Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 4 October 2010

Frightening the horses*

Hold the front page! Research commissioned by the BBC has revealed that ‘two-thirds of the people surveyed said they would be uncomfortable watching a sex scene between two men before the 9pm watershed ‘.

I’m surprised it’s only two thirds. It’s not that I’m homophobic; it’s just that I’m not actually that comfortable watching a sex scene between anyone that early in the evening – even the sight of a randy wildebeest enthusiastically humping away is liable to put me off my gin and tonic.

You used to be sure of your ground with the 9pm watershed. Not only did it mean fewer awkward questions from the children; you could invite your visiting great-aunt to sit down and watch a costume drama knowing that bosoms might heave with emotion but would remain decently clad throughout.

As with the mobile phone that rings at an inappropriate time, the rules of etiquette have yet to catch up with modern technology. We have no established code for dealing with the sudden appearance of unexpected body parts in our sitting-rooms mid-evening.

Sod’s Law, of course, dictates that the more graphic the scene, the more embarrassing the company in which you will be watching it; consequently the startled viewer is obliged to feign a sudden interest in the Radio Times or leap up and offer to fetch the mother-in-law another drink.

Just because sex has been creeping back towards the six-o’clock-news doesn’t mean we should have more of it just to even up the score. Quite apart from the fact that it’s facile and demeaning to define characters exclusively by their sexuality, it’s usually dramatically superfluous to demonstrate in graphic detail.

After all, we assume the characters in a drama eat breakfast and go to the lavatory, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend five minutes watching them chewing their eggs and bacon or excreting the residue. As a rule of thumb, it would be good if pre-watershed drama should restrict itself to what would be acceptable in a public place - say, a railway platform - at that time of day.

Regardless of orientation, there are levels of intimacy most people would consider unacceptable in public and which should have no place on early-evening television. Perhaps it’s because the shared cigarette is no longer available as convenient broadcasting shorthand – lacking the imagination to think of a replacement, broadcasters simply decided to show the lot.

I am quite content for drama to feature characters who happen to be lesbian, gay or bisexual, or using the preferred terminology, LGBTQQIA** (to which I always want to add ‘Cuthbert! Dibble! Grubb!’), but I – and I’m sure many other viewers - prefer them and everyone else (including the wildebeest) to avoid the steamier displays of affection in my sitting room before 9pm.

*Mrs Patrick Campbell on demonstrations of affection between two actors: ‘Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!’

**lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allies (straight and actively supportive) – a Google minefield if ever there was one! (I am fortunate to have an information source active in gender politics.)


  1. And to illustrate your point you used a picture of two wildebeeste hard at it about 11 and three quarter hours before the watershed?

  2. Good point, MW: perhaps I should have included an instruction not to read the post until after 9pm.

  3. Correct. I'm sure 'blogger can cope with that sort of html.