As Channel 4 officially turns 40, let’s take the opportunity to celebrate its many LGBTQ+ milestones that helped change the lives of millions up and down the country.
For four decades, the cherished broadcaster has been bold in its programming.
It has pushed boundaries and championed people of all genders and sexualities whether in its revolutionary dramas, such as Queer as Folk and It’s A Sin, or in its live talk shows and reality shows.
From the first-ever pre-watershed lesbian kiss on Brookside to Nadia Almada being crowned the first winner on Big Brother, there are plenty of landmark moments to applaud… and we’re sure there will be even more to come.
Queer As Folk
Russell T Davies’s ground-breaking drama Queer as Folk hit television screens in 1999, putting the lives of three gay friends living in Manchester at the front and centre.
It was the first show of its kind and is still widely hailed as the introduction to gay culture for both LGBTQ+ people and straight viewers.
The series, starring Aidan Gillen, Craig Kelly, and Charlie Hunnam, was totally unapologetic and didn’t shy away from the harsh realities that faced the queer community.
Showrunner Davies took a moment to pay tribute to his pioneering show on Instagram, writing: ‘Happy 40th birthday Channel 4! @nicolanshindler and I made Queer As Folk when we were children, clearly!
‘Changed my life. Thank you, C4.’
But of course, Queer as Folk isn’t the only Channel 4 show from Davies of great cultural importance…
It’s A Sin
It’s A Sin came crashing into our lives in January 2021, shining a light on the brutal realities of the HIV/Aids crisis of the 80s and early 90s.
The series follows a group of gay men and their friends living in London as they navigate their paths into adulthood while the threat of the deadly virus lurks in the shadows.
Led by the show’s protagonist, Ritchie Tozer (played by Years and Years singer Olly Alexander), the group is determined to live as freely as possible, but devastation soon comes knocking.
It’s A Sin was a huge ratings success for Channel 4, with the show’s first episode watched by 1.6million live viewers.
The show also helped raise awareness of HIV/Aids, with the charity The Terrence Higgins Trust reporting that more than 8,000 HIV tests were ordered in a single day after the drama aired.
Brookside’s pre-watershed lesbian kiss
Channel 4 drama Brookside made history with the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss ever in a British soap in 1994.
This kiss between Beth Jordache (played by Anna Friel) and Margaret Clemence, (Nichola Stephenson) became an iconic moment and was even broadcast during the opening ceremony at the 2012 Olympics in London.
‘I am proud we took on such controversial storylines and it was new and innovative,’ Friel previously enthused to Radio Times.
‘I am proud that we got it in the contract that Beth would always stay gay; it wasn’t because of her sexual abuse.’
Nadia Almada winning Big Brother in 2004
Nadia Almada became the first-ever transgender winner of Big Brother in 2004 – scoring 74% of the final vote.
For her, appearing on the reality show was all about acceptance and she told Davina McCall during the final that she signed up to be a housemate to see if she could fit in regardless of the circumstance. That she did.
Almada became such an iconic face that she was even flown over to Australia for a guest appearance on their version of the series.
Presenters McCall and Rylan Clark-Neal have both named Nadia as one of their favourite housemates of all time.
‘I was a little gay 11-year-old seeing Nadia win was an absolute dream…,’ one fan remembered on YouTube.
‘For 2004 this was absolutely INCREDIBLE… It was the first time I was exposed to LGBT people on TV and I really appreciated C4 putting someone like her in the house.’
They added: ‘I will never forget the moment I screamed out loud when her name was called as winner!’
Skins showcasing lesbian love
Gritty teen drama Skins showed many young queer women that it was okay to have feelings for the same sex.
The chaotic series, which ran from 2007 to 2013 with three different generations of characters, explored a woman-loving-woman relationship with Naomi (Lily Loveless) and Emily’s (Kathryn Prescott) romance in the first two seasons.
Earlier this year, queer women paid tribute to the show and characters for showing them that their sexuality was valid and for helping them to feel seen.
‘The show treated the characters as they were: two teenagers who fell in love, with all the implications that a hetero couple would have!’
Before Skins came the comedy drama Sugar Rush, the brilliant sapphic teen series.
Adapted from Julie Burchill’s novel of the same name, the show aired just two seasons in 2005 and 2006 leaving a long-lasting impression on its viewers.
Starring Olivia Hallinan as 15-year-old protagonist Kimberly Daniels, and Lenora Crichlow as her best (and straight) friend and crush Sugar, Sugar Rush was a heart-wrenching tale of unrequited love.
Although ending 16 years ago, fans still have a soft spot for Sugar Rush in their hearts.
‘Over a decade later and I still have fleeting lustful thoughts about Sugar, from Channel 4’s Sugar Rush,’ wrote one.
‘Channel 4 really does knock it out the park with LGBTQ+ content. I remember staying up with my tv turned right down watching Sugar Rush & Skins,’ another remembered.
So Graham Norton
Before landing his titular BBC chat show, Graham Norton hosted his very own cheeky programme on Channel 4.
Ladened with innuendoes and embarrassing X-rated stories from audience members, the show became a staple on Friday nights between 1998 and 2002.
Viewers will of course remember how So Graham Norton pushed boundaries too, with one segment dedicated entirely to sexual fetishes.
Jordan Gray‘s nude Friday Night Live performance
Transgender comedian Jordan Gray performed a tongue-in-cheek song before stripping off in front of audiences on Channel 4’s Friday Night Live earlier this month.
Gray was without a doubt the highlight of the night and gleefully sang about her transition before ripping off her clothes and playing the keyboard with her penis, with crowds clapping and cheering.
Her nude appearance got the whole room going and drew support from many online, including Harry Potter star Jason Isaacs.
Although 1,458 people complained about Gray’s appearance on the programme, she stood defiant.
‘I hope that in choosing to do this performance, I’ve opened the door a crack wider for more acceptance in the long run, so that those who come after me, will one day no longer have to deal with that kind of reaction,’ Gray told Metro.co.uk.
Joe Lycett’s Big Pride Party
Joe Lycett’s Big Pride Party aired in July this year as part of Channel 4’s bumper season of celebrations marking 50 years since the first Pride march took place in the UK.
During the two-hour special, the comedian was joined by many famous faces including Heartstopper stars Joe Locke and Yasmin Finney, comedian Mawaan Rizwan and Drag Race queens Tia Kofi and Tayce.
Lycett’s celebrity guests showcased their talents and shared their stories and it was fabulous in every sense of the word.
There was even a drag queen sniffing poppers in the audience for Christ’s sake!