In last month’s New Directions ‘GK’ wrote (if I may risk an innuendo) a ‘tongue in cheek’ article about the lack of a gay footballer in Footballer’s Wives. This, he felt, represented an unreasonable resistance to a movement which has invaded every other ‘pitch’, from East Enders to Hello! magazine.
GK might have taken some comfort – if that is the right expression – from the fact that The Bill, the ‘Common Worship’ of Dixon of Dock Green, has already had a story about two gay police officers. We can scarcely imagine what old George would have had to say about that after his customary ‘Evening all’ on the station steps.
It is not this, however, which has put me off watching a programme which once helped me cope with homesickness during a year in the Antipodes. Rather, it is The Bill’s complete feminization. Where there were once twenty-eight reliable minutes of cops and robbers, we now have an hour of ‘girlie’ stuff. And before anyone accuses me of chauvinism, ITV producers have admitted this is deliberate. Prior to this transformation, The Bill was failing to attract the young female audience, and it is these who drive TV viewing. So The Bill was turned into a soap. The result? Old fans have fled in droves, but the viewing figures have gone up.
But this is true for everything on TV. Interpersonal ‘drama’ drives prime-time TV. It is not enough simply to show how to build a pergola or wallpaper a bedroom. You must have the tears and emotion of the denouement. The image of the Royle Family, with dad controlling the telly as the modern ‘head of the household’ is, it seems, a myth. The man may hold the controls, but woman controls the man. Yet what, I still ask, is controlling the woman? As I keep reminding a soap fan of my acquaintance, ‘They’re making it up. It’s not real.’
Paul Marquess, the saviour of The Bill, comments, ‘My cast is now a Metropolitan dream, full of women and minorities’ (Evening Standard, 12/2/03). In his view, the plotline about the gay officers ‘worked a treat’, adding ‘As a gay man I never expected it to be so successful.’ Marquess also devised Footballers Wives.