Words: Will Stroude
EastEnders’ historic first gay kiss is set to be aired on BBC Four this month as part of the channel’s Pride season.
The January 24, 1989 episode of the BBC series, which memorably featured British soap’s first mouth-to-mouth same-sex kiss between Colin Russell (played by Lord Michael Cashman) and his boyfriend Guido (Nicholas Donovan), will be broadcast in full on Monday, August 23 at 8.30pm, DigitalSpy reports.
At the time, the scene was blasted by the British tabloid press, with Piers Morgan, then a writer at The Sun newspaper, describing the brief kiss as a “homosexual love scene between yuppie p***s” that was “screened in the early evening when millions of children were watching.”
(Morgan publicly apologised for these comments last year, writing on Twitter: “It was offensive, it was wrong, and I apologise for it.”)
The character of Colin was first introduced in 1986, and had been involved in British soap’s first gay kiss scene of any kind when he lightly kissed his boyfriend Barry Clark (Gary Hailes) on the forehead in 1987, sparking a then-record number of complaints.
Colin notably faced homophobia from Albert Square legend Dot Cotton (June Brown), who began to spread rumours that he had HIV. The pair would later go on to strike up a firm friendship, and in 2016 the character returned for a two-episode stint to invite Dot to his wedding.
Actor Michael Cashman would go on to co-found the LGBTQ rights charity Stonewall in 1989 with figures including Sir Ian McKellen. After sitting as a Labour Member of the European Parliament from 1999-2014, he was appointed to the House of Lords and served as Labour’s special envoy on LGBT issues until 2019, when he cut ties with the party over Brexit.
Speaking to Attitude in 2017, Lord Cashman recalled the outcry that accompanied time on EastEnders in the late ’80s, when fears about HIV/AIDS were stoking homophobia across Britain.
“The postbag that I was getting, the letters were predominantly supportive,” Michael revealed. “What I didn’t know about – it was only given to me years later by the BBC – were the really vicious letters that they kept back. I was put on an extreme right [group’s] hit list along with others like Sue Johnston from Brookside, who was campaigning against Section 28 with us.”
Monday, August 23 at 8.30pm
EastEnders’ historic gay kiss episode will be broadcast Monday, August 23 at 8.30pm on BBC Four. EastEnders continues tonight at 7.35pm on BBC One.