through the letter box. Just to show the Welsh aren't too bad, it's nicely wrapped up in a box, in some newspaper.

At the helpline, Jill and Ash meet with a lawyer, Elizabeth, over what's happened to Colin:

"Give me every single detail of what those little Welsh bastards have done, 'cause I'm gonna enjoy this."

With her hood still up [25]"Look! A Muslim woman lawyer"? next scene, she's in Wales laying it down:

"There is a precedent for your actions. Page six. 14th September, 1985 a man was detained at the Monsall Isolation Hospital outside Manchester. Please note page seven. Upon appeal he was released immediately.

"Further to that, your court order is using a very precise legal phrase here, a mess, an unholy mess. You made an application under the Public Health Act of 1984, which is incorrect. The provisions for infectious diseases fall under the regulations of 1985, making this null and void.

"Obviously that's before we even talk about compensation for testing my client's blood without permission. And there's a legal term for that too. Expensive."

But wait! She's even nicer!

"But above and beyond everything else, the most important thing I've come here to tell you today is this: we're here to help. ..

"Because this disease is terrifying and no wonder you're scared. Frightens me to death."

Someone with her, possibly from unnamed helpline/charity: "But we've got guidelines. We can help your staff, I promise you."

Elizabeth: "So we could go to court all guns blazing, or we could just step back, together, we could pause and step back and think and put Colin first. So what do you say?"

With him in a London hospital, it looks like Colin has 'JC'. Even Ritchie visits, if only to remind us again what a self-centred thing he is:

Colin: "God, this is weird. Richie's being nice to me. Am I that bad? .. I really must be dyin'. .. I miss you hopping out of the shower in the morning 'cause I always thought you looked so sexy."

Ritchie: "Right [chuckles] good well. I am."

Jill: "Oh, it's all coming out now." [nervous laugh]

Colin: "I always fancied him. Did you not know?"

Ritchie: "Uh, no, I never did. But you're wise, Colin, I'll give you that. You've got very good taste."

Colin: "You'd walk around in that towel. I'd take myself off and have a wank."

Ritchie: "Right, okay."

.. and the extent of Colin's brain damage is shown when he starts masturbating.

This is the prod for the rest of the gang (or all the male members, anyway) to get tested for HIV. At the time, they'd be a six week wait for results.

It turns out that Garrison's a Tory MP. Roscoe goes in the back at some hotel event to quietly either blackmail him or make him an offer he doesn't want to refuse.

Donald's written out. Ritchie gets a part that the producers wanted Donald for and Ritchie's agent knows why:

"Turns out he's gone home, for good .. There's a lot of boys who go home these days. More and more of them, every month, going home. And I don't think we'll ever see them again, do you?"

No mention of a wife for Donald there, either.

A few weeks later, the results are back: Ash is HIV -ve; Roscoe is HIV -ve:

"You are fucking kidding me? No way, seriously? I've had everyone, that's not fair!"

Cut to the guillotine falling in the production Jill's still doing, just to make Colin's imminent death clearer. Jill is pointedly shown kissing him in contrast to the (Welsh) funeral places that have made it clear they don't want anything to do with the body.

In flashback, we see that it was the son at the boarding home Colin arrived at in the first episode that he thinks he caught HIV from. Probably because it's the only person he's ever shown as being sexual with.

And, argh, as he's fucking Colin he says:

"Shut up, you little bender."

I am fucking including that in the portrayal of bisexuality in the series. There's no agreed role-play shown as going on, for example, and oh look, his family had no idea he wasn't straight either.

Because somewhat clunkily it turns out that he's also being treated for Aids in the same hospital, and Colin's old landlady is outraged at the diagnosis:

"I don't care, you've got it wrong. My son is a normal man, he's not one of those filthy dirty queers! Whatever is wrong with him, I'm telling you it's not that…"

Finally, Ritchie's result is also back.. but he doesn't answer to his name and walks out without receiving it.

What could have been done: there was, at the time, some serious controversy over whether or not testing was a good thing. Even THT was advising people to think carefully before accepting a test.

If you were told you were HIV +ve, yes, you'd know you had it.. but then what? With no treatment and assorted insurers wanting to know if you'd ever been tested – regardless of the result – what was the upside? If you told people your HIV status, lots of them would run away screaming. You can't 'untell' anyone, and if the news spread, you could (would) be the subject of all sorts of discrimination.

If you were told you were HIV -ve, you'd still be expected to have safer sex. Nothing in your life would change, except, perhaps those insurance premiums or the ability to get cover in the first place.

Of course, many people did test and that lead to another issue: there were so many HIV +ve results compared to the number of Aids cases that it looked for a while like the chance of that leading to getting Aids might be lower than one in ten.. or way lower than the one in three or so chance of smoking killing you. Did it matter if you were HIV +ve?

Frighteningly soon – there was literally no treatment for Aids in 1986, remember – it became clear that this was just the delay between infection and the damage to the immune system becoming critical and it looked like most (or, even more horrifically, all) of those with HIV would eventually develop Aids.

Episode four

Opens with the remaining gang watching 1987's 'Aids: don't die of ignorance' campaign 'Monolith' ad on TV. "My mother's watching this" says Ritchie, except that his father is switching channel. To Michael Barrymore. (Argh, it's the fourth 'married, then came out as gay' name drop in four episodes.)

What could have been done: the main reason that campaign ever happened was that the HIV sector used the "bisexual threat" to get action and money out of a Tory government that hadn't been treating the deaths of gay and bisexual men as particularly important.

It was quickly realised that "everyone is at risk" was the magic button, as well as being "a powerful weapon against anti-gay prejudice in 1986, and it was the only one that the gay community had with which to protect itself at a time of brutal public attack. .. The THT hierarchy sought to persuade the government that the nation itself was endangered, while not entirely believing it itself." [26]Zoe Schramm-Evans, 1990

But how on earth could the sector get the government of Mrs Thatcher – sample speech from 1987: "Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated. [applause from the Tory audience]" – to think that a third of, say, the Tory-voting London borough of Kensington and Chelsea would end up with Aids if they didn't do something quickly? [27]"We thought about a third of the population of Kensington and Chelsea was going to have Aids in a few years' time", commented their ex-Director of Social Services at a conference in 1990. No-one would believe they all took up an injecting drug habit. Or magically developed haemophilia.

Ah ha! Bisexual men would spread it from the (seen as expendable) gay community into the nice straight one! And it worked, even though it was something bisexual men would never ever win from: if there was a significant spread, it'd be our fault, but if there wasn't, it just shows that there are barely any bisexual men. As shown here.

It is suddenly March 1988. Ritchie is taking lots of vitamins. And still looking for lesions. And going to with the gang to funerals. Like Peter's:

Minister: ".. that's a fine way to remember him, as a wonderful son, a fine brother to Ruth and a loving uncle to Steven and Grace. Now if you'd like to take.."

Man just behind the gang: "And boyfriend to Nicholas."

[congregation murmurs]

Minister: "I'm sorry but, ah, if we could just continue, thank you."

Man: "He was boyfriend to Nick Jacobs for six years. You can't leave him out like he doesn't exist."

Minister: "I'm really very sorry, but it's not the time or the place."

Second man just behind the gang: "Oh, yes, it is. Nick isn't even here because you banned him."

First man: "He loved your son, Mrs. Burrows. All the way to the end.

Peter's sister: "For God's sake. .. Shame on you. Shame on you! Can't you leave us alone for one day of our lives."

First man: "We knew him. .. Who he really was. .. You all know what it was."

Sister: "You are all dirty people!"

Roscoe: [looking on] "I love it!"

Feeling old bit: yep, this sort of erasure of the real lives of people dying with Aids was common.

I would say that, for possibly the first time so far, Ritchie isn't shown as a selfish prick.. except that we're clearly meant to (and I hope do!) sympathise with those men:

Ritchie: "I just think it's their son's funeral, for God's sake. Of all the days to have a go at them."

Roscoe: "Don't be so pathetic, Ritchie."

Ritchie: "No, his mother's devastated, be fair."

The men: "Do you know what she did, his mother, his lovely mum? She chucked him out. She chucked him out onto the street, changed the locks, put his stuff in bin bags and threw it away. They took the dog, Ritchie. They took the fucking dog."

Elizabeth: "And there's just nothing we can do. Nick's got no legal standing whatsoever. He's not a widow, he's not an ex. He's just nothing."

Look! With just four short sentences you can say something about the problems of having no legal status for same-sex relationships! Remind me why there wasn't space to have various other issues?

Ritchie even opts out of attending further funerals.

And just to make it even clearer that his earlier "I'm more like bisexual really" is indeed an example of "says 'bisexual', gay really":

"I came to London when I was 18. I thought, 'Great, I can be gay.'"

Feeling old bit: Jill and Ritchie can buy the enormous London flat for £42,000, roughly three times their joint income.

Ah ha, the mortgage / life insurance checks:

Estate agent: "Are you homosexual?"

Ritchie: "No."

Estate agent: "No. Have you ever had an HIV test?"

Ritchie: "No."

Estate agent: "No. Have you ever shared a bed with another man?"

Ritchie: "No."

Feeling old bit: I don't remember anyone being asked the last one, but I wouldn't be amazed if someone had. I do wonder why Jill isn't there, though, given she has the more stable income – her show looks like it will run forever – and presenting as a nice straight couple would have made his denials easier to believe.

Roscoe has plenty of money and it turns out he's now.. being paid to be? .. Garrison's boyfriend. Would he be invited to such dinners though? [28]The ILEA they're talking about was the Inner London Education Authority. The more famous Greater London Council had already been abolished.

Ritchie is beginning to worry that vitamins aren't enough.. to the point he's drinking his own piss, and calls a helpline. From a call box, even though they now have a phone at home:

Ritchie: "I just need to know if you're HIV, and that's if, okay? If. Is there anything you can take to stop HIV becoming AIDS?"

Man on phoneline: "Have you been tested for HIV?"

Ritchie: "No, but that's not the point. What about AZT? Can I buy that?"

Man: "No I'm sorry, it's not for sale. And it's not a cure."

Feeling old bit: AZT was approved as the first treatment for Aids in 1987 and just delayed its progression rather than stopping it.. [29]As the first drug that might actually work in treating Aids, many participants in the initial US trial shared their tablets with others on it, so the effect of AZT vs a placebo was blurred, and even … Continue reading

There's also what must be seen by many as a deliberate echo of Trump's idea of bleach as a cure for Covid-19:

Ritchie: "Someone said there's this man, he had HIV and he was cured. He stopped AIDS by taking battery acid. Is that true?"

Man: "Please don't try that."

We're then shown people trying that, although Ritchie runs away before it's his turn.

In a slightly clunky move, Ash is suddenly working in schools. It's an excuse to drop in Section 28 – he's told to examine the school's library for offensive – i.e. homosexual – material and finds nothing:

"Jane Austen did not write about lesbians."

Despite everything they did during the early years of the UK's Aids epidemic, that's the only use of the word 'lesbian' in the entire series.

"What did you really say?" asks Ritchie, as everyone else applauds.. "There's a couple of Mary Renault's" admits Ash.

Oh, and confirming something suggested at the start of the first two episodes, Ritchie's a Tory.

Feeling old bit: Which is not only fitting for his character, but accurate. There was some research at the time that reckoned that most gay men voted Tory, because of things like their taxation policies, rather than against them, because of things like Section 28.

(Given the reaction Ritchie gets from everyone else, I wondered if they know who it is Roscoe is getting his money from and why. It turns out that no, they don't.)

Ritchie also rejects a chance to have sex with Ash again.

But he is in Doctor Who! (One benefit of RTD having been a showrunner for that!) With Daleks! Even if it's just for one story. Unfortunately, the lighting director [30]Looking a bit like Jon Pertwee! setting up a close-up reckons he has something wrong with his skin.

Giving a pseudonym, he's quickly off to a clinic and is told:

"I've had a look and the result seems to be definite. I'm sorry to say you've passed the threshold into a diagnosis of Aids."

He doesn't want to listen to the doctor, and is soon off to the Isle of Wight, convinced he's had a death sentence..

.. not that that stops him from wanting to hook up with a (male, obs) crush from school. Remember the way he didn't want to hear about Colin masturbating over him? Well… :

Ritchie: "You looked good. You looked amazing. I kept thinking you looked sexy. It's funny, I look back and I really fancied you. Is that okay?"

Martin: "Yeah."

Ritchie: "'Cause, you know, I live in London now and I'm gay. Is that alright?"

Martin: "It's not really a surprise. (laughs)"

..

Ritchie: "I used to think about you night and day, all those years in school, going home every day and running upstairs and wanking about you."

Martin: "Okay, that's enough."

Ritchie: "Literally, thousands of wanks."

Martin: "Really, that's enough."

There's one final opportunity to show Ritchie was telling the truth about being "more like bisexual": he talks about knowing Martin had sex with a girl they both knew and he's thought about it a million times since. If he said it was both of them he was jealous of, rather than it being obvious it was just her, for example, that would have done it. Nope.

There's also a passing reference to another girl classmate who'd died due to "drugs". That was probably another Aids death, but it's not presented as such. It's the nearest the series gets to admitting that it wasn't just gay (oh, and bisexual) men dying…

Of course, despite Martin being clearly and vocally uncomfortable with all this, he carries on:

Ritchie: "I loved you… I thought tonight, say hello, get you drunk, bring you down the beach. And suck you off."

Martin: "I'm not gay."

Ritchie: "You could just lie back and close your eyes. I mean, don't you wanna cum? Everybody wants to cum. Who doesn't wanna cum? If you could cum right now, wouldn't you?"

Martin: "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Having warned Ritchie that if he tries it on with any other straight man, they'd "punch your face in"..

Feeling old bit: given the level of homo/biphobia driven by the coverage of Aids, absolutely right, they probably would..

.. Martin drives him to his parents and we get the closest Ritchie comes to being a sympathetic character, when he says he will never be James Bond or in homoerotic films like Top Gun with Tom Cruise: [31]Married and not come out as gay because he's totally heterosexual, but I'd love to see RTD have to swear he believes that.

Ritchie: "I could have done anything. But I never will, now. I never will."

Martin: "You might."

Ritchie: "I'll never be anything. Ever."

Ritchie exits, showing off his ballet skills.

Back in London, it's time for Jill's "Aids needs aid" ACT-UP-style demo, and Roscoe to be a token "coloured" face for Garrison [32]"Get me a woman in ethnic dress!" said Paddy Ashdown once, looking to have them in the background for his leader's speech to his party's conference. instead.

Jill: "Uh, how many of us in total?"

Other organiser: ".. We might make 50."

Jill: "That's not bad."

Other organiser: "There's 600,000 gay people in this city. Where the fuck are they?"

Oooh, where do we start with that figure? 1988 was a low point in the era for London's population, at 6.7 million, so there is no way that the 600,000 doesn't include lesbians – note the pointed use of "people" rather than "men"! – and bisexuals (and if you look at attraction, very probably undercounts the bisexuals..)

If I do more now on the demographics, publishing this will take longer, but this is effectively the series' representation of lesbians in the UK Aids pandemic: people who couldn't be bothered enough about it to show up at a demo.

Meanwhile, Roscoe and Garrison are hiding in a store cupboard, waiting for the right moment to make an official entrance at the event the latter has organised. Mrs Thatcher has just arrived – they've just seen what's supposed to be her from the rear.

Roscoe: "Oh, my God. Have you got a hard-on?"

Garrison: "I am standing to attention."

Roscoe: "You dirty dog."

Garrison: "Well, I can't help it. She does make things rather exciting."

Roscoe: "That's for her??"

Garrison: "The Lady."

Roscoe: "You're hard for her??"

Garrison: "It's quite a thrill."

Roscoe: "She gives you a hard-on??"

Garrison: "Roscoe, you're young, you don't understand the world yet."

Roscoe: "I understand that you're gay."

Garrison: "Good God, I'm not gay."

Roscoe: "Then what are you with me?"

Garrison: "Well, every so often one has to shove one's face in the shit just so you can lift your head up and smell the sweet roses afterwards."

Ah, another terrible representation of bisexuality. At least Roscoe pisses in Thatcher's coffee, before running off to join in the road blocking and die-in.

Which helps him get his job back at the bar.

Feeling old bit: the police putting on rubber gloves before arresting people they think are gay is accurate.

Jill gets beaten up by the police, which annoys Ritchie – who has also unexpectedly turned up – enough to end up bleeding too after intervening. Inside the police van, he warns people not to touch him because he's bleeding, which at least Jill and Ash realise the implications of. Ritchie announces:

"I'm going to live."

Episode five

November 1988. Ritchie is finally in a big theatre play and, from his position and actions at the curtain call, the lead. A comment later – and the design – strongly suggests that it's meant to be Hay Fever except that the lead in that is definitely a woman.

November 1991. Ritchie is having more health issues. These necessitate half past seven bed times, and plenty of pills for the assorted problems.

At 1:42am he falls out of bed and has a temperature. When an ambulance arrives, they're told he was on AZT, and has been on ddI since August – not only are we still a few years before the serious trials of having three antiretroviral drugs at the same time, ddI has only just been approved as a treatment in the USA. It does explain his stomach problems – the first version of ddI used a buffering compound to protect it against stomach acid that both tasted foul and often led to diarrhoea.

Charity, their downstairs neighbour, wonders what's happening. On Roscoe telling her, she says:

Charity: "Tell him God blesses his soul."

Roscoe: "Charity from downstairs says, 'God blesses your soul.'"

Ritchie: "Oh, I feel better already."

Charity: "He's such a beautiful boy, but you know what they say, don't you? You know what the Aids stands for?"

Roscoe: "What?"

Charity: "It stands for angels in disguise. They are preparing the way for his eternal life. He's very lucky."

Roscoe: "Yeah"

.. before he smashes the window of her shop with a bin.

As she's leaving the hospital Jill is sidetracked by a nurse who tells her that there are several other Aids patients. Some aren't getting visitors and "this could be your last chance". (We never see Jill getting any support.)

Ash and Ritchie say "I love you" to each other, finally.

Despite the advice of his consultant, Ritchie insists on getting chemotherapy for a lymphoma in his chest, despite knowing it will weaken him. Jill tries suggesting that might not be a good idea, but within a couple of seconds gives up.

Also in the hospital, Roscoe spots his father, who is also visiting someone with Aids:

Roscoe: "If you've come here to convert these people, I will have you thrown out onto the street."

Oscar: "I swear, that man, Reggie Lessips, he's from the church, he asked for me and I came."

Roscoe: "You know he's queer."

Oscar: "I have blessed him."

Roscoe: "I thought you'd gone. They said you'd gone back to Nigeria."

Oscar: "I was in the west, and I saw terrible things."

Roscoe: "Ugh, my heart bleeds."

Oscar: "I went into hospitals and I saw people, locked away with no medicines. These doors were locked, and the people behind them were like animals. I said, 'Who are they?' And they said, 'They are the devils. We let them die.' People with that disease. But men and women, so many women, and children too."

Feeling old bit: it's a somewhat subtle way of showing the good Aids / bad Aids world view that was very prevalent. Many newspapers loved talking about "innocent victims" in comparison to those nasty gay and bisexual men. Some got over it, like his father, but people working in HIV organisations at the time will remember that when the scandal of HIV +ve children in Romanian orphanages was exposed, far too many donors to the appeals that were opened in response insisted that their money not go to the queers with Aids.

What could have been done: And it wasn't just the newspapers. When AZT was being tried in the UK, Channel Four News – then half of the 'we do the serious news, seriously' programmes on UK TV – had an extended campaign to get the ex-girlfriend of a bisexual man treated with what was then literally the only medicine thought to have any effect in treating Aids.. but didn't do the same for him, although both had a diagnosis of Aids.

It was.. fucking weird watching one of the UK's two serious news programmes basically saying that, if I had Aids, it was OK with me dying without any effective treatment. [33]It turned out that AZT on its own wasn't enough and it wasn't until the mid-90s that combination therapy – using three anti-HIV drugs – transformed the lives of people with HIV to the … Continue reading I don't think we ever got told what happened to her – despite being a very regular watcher of the programme then, I doubtless missed some. I certainly don't think we ever got told what happened to him, but it's not difficult to guess.

Roscoe's father gives thanks that Roscoe believes he's HIV -ve:

"Don't thank God. I just got lucky with who I fucked."

.. which is arguably the best line in the series, because if your 'with other people' sex life started when his (and mine) did, so much of it was luck.

Because not everyone's did, there is more love online for "La!" [34]If you haven't seen the series, don't ask. and this exchange:

Oscar: "It is the hardest challenge the Lord gives us, to forgive."

Roscoe: "I don't want your forgiveness."

Oscar: "No. I mean can you forgive me?"

After a few seconds of Roscoe thinking about that, we don't see if he does or not.

Speaking of forgiveness and guilt, Ritchie is soon having an intense conversation with Ash and Jill:

Ritchie: "Do you think I infected [Donald]?"

Jill: "I wasn't saying that."

Ritchie: "Because I did, with others, 'cause I knew and I kept having sex. I thought I'd stop, and I did a lot of times, I stopped a million times. [Looks at Ash] I stopped with you.

"But there were nights with too much booze, [35]It's noticeable that the only uses of non-tobacco, non-alcoholic drugs in the entire series is the single quick shot of someone sniffing some poppers during Ritchie's 'causes of Aids' rant and the … Continue reading actually, nights when I was stone cold sober, and if a boy just looked at me in the right way, a boy with that look in his eye, I'd fuck him. I would fuck him hard and he could fuck me all night, any way he likes.

"I wonder how many I killed?"

In contrast to Roscoe and his father, when Ritchie wonders if Jill hates him, she instantly holds his hand.

It turns out he hasn't told his parents, who turn up unexpectedly at this point. Via listing his assorted issues, he finally says:

I've got Aids. I'm gay. I'm homosexual. I contracted HIV, and I'm sorry, but now it's Aids.

They are predictably clueless.

As ever, it's left up to Jill to clean up:

Jill: "I wanna say, and I'm not criticizing Ritchie, I just think you should know, I told him to tell you 100 times."

Mum: "See what you don't understand is this. Boys are terrible, Jill. They will do anything. They are randy, they just are. So when something like gay comes along, [36]No, I don't get this line either. it's just another chance to.. unload. And someone like Richie, he's young and he's pretty and there'll be lots of those men paying him attention and so he goes rutting once in a while.

"But that doesn't make him homosexual. It's a little bit of fun, but then you grow up."

Jill: "I suppose I don't know, maybe some boys are like that. But then there's Richie, who's gay, absolutely definitely gay. He's beautifully gay. [laughs] I'm sorry, but look at him. I mean he's an actor, he sings songs from the musicals, [37]That first edition of The Joy of Gay Sex warns its readers that, in Europe, a man being interested in the arts doesn't necessarily mean he's gay… he's never had a girlfriend."

Mum: "And now he's got a gay disease."

Jill: "Yes, yes he has."

Oh look, a chance to throw in "just a phase" one more time. Then erase all the bisexuals with Aids (along with everyone else, but at this point in the UK, Aids is overwhelmingly affecting gay and bisexual men…)

Another man's mother goes WTF at her not realising Ritchie was gay.

Mum: "Have I got this right? I'm being blamed for not knowing my son, when you conspired and moved heaven and earth to lie to me."

Jill: "I wasn't lying."

Mum: "You sat there next to him, in my house, time after time after time with this great big elaborate lie."

Jill: "I told you, I said every time, I told you I wasn't his girlfriend."

Mum: "And then you sat there simpering, laughing at every word he said, and you think I'm the one who's deceived. Never mind about him having a boyfriend. Where the bloody hell is yours?"

Jill: "I was doing what Richie wanted."

Mum: "Is this what you are, a chorus girl, running round after these boys with no life of your own?"

Jill: "Okay, but I don't really think this is about me."

Mum: "But I think this is absolutely about you. Because you stood in the way, you stood in the way. If I couldn't see it, it's because you stood in the way, you.. monstrous.. big.. bitch."

It is an interesting question – we never see Jill in any sort of sexual or romantic relationship.

Ritchie oddly thinks – in 1991 – that it's not clear whether or not there's HIV in saliva and if infection is possible that way. (No, it isn't possible.)

Before too long, his father's accepted it and then Ritchie has been taken / gone to the Isle of Wight, and it's his mum lying to both Ritchie and Jill about what's happening.

Jill's sainthood is confirmed for one last time when she uses an advance of residuals for a voice-over from Ritchie's agent to go with Roscoe to the Isle of Wight, not to rescue Ritchie but to see him for the last time. Ritchie wants to see her too:

Ritchie: "I had so much fun. [laughs] I had all those boys. I had hundreds of them."

Mum: "Oh Richie, don't talk like that."

Ritchie: "And do you know what? I can remember every single one of them. Some boy's hair or his lips, the way he laughed at a joke, his bedroom, the stairs, his photographs, his face as he cums. Seeing him across the club six years later and thinking, oh, that's him, and he's with someone and he looks happy. And I think, oh that's nice, 'cause they were great. Some of them are bastards, but they were all great.

"That's what people will forget, that it was so much fun. Do you understand what I mean?"

Mum: "No."

Ritchie: "That's why I need to see Jill."

But, having put Jill off repeatedly and not passed on messages in either direction between them, his mother demonstrates, once again, that she is the evil Anti-Jill and doesn't even meet with her herself until it's too late:

"He died yesterday, yesterday afternoon."

It turns out that she wasn't in the room at the time, so there was no-one with him. But it's not her fault, she insists.

Jill: "Actually it is your fault, Mrs Tozer. All of this is your fault."

Mum: "Well thank you very much. That's ridiculous."

Jill: "But it is, right from the start, 'cause I don't know what happened to you to make that house so loveless. But that's why Richie grew up so ashamed of himself. .. And then he killed people."

Mum: "And what is that supposed to mean?"

Jill: "He was ashamed, and he kept on being ashamed. He kept the shame going by having sex with men, and infecting them and then running away. 'Cause that's what shame does, Valerie. It makes him think he deserves it. The wards are full of men who think they deserve it. They are dying, and a little bit of them thinks, 'Yes, this is right. I brought this on myself. It's my fault because the sex that I love is killing me.' I mean it's astonishing. The perfect virus came along to prove you right.

"So that's what happened in your house. He died because of you. They all die because of you."

Mmmm.. I'm not quite convinced. This episode in particular has gone all out to cast her in a bad light, but was Richie ever ashamed of – rather than full of – himself? Really??

Everyone else gets told he's died and they're all very sad.

Christmas passes, Roscoe goes to his parents and is allowed in.

Jill continues visiting people in the Aids ward.

(Ash presumably does something somewhere too.)

Flashback to everyone happily together (on Hampstead Heath?) with a CGI / stunt seagull stealing Ritchie's ice cream.

The End.

So..

Unlike many, I didn't cry once watching this. That's not because I am heartless in general or about the UK Aids pandemic in particular.

It's because I was there at the time, the same age as the main protagonists, sometimes to the point of literally being in exactly the same place.. and I'm erased from it, along with any positive representation of bisexuals and bisexuality.

In Cucumber, Russell T Davies gave us bisexuality as 'anything that moves'; 'child abusing closeted cheat'; 'just a phase'; and 'obnoxious self-loathing murderer'.

Here, it's bisexuals as 'predatory married man'; 'says "bisexual", gay really' (and 'says has "wife", but presumably cheating and also gay really'!); plus men who say "shut up, you little bender" during sex with another man or that they're not gay, just that having (black!!) boyfriends is 'shoving one's face in the shit'; plus 'not there when it comes to protesting'. Oh, and the 'says "bisexual", gay really' reckons bisexuals are "half gay".

And there are the more minor things, like just how many of the names dropped being men who were married, then said they were gay.

This is what erasure looks like.

(If I were a lesbian involved in the response to Aids, I'd be even more annoyed because they don't even get the stereotypes!)

The Jill questions

Is Jill 'ace' in more ways than being a complete saint? Apart from the..

"This is Ritchie, he says he's bisexual, so he can have sex with you or me, so what do you wanna do? Wrestle for him?"

..line, she's not shown as being sexually interested, never mind involved, with anyone. At all. Is she asexual? Is she being treated as irrelevant? (It's notable that every single one of the people shown to have HIV/Aids is shown as male.) Is she absorbing the "sex = death" message that much of the coverage of Aids gave? You can't – unless you're a completely bi-erasing writer – think that all of the stream of young men through the gang's flat were Kinsey 6 100% gay, for example, so why were none of them even shown eyeing her up?

There's someone on the web wondering if she's the latest in a line of..

magical negros and mammies. The trope sees Black characters selflessly helping white people and also possessing special insight that other characters don’t have (that’s the 'magical' bit, think Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, or the cook in The Shining).

.. and even if half the male gang are also black / mixed race, most of the time she's helping Ritchie. Or Colin. Or some other white gay man.

Speaking of that..

It's very noticeable that, with the exception of the man Roscoe's father is seeing at the end and possibly Juan Pablo, all the men shown to have HIV / Aids are white.

That didn't (and doesn't) reflect the reality.


Appendix: Look! Our designer heard about the 1980s!

The Socialist Workers Party's Thatcher / Reagan Gone With The Wind poster!

Ash reading the novelisation of Restaurant at the End of the Universe!

The smoker on the Colin/Henry bus having a Walkman!

Nice fakes:

The poster for a music release called 'Love is a curse'(!) in the background as Roscoe is picked up from the building site!

More time travelling:

The National Theatre production of Guys and Dolls with Ian Charleston – he died with Aids in 1990 – didn't open until 1982. Despite that, it's on the wall at Ash's room at college in September 1981. [38]Look, you have a show where musical theatre is a big thing, don't be surprised if people notice this!

Similarly, the production of Pygmalion mentioned on something on Ritchie's college room didn't open until 1984.

And not all of it:

Despite some haze, there are far too few people smoking in lots of the gay scene crowd shots to be realistic, sadly. Smoking will kill more of them than HIV did.


(Feb 2021 Update: some spelling corrections plus added Killer in the Village.)

(Feb 2021 Update 2: adding the Channel Four News anecdote that I thought was already in there.)

Notes

Notes
1 It didn't feel like a good thing to have happened at the time, but that it did is one of the big reasons I am still here…
2 We only see the "pper" bit of the title, but the typeface is right, as is the content. The issue number of 60 is notably too high for 1981, though I think. I can find an '1982' issue for sale that's number 40, for example. That one was £2.50 then, the equivalent of about £8.50 now, rather than the £3.50 shown on this copy.
3 Dr Martin Cole's Fundamentals of Sex (1971), aka "Dr Cole's Sex Book Shocker" (Daily Mirror). My (now obviously to me gay/bisexual) chemistry teacher brought it into school one day and let us have a look at it. I remember everyone else wanting to look at the pictures, while I wanted to read some of the text! You couldn't see much in the intercourse pictures, for example. I've now got my own copy, obs.
4 HIV was already spreading in the USA when it was written. I see from notes inside that I bought my copy as an import in 1983 for £8.95.
5 The chemistry teacher mentioned above also did the sex education and mentioned a 'friend' who had been to the local STI clinic so often they were just asked "Is it front or back this time?"
6 A real thing at the time! Unlike the music posters we're about to see in the background, all of which seem to be modern fakes.
7 He won't have got it from WH Smiths – they stopped carrying it in their shops and wholesalers – and so lots of other shops – in 1978 until 1982 because of its coverage of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
8 Would they really have advertised that post somewhere he could see? How was he interviewed? I am not convinced..
9 The best selling single in the UK that year, in fact. The duo lost many tens of thousands of pounds because of having another cover on the B-side and losing the composing royalties they'd have got by using one of their songs instead.
10 I cannot remember ever having had a sexual fantasy involving just one of them.. just a threesome with both.
11 A neighbour of Henry and Juan Pablo calls the latter "A bloody Argie", so the Falklands War must have at least started.
12 Two days after the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest!
13 No-one would say.. "In their personal relationships, gay men are free from feminine restraints. In heterosexual relationships, the male traditionally is the hunter. When both are hunters, the effect is explosive. Some gay men can claim hundreds of tricks – that is new sexual contacts – each year, so sexually transmitted disease is commonplace – for many, an inevitable part of the lifestyle – and regular check-ups guard against the health hazard of sexual overload. This is the clinic attached to the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Los Angeles. .. No lesbians – women have more stable relationships and less disease if they avoid men" .. now, I hope, particularly as the last bit is rather biphobic.
14 In order to get acting work in the UK at the time, almost everywhere wanted you to be a member of the Equity union.. but you couldn't join without already having done a chunk of performance work. Hence the singing duo.
15 A couple of decades later, the ethics of giving HIV prevalence figures for various groups of men was still being discussed in the HIV sector. Could you ask a gay bar in, say, Manchester to put up posters that effectively said 'you'd be safer shagging in Liverpool'? And, just as important, if you said that more men in their 40s had HIV than men in their 20s, were the gay men in their 40s producing these materials harming their own chances of a shag?
16 It turned out that Karposi's sarcoma is caused by a virus, so yes, you can. It did explain something doctors had been wondering about: why did so many gay and bisexual men with Aids get KS, but not those who caught it via shared needles or blood supplies?
17 There was quite a lot of sex happening amongst the people doing the health promotion, trust me.
18 There was soon a 'buddy' system of trained volunteers who provided emotional and practical support to people with Aids, complete with being matched to one or two people for a continuing relationship.
19 I know the article itself was reprinted, but is getting a new copy of a four month-old newspaper the most impressive thing Colin ever does? 🙂
20 There's lots more in And The Band Played On.. Suffice it to say that Gallo was not a recipient of the Noble Prize for discovering HIV, along with Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier. Instead, Harald zur Hausen, discoverer of HPV, the cause of most cervical cancer, shared it.
21 The men dying in hospital later are either not getting visitors or their male visitors are shown as friends / buddies too.
22 The same block as Jeffery Archer's London home, I think, but lower down.
23 There is no way those are 1980s photocopies – these were individually printed. Look at the evenness of the large solid black areas, or the perfectly spotless light areas. Oh, and look at the way that the 'A' and the 'V' in 'SAVE' is very badly kerned whereas all the other text is ok in that regard – I suspect that's deliberate on the part of whoever made it up to try to make it look as if it was done before the widespread use of DTP programs.
24 If that line wasn't cleared with Philip first, I will be astonished.
25 "Look! A Muslim woman lawyer"?
26 Zoe Schramm-Evans, 1990
27 "We thought about a third of the population of Kensington and Chelsea was going to have Aids in a few years' time", commented their ex-Director of Social Services at a conference in 1990.
28 The ILEA they're talking about was the Inner London Education Authority. The more famous Greater London Council had already been abolished.
29 As the first drug that might actually work in treating Aids, many participants in the initial US trial shared their tablets with others on it, so the effect of AZT vs a placebo was blurred, and even then so many people on the placebo died that it was halted early. The Concorde trial a few years later showed that AZT alone had no effect in delaying the onset of Aids, and it wasn't until 1996 that it was shown that taking at least three anti-HIV drugs worked.
30 Looking a bit like Jon Pertwee!
31 Married and not come out as gay because he's totally heterosexual, but I'd love to see RTD have to swear he believes that.
32 "Get me a woman in ethnic dress!" said Paddy Ashdown once, looking to have them in the background for his leader's speech to his party's conference.
33 It turned out that AZT on its own wasn't enough and it wasn't until the mid-90s that combination therapy – using three anti-HIV drugs – transformed the lives of people with HIV to the point of 'normal life expectancy, impossible to pass HIV on', but that wasn't known at the time.
34 If you haven't seen the series, don't ask.
35 It's noticeable that the only uses of non-tobacco, non-alcoholic drugs in the entire series is the single quick shot of someone sniffing some poppers during Ritchie's 'causes of Aids' rant and the old schoolfriend who died of "drugs".
36 No, I don't get this line either.
37 That first edition of The Joy of Gay Sex warns its readers that, in Europe, a man being interested in the arts doesn't necessarily mean he's gay…
38 Look, you have a show where musical theatre is a big thing, don't be surprised if people notice this!

1 thought on “The Curate's Sin?

  1. Ian

    Ah, looks like I was wrong about the Philip Schofield line:

    When one names Phillip Schofield, I assume this is a good joke — but it turns out to have been a total accident.

    “Gay men always say that a handsome man on television is gay. So in the 1980s we always used to say Phillip Schofield was gay,” Davies laughs. “The lawyer [for It’s a Sin] said, ‘No, you don’t need to clear this with Schofield, because he’s straight. He’s married with children, we don’t need to check that.’ Only now he’s come out! Isn’t that weird?

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/its-a-sin-russell-t-davies-hiv-aids-rmgnhc8x7

    Reply

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