The BBC has largely ignored the controversy about the Heinz Deli Mayo advert, but on Thursday the 'BBC News Magazine' published a piece by Tom Geoghegan - It started with a kiss. The article looks, amongst other things, at the history of same-sex relationships on British television.
Tom Geoghegan's article claims that, twenty-one years after Britain's first gay kiss on primetime TV, a show of intimacy between two men clearly still has the capacity to shock television audiences. This assertion is presumably based on the 200 or so complaints received by the Advertising Standards Authority during the five days period that the ad was screened. But there are around 60 million people in Britain. So 200 out of 60 million represents about 0.000003% and within a few days of Heinz announcing that the ad had been pulled loads more people called for it to be reinstated, including some MPs.
Yesterday leader of the Lib-Dems, Nick Clegg, wrote to the Director of UK Corporate Affairs at Heinz urging him to reconsider. Mr Clegg acknowledged that some people in Britain today are uncomfortable with same-sex relationships, but he says that "such prejudice should not be condoned" by an organisation of Heinz's size and stature. He goes on to say:-
The sight of two men kissing affectionately should not be considered offensive or controversial. This is particularly the case in an advertisement which was so rich in irony and double-meaning.
The decision to withdraw it has not only offended many gay, lesbian, transgender - and straight - people, it also represents a backward step in attempts to combat homophobia in Britain today, not to mention a collective loss of humour.
Tom's e-zine article refers to a gay kiss in Byker Grove in 1994. But even before that, Grange Hill's staff included Mr Brisley, a gay teacher. He managed to overcome homophobia from the kids at the school, and eventually got accepted like the other staff. Mr Brisley left Grange Hill in 1999, and since about 2002 the programme has been unwilling to deal with LGBT issues. Byker Grove included a gay storyline in 2004/5 shortly before being axed in 2006.
Just as Heinz was catering to the prejudice of a small number of parents when it withdrew its Mayo commercial, so the BBC caters, more so than in the past, to the prejudices of narrow-minded parents in the way it runs public service broadcasting for children.