Queer As Walford:
How Gays Are Portrayed on EastEnders
By Phil Hansen
(Editor’s note: The following article contains some
plot developments that may not been broadcast yet on
U.S. public TV, so beware if you don’t want to know
what happens ahead.)
Watching two strands of EastEnders on PBS and BBC
America, what really sticks out to me are 1999
EastEnders and 2003 EastEnders’ depiction of gay
characters. On the episodes showing on my local PBS
station, Tony and Simon have just left, and Dr. Fred
Fonseca has not come out as yet. In the BBC America
2003 EastEnders, Derek now seems firmly established as
part of the Fowler family.
Over the years EastEnders has always strived to
present gay and lesbian characters as part of the
diversity of modern life, with prominent storylines
devoted to Colin and Barry and, later on, Binnie and
Della. How do the current episodes of EastEnders
At best, Tony and Simon can only be written off
as ambitious failures. Tony and Simon burst onto
Albert Square as the most high-profile, interesting
gay characters EastEnders had ever shown. Unlike
previous gays in Walford, Tony and Simon were related
to major families in EastEnders, thus ensuring
front-burner status in storylines. The initial plot
of Tony going out with Tiffany only to fall for her
brother Simon led up to a highly controversial kiss on
Blackpool pier. (Reportedly, this gay kiss was snipped
from 45 seconds to about 3 seconds when shown on the
BBC’s Sunday Omnibus replay of the week’s episodes
after viewer complaints!)
The Tony/Simon/Tiffany story was fantastic and
unlike anything EastEnders had shown before.
Unfortunately, all this promise evaporated.
Once Tony and Simon became a couple, Tony seemed to
wake up in the morning and fancy girls again. Polly
(that hair!), Frankie (bitch!) and Teresa (slag!) all
hooked up with Tony to no noticeable dramatic effect.
It seemed like the writers of EE had no idea what to
do to keep Tony and Simon interesting so they made
Tony bisexual. It’s a pity that nothing noteworthy
occurred because of that.
What happened to Simon was even worse. It’s hard
to tell how much of it had to do with the actor who
plays Simon, Andrew Lynford, or the EE writers, but
Simon grew more and more irritating. He forever seemed
to be whining and obnoxious, not having a kind word or
glance for anyone but his Mum and Tiffany. I even
started to like the homophobic Terry and Irene more!
When Simon got a new boyfriend who wanted an open
relationship, I couldn’t help thinking that anyone
with Simon as a boyfriend would naturally want to see
My dislike of Simon grew to mammoth proportions
after the death of Tiffany. His speech at her funeral,
where he blamed Grant for Tiffany’s death, struck me
as grotesquely inappropriate and in fact spoiled a
moving, dramatic episode. Simon’s kidnapping of
Courtney, climaxing in a ridiculous (literal)
cliffhanger with a deranged Simon on a cliff with
Courtney, felt borderline homophobic in its
implications. I don’t think the makers of EE intended
it to have that effect but, as shown, it felt like the
evil homosexual was being portrayed as a destroyer of
the family and family values.
Simon’s redemption as a result of his almost
burning to death would have been welcome at this
point. What we got instead was an EVEN MORE obnoxious
Simon, who rejected Tony after Tony steadfastly stood
by Simon’s side through his trauma. Tony got Simon’s
flat ready for him and even cooked him dinner the day
Simon got out of the hospital and Simon still threw
Tony out! It is unbelievable that Tony continued to
have such strong feelings for Simon that they were
able to ride off into the sunset together, to travel
around the world presumably forever. Good riddance!
EE’s next gay character, Dr. Fred Fonseca,
barely made a blip on the radar. I must confess I have
not seen as yet the episodes where the good doctor
comes out, or the fallout from that. When I started
watching the BBCA episodes, he was gone. In the
episodes I’ve been watching from 1999, Dr. Fonseca is
bland as tofu. He hardly does anything or speaks to
anyone. Occasionally he doles out medical advice.
Dr. Fonseca is the epitome of a sexless gay
character, whose only purpose is to prop up the more
colorful straight characters. He doesn’t exist as a
character in his own right. This is a waste of talent,
as Jimi Mistry went on to show considerable charisma
in films such as East is East and The Guru. Dr.
Fonseca was a huge missed opportunity for the writers
Happily, the same can’t be said of the
production team of current EE. Their sole gay
character, Derek, has unconventionally settled into
the show as a replacement father figure for Mark and
Martin, and as Pauline’s best (only?) friend, making
him and Pauline a sort of geriatric Will & Grace.
It is also notable that Derek is EE’s first
older gay character. Derek’s introduction was
excellent. Pauline ran into her old school friend as
part of the cast of the community pantomime and she
started to fall in love with him, only to discover
Derek was gay when she was introduced to his
boyfriend! After Derek broke up with his lover, he
started to appear more and more in Albert Square until
he was firmly established.
What I love about Derek is how likeable he is.
The story in which Martin rejected Derek because of
harassment by his friends about Derek’s sexuality to
his gradual acceptance of Derek worked so well because
of the sympathy I felt for Derek. It’s great to see
Derek be there for Martin when it looks like Martin
might go to jail.
When Derek fought with Pauline over her recent
disowning of Mark, it was heartbreaking to watch
Pauline lash out at Derek Equally moving was Derek’s
recollection of Pauline protecting him from bullies
when they were at school and their eventual
It is also refreshing that a gay man can be shown
to be part of a family without having lust for any of
the male members of that family. A nasty anonymous
letter and Martin’s so-called friends accused Derek of
hanging around the Fowlers because of lust for Martin
but that is not the case.
Derek has nothing but unconditional love for
Pauline and her family. While Derek is not defined by
his sexuality, I would like him to gain some kind of
romantic interest, if only to see Pauline’s reaction!
(I can hear her now. “You’re not good enough for my
Derek! He doesn’t need you—he has me!”)
While EE has had mixed results with its depiction
of gay characters, the show has scored with one
fantastic gay storyline that doesn’t have any gay
characters in it.
I’m talking about Steve and Matthew’s hilariously
homoerotic relationship! They are forever acting as if
they are sleeping together and don’t want anyone to
know! Notice how Steve is always touching
Matthew—putting his arm around him or grabbing his
head. His gifts of money to Matthew and Matthew
promising “not to tell” can totally be interpreted the
wrong way. I thought I was the only one seeing this
until Annie Palmer accused Steve of having a
relationship with Matthew! I have such a laugh when
the camera focuses on Annie’s bewildered expression
every time she sees Matthew and Steve together.
Seriously, it is the chemistry between Martin
Kemp and Joe Absolom, who played Steve and Matthew,
that makes for such riveting viewing. That is one
thing EastEnders has never got right: a compelling gay
couple, like Keith and David on Six Feet Under. What
are you waiting for, EastEnders? Give Derek a
boyfriend. Let him be subjected to a typically
tortured Walford relationship!
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