Great LezBritain: An Overview of Lesbians in British Soap Opera

BROOKSIDE – Lindsay Corkhill (Claire Sweeney) and Shelley Bower (Alexandra Wescourt) 1999

Over the years, Lindsey Corkhill had been transformed from a skint chip-shop worker into a gun-toting night club owner avoiding local gangsters. All of Lindsay’s relationships had been with men until she met and fell in love with lesbian character Shelley, who first appears at the opening of Lindsay’s nightclub. It was obvious that something was amiss when the loved up Lindsay immediately wanted to share their relationship with family and friends and Shelley persuaded her to keep it secret.

The reason became clear when Lindsay asked Shelley to keep an eye on her mum while she went away on business, and Shelley misheard this request as, “While I’m away do you want to, try and shag my mum?”

Claire Sweeney and Alexandra Wescourt


Poor Mama Corkhill rebuffed the advances, but because lesbians are mental, Shelley of course set it up to look like they’d had sex and heartbroken Lindsay and her disgusted dad ultimately chucked Mama Corkhill out of her own house. Who knows what happened to Shelley and who knows how this storyline was ever considered a good idea in the writers’ room.

FAMILY AFFAIRS – Karen Ellis (Tanya Franks) and Kelly Hurst (Nicky Talacko) 2002

In 2001, Kelly Hurst flew from Australia to Charnham to be its first fully-fledged lesbian. She befriended the engaged Karen (who later played Cook’s drunkard of a mother in Skins), who soon questioned her own sexuality using a common displacement technique and uttering lines such as,“Look at me, no really look at me… I don’t look like myself.” This is code for, “My new best friend is a lesbian, I am questioning my sexuality and I am damn troubled by it all.” Not easily deciphered by anyone apart from the all-knowing lesbian viewer.

Karen Ellis (Tanya Franks) and Kelly Hurst (Nicky Talacko)

Unlike other gay characters that have gone before her, Kelly had friends that were also of a lesbian persuasion and they were sometimes allowed to visit. This gave room for proper discussions on such topics as lesbian parenting and campaigning for LGBT rights which was wonderful to see whilst the nation ate their pies and beans. All very positive, though you did have to question Kelly’s selection of skirts.

After recovering from cancer, Karen discovers she cannot have children. Step forward Kelly, to carry Karen and her new husband Matt’s baby, after which she promptly carried Karen to the bedroom. Karen left Matt soon after baby Grace was born and she and Kelly had a short-lived life together before Kelly fell down a flight of stairs on New Year’s Eve whilst arguing with Matt and subsequently died. Karen had a couple more lady flings and then went back to Matt and they both emigrated to Spain with Kelly’s

EASTENDERS – Sonia (Natalie Cassidy) and Naomi (Petra Letang) 2006

By rights, as it is set in East London, EastEnders should be absolutely roaming with lesbians (and, of course, more people of color), but we had to wait over ten years before the writers gave it another proper go.

We say "proper go" because in 2004 they did air the most pointless one-off kiss ever between best friends Zoe (Michelle Ryan) and Kelly (Brooke Kinsella), which was bizarrely defended by Kinsella as “How best friends share emotion with each other.”

In EastEnders’ second attempt at a lesbian storyline, they were at the very least resourceful by using one of their longest serving characters Sonia Fowler (nee Jackson) to play out a lesbian fling. It did fail quite spectacularly in the authenticity stakes however.

Sonia had recently married mummy’s boy Martin Fowler, but before they could settle into any kind of post-marriage bliss, Naomi Julien arrived.

Sonia meets Naomi while training as a nurse and begins to "change." Her "changes" are first betrayed by the fact that she realizes Martin is an idiot, something that viewers had discovered years before. Soon we witnessed the all too familiar trembling lips and just-a-second-too-long looks from an interested Sonia towards an all ready-love struck Naomi. Soon Sonia has left Martin and is playing nurses at home with Naomi, much to the amazement and shock of the rest of the residents of Albert Square.

Naomi Julien (Petra Letang) and Sonia Fowler (Natalie Cassidy)

But this relationship never built any foundations and Sonia Fowler never made a convincing lesbian – we always knew her life should have been with poor dead Jamie Mitchell. As if realizing their mistake, the writers suddenly had Sonia doing a metaphorical double-blink and realizing she should be with Martin after all and before you can say has-bian she returned to Martin and waltzed out of the show.

Naomi stayed in the square for a couple of months but because the writers ultimately didn’t know what to do with her, she was soon written out and no one cared.

Over the years EastEnders has managed to write fairly good gay male storylines, plus they are renowned for offering strong female characters – Kat, you will always figure strongly in our hearts. So why they keep feeding us this kind of lesbo-tripe we cannot understand.

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