Video recordings of the event “Remembering Channel 4’s Out on Tuesday: Queer Spaces in Public Service Television”, November 2019

2019 saw 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 a 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.

On Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd November, 2019, at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, we held a screening and discussion event revisiting this pioneering and influential UK television series, featuring the programme’s commissioner, and some of its series editors and filmmakers, alongside other contributors. The symposium explored 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.

Here, we publish the video recordings of the discursive sessions from that day, with many thanks to Russell Banfield for his videography, and to BIMI, Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality and the department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London, for funding the costs of this record, as well as covering the expense of other elements of the event. We also warmly thank John Cranmer of MayaVision for his invaluable work on digitising much of the material, which made our screenings at the event possible.

Video 1: Introduction to the event: Professor Catherine Grant (Birkbeck) and Professor Mandy Merck (Royal Holloway). And In conversation with Caroline Spry, commissioning and series editor of ‘Out on Tuesday,’ and Dr. Janet McCabe (Birkbeck)

Video 2: In discussion with Caroline Spry (series editor), Clare Beavan (series producer and director), and Caz Gorham (reporter for ‘Stand on Your Man’), chaired by Prof. Catherine Grant.

Video 3: Illustrated talk by Prof. Mandy Merck (Royal Holloway), The Politics and Style of ‘Out on Tuesday’, 1989-90

Video 4: In conversation with Richard Kwietniowski (series director), discussing his contribution to the series, with Prof. Catherine Grant (Birkbeck), with extracts and artwork material. They were joined by Dr. Elaine Drainville who added her perspective as a sound recordist on the series.

Video 5: Closing panel on the legacy of Out on Tuesday, chaired by Prof. Catherine Grant and Dr. Janet McCabe, with Caroline Spry, Prof. Mandy Merck, Rebecca Dobbs (producer/Maya Vision), Richard Kwietniowski, Frances Dickenson (director), Dr. Elaine Drainville, Chris Woods, Alan Warburton (Birkbeck) and Dr. Kulraj Phullar (Royal Holloway); including a compilation ‘Out on Tuesday/OUT and politics’