Britain on Film: LGBT Britain

Britain’s LGBT history is the inspiring subject of our fourth Britain on Film on Tour programme. With films spanning 1909 to 1994, it documents a century in which homosexuality went from crime to Pride, via decades of profoundly courageous activism, and the shifting attitudes to LGBT people and their rights across the board throughout a time of explosive social change. 

Including some of the earliest known representations of LGBT people on screen, the collection includes a 1925 film on ‘Cutie Cattaro’, a boxer more interested in flirting than fighting and a drag queen, ‘Percy’ competing for a prize in 1909. Exploring the struggles and identity politics of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the films cover early AIDS victims recounting their painful experiences; the formation of the Gay Black Group, an early instance of intersectional thinking; and the 1980 fight for transgender rights in the European Court.

It’s a moving and fascinating collection, a social document encompassing both the collective public fight for basic rights and equality and more personal, intimate and psychological ones: the shedding of shame and the ability to be open about one’s most private self; the claiming of the right to love and to say publicly, proudly: this is who I am.

Booking information can be found here

Films in the programme

Battling Bruisers: Some Boxing Buffoonery (1925)

‘Cutie Cattaro’ is the nicest man in boxing, with his elegant walk and camp gestures leaving us in no doubt that we are watching one of the earliest representations of gay men in British cinema. The kisses he and his opponent exchange as they enter the ring may read as a greeting – but the cumulative effect of hints on screen reveal a pair of boxers more interested in each other than the fight.

This Week: Homosexuals (1964) & This Week: Lesbians (1965)

In 1964, This Week produced a truly ground-breaking programme which gave a voice to gay men three years before homosexuality was legalised in the UK. The following year, they turned their attention to lesbianism. Despite the disparaging comments of the interviewer, many of which would be unthinkable on television now, the interviewees respond with both articulate and moving stories.

Hints and Hobbies No.11 (1926)

The Hints and Hobbies series amused and enlightened 1920s cinemagoers with invaluable advice which, we can only hope, few actually tried at home. This extract – Hints to the Ladies on Jiu-Jitsu – is a highlight of the eleventh edition, and perhaps a long-lost chapter from the history of lesbian erotica…

Gays: Speaking Up (1978)

"What's it like being a homosexual in modern, so-called permissive Britain?" asks presenter Llew Gardner in this Thames TV studio discussion. An ‘audience of gays’ patiently explain to Gardner – and by extension the straight world he represents – the challenges they face in coming out and the self-respect gained by acknowledging their true identity.


David is Homosexual (1978)

This Super8 educational film was made by the Lewisham branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and follows lead character David as he comes out to his family and finds new friends in the burgeoning gay rights movement. The extract includes rare footage of the 1976 Gay Pride march in London.

Gay Life (1980)

LWT’s Gay Life was the UK's first dedicated LGBT TV series. This episode, ‘Gay Geography’ celebrates the opening of gay nightclub Heaven in central London by exploring what the contemporary clubbing scene has to offer gay men of all persuasions, with tensions between the emerging factions – ‘camp’ vs. ‘masc’, drag queens vs. leather queens – dominating the programme.

How Percy Won the Beauty Competition (1909)

Drag has a long history in British culture and was popular with gay and straight audiences alike. This is one of the earliest surviving films to feature a man in drag, with protagonist Percy entering a female beauty contest in order to win a £100 prize.

AIDS: The Victims (1985)

Current affairs series TV Eye meets two AIDS sufferers who recount their experiences of living with the disease and facing society's suspicion, fear and misconceptions. When the programme was made 58 AIDS-related deaths had been recorded in Britain; by 2016 that figure had grown to almost 23,000.

Gay Black Group (1983)

The formation of the Gay Black Group was a landmark in black and Asian LGBT history. With regular meetings at Gay’s the Word bookshop in London, it offered a sounding board and support for queer people of colour during the 1980s. Outsiders by virtue of both their sexuality and ethnicity, the group attempted to negotiate a path through the interwoven complexities of cultural and sexual identity.

What Am I? (1980)

Broadcast as the right for transgender people to re-assign their birth certificates and to marry was being put to the European Court of Human Rights, this television report featured a range of interviews that revealed common misconceptions and assumptions of the day; in particular, the confusion between gender identity and sexuality.

Miss Norah Blaney (1932)

Norah Blaney and her partner Gwen Farrar were household names in the 1920s, with a music hall act incorporating popular songs and witty repartee combined with physical humour. Lovers from 1915 to 1931, their offstage partnership was no secret. This film captures one of Norah’s final performances, singing “Masculine Women, Feminine Men” - a popular song notable for its queer subtext.

Age of Dissent (1994)

This documentary followed a battle to lower British legislation on the UK gay male age of consent. We see confident, colourful footage of Pride 1993, as the march makes its way through the streets of central London to the open-air festival in Brockwell Park where revellers were promised ‘the most fun you can have with 50,000 people you’ve never met’.