Television drama, in many of its genres, picks up on and dramatizes contemporary social and political issues in order to maintain relevance and credibility in a medium whose appeal is founded on immediacy (Ellis 2000). This chapter identifies the political discourses that have regulated the ways in which homosexuality has been represented on television over recent decades. In particular it maps the transition from secrecy, invisibility and shame to coming out, visibility and pride in the history of gay and lesbian representation in British television. In doing so it engages with the cultural debates arising from liberation movements of the 1970s, the politics of hybridity in the 1980s and queer activism in the 1990s.

As well as this historical trajectory, the chapter is structured around the institutional spaces for gay, lesbian and queer drama in the UK, from the relatively constrained opportunities for politically progressive representations in the mainstream to the less inhibited approaches that have emerged in ‘quality’ drama on minority channels. This includes the trend towards more commercial definitions of ‘quality’ through their appeal to an international niche market. Shifting definitions of ‘quality’ and the cultures of taste from which they derive are explored in relation to the emergence of multistrand serial forms to replace the single plays and art films that previously defined this category. These changes raise questions about audience reception and the increasingly ambivalent ideological effects of postmodern narrative forms. The chapter begins with a brief overview of the changing political and aesthetic discourses regulating gay and lesbian representation before moving on to the discussion of specific examples.