Lost 1950s BBC gay documentary brought to life in new play

Previously lost footage from a 1950s BBC radio show is to be staged in a new play in London.

A portrait of Jordan Tweddle who will be starring in ‘The BBC’s First Homosexual’ a gay documentary based on a lost transcript from the 1950s.
Image: Twitter @inkbrew

In 1953, BBC recorded its first-ever LGBTQ+ documentary about gay men living in Britain. The progressive radio show included rare personal accounts from men portraying what it was like to be queer in the ’50s, but the footage vanished shortly after it aired.

When the documentary was originally recorded 70 years ago, LGBTQ+ people could be prosecuted and imprisoned for being openly queer. The content of the radio show was so taboo at the time of recording that it sat on the BBC shelves for four years before finally being broadcast in 1957. Even then, the subject was considered incredibly controversial.

The original transcript was recently rediscovered, and it is being brought to the stage in the form of a script-in-hand play. Dr Marcus Collins gathered portions of the original material, internal BBC staff memos, and letters that were collected from the public after the initial broadcast aired, and together, these materials were used to create a basis for the production.

Speaking about the content, Collins said: “It’s been hard to read some of the material at times, but it has also been an honour to get this amazing insight into this lost programme and its view of homosexuality.”

From there, award-winning playwright, Stephen M Hornby, adapted the materials to construct a play from the archives. The content has been reimagined to combine both fiction and non-fiction elements. When talking about his creative process, Hornby said, “I’ve mixed up fragments from the BBC archive with the fictional story of a young man exploring his sexuality in the 1950s… Through him, we get a window into being gay in the 1950s and we see the impact of the documentary has upon him.”

The First Homosexual premiered at New Adelphi Studio on December 1. The performance was part of the BBC’s 100 celebrations which commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the broadcaster by showcasing favourite historical collections, special programmes, and memorable broadcasting moments.

This gay documentary was the first of its time, and it’s affirming to know that this previously lost material will now be safely preserved in BBC archives.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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