Remembering Channel 4’s Out on Tuesday: Queer Spaces in Public Service Television 

Book your free tickets:

  • Friday 22nd November: 14.00-17.00 Screening of some programmes and films made for the series. Birkbeck Cinema Book here
  • Friday 22nd November: 18.00-21.00 Discussion and screening event featuring the programme’s commissioner and some of its series producers and filmmakers, alongside other contributors involved in making the programmes for the series. Birkbeck Cinema Book here
  • Saturday 23rd November: 10.00-16.30 Discussion and screening event featuring the programme’s commissioner and some of its series producers and filmmakers, alongside other contributors involved in making the programmes for the series. Birkbeck Cinema Book here

2019 sees the 30th anniversary of the inaugural transmission by the UK’s Channel Four Television Corporation of the world’s first public service, free-to air broadcast television series aimed at what was defined at the time as a lesbian and gay audience. The channel’s ground-breaking Out on Tuesday (later OUT) series ran between 1989 and 1994 and set about giving new, often radical representation to diverse queer sexualities, cultures, experiences and histories on our TV screens.

The series was the culmination of the efforts and canvassing by a lot of campaigners, journalists, film and video artists and a very small number of those working in television calling for more visibility and more regular and positive representation on British television. Out on Tuesday grew from the demand for media access embedded in UK lesbian and gay liberation, prompted by international cultural activism. It was also influenced by models of public service television, primarily from Europe, informing the formation of Channel 4, with its commitment to create space for new and different voices on television. 

The journey towards creating Out on Tuesday was a long and bumpy one. It unfolded against a backdrop of the early years of the AIDS epidemic and within the context of a homophobic counterattack of ascendant right-wing politics in Britain under a Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher. This involved questions in Parliament and the draconian Section 28 anti-gay legislation, and more broadly a campaign by anti-permissive society activist Mary Whitehouse and the hysteria of broadly phobic tabloid newspapers and the media more generally.

What emerged was a multi-strand, largely factual based one-hour weekly programme aimed at the almost impossible task of representing a plethora of sexuality-based lifestyles, cultures, politics and history. Over the course of five years it covered a diversity of subjects including then controversial stories such as gays in Nazi Germany; gay club drug culture; lesbian mothers; and the at times antagonistic relationship between gay men and lesbians. It ranged across international stories, experimental formats, reclaimed histories and public debates and just plain gay trivia! Many of the stories were being aired on TV for the first time.

Out on Tuesday featured a small number of out celebrities, including Ian McKellen, Audre Lorde, Paul Gambaccini, Beatrix Campbell and Paul O’Grady. It was a ratings success for Channel 4, not only making visible its institutional mission to address minority audiences, but in gaining regularly high figures for factual television series. It also generated a huge number of powerful comments from viewers, overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic about the experience of seeing a few of our experiences appearing in a mainstream slot on television.

Join us at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 November for a screening and discussion event in three parts (Fri 2-5pm, Fri 6-9pm and Sat 10.am-4.30pm), co-sponsored by Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality (BIGS), revisiting this pioneering and influential UK television series, featuring the programme’s commissioner and some of its series producers and filmmakers, alongside other contributors involved in making the programmes for the series. The symposium will explore the pioneering mission of the public service minded-Channel 4 through the lens of Out on Tuesday, to discuss what it was to produce this kind of programming, deliver new and innovative content, as well as the process of defining a cultural agenda and make visible a form of public activism within the production of new queer representations.