This article was first published in December 2014.
Words: Andrew Hayden-Smith
Byker Grove wasn’t just a kid’s TV show that helped launch the careers of Ant and Dec, Jill Halfpenny, myself and many others. It was a show that wasn’t afraid to push boundaries, and it rarely played by the rules.
Teen pregnancy, drug addiction and child abuse were just a few of the gritty subject matters covered during the show’s 17-year run. Remember when PJ went blind after a game of paintball that was clearly missing a lesson in health and safety that day? What about when Marcus got hooked on drugs before cleaning up his act to join boyband Point Break? (Okay so that last part actually happened in real-life).
What about when Geoff, along with that epic beard of his, met his maker and The Grove went up in flames after a gas explosion? It all went on at The Grove, that’s for sure.
Then of course, there was Noddy’s kiss… This was a young lad kissing another on the cheek in the cinema on a children’s programme during the 5 o’clock slot on BBC1.
Looking back now, it’s hard to believe an innocent peck on the cheek could have caused such a stir, but then this was back in 1994.
It was the first time sexuality and dealing with coming out had been tackled on a children’s show - groundbreaking telly, that’s for sure.
As Byker Grove celebrates it’s 25th anniversary, I caught up with Brett Adams, who played Noddy, to ask him about that kiss that caused such controversy....
Do you remember how the press reacted to the kiss?
The press really went to town. It was on the news and in the papers. There was a lot of negativity from the press. Matthew [Robinson, Executive Producer] wouldn't let anyone interview me until it had all calmed down. To this day I still think it was a complete overreaction from the press.
What was the reaction among your schoolmates?
I had left school by the time it aired. On the day it went out I thought sod it and went out to see friends in the evening, some of which were thought of as ' bad lads’ but every one of them to my surprise was very supportive. I did get a little bit of mickey-taking, but 95% of it was meant in good jest.
Being a hetrosexual man yourself, how did you feel about doing it and were you worried at all?
I had no gay friends and I didn’t think I had ever met anyone who was gay, so it never even crossed my mind that one day I might play the first gay character on children's TV. To be completely honest, I just thought ‘What a bloody great storyline!’ I was a hundred percent behind the idea. At no point from the time I was told about the storyline or the weeks after the episode went out did I regret it.
About a month or two after the episode had aired, I received a letter from a young lad about 15 or 16 saying he was going through the same [thing] as Noddy and if he hadn't watched that episode on that day then he would have continued to think he was the only one going through it. He said he honestly felt like committing suicide but after seeing the show and the helpline number on the end credits, he called, got advice and was now much happier. He'd told his parents and friends who supported him and he'd even managed to find a boyfriend. If my storyline upset 10,000 people but helped one person then I see it as a monumental success."
Do you think the kiss would cause such a stir if it aired today?
If it happened today then I honestly don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid. Well, maybe a few small-minded homophobes. Today's society is a bit more accepting than it was 20 years ago. I have 4 children now which is enough to make anyone question their sanity let alone sexuality, but I believe I'm bringing them up in the correct way. My soon to be 8 year old boy said one day when we saw 2 men giving each other a kiss, ‘Daddy that man just kissed another man. Is he allowed to do that?' I said, ‘What do you think?’ and he replied, ‘Well as long as you love the other person it wouldn't matter if you had a tree growing out of your head as long as you were happy. It doesn't really matter if it's a boy or girl you love’. That says it all really, doesn’t it?"