Big Brother 1, 2000 Channel 4
Sarah: Back in the day when Big Brother was genuinely a gripping and fresh social experiment, the UK was blessed with a contestant named Anna Nolan. Anna was a guitar-playing former nun who rocked red lipstick and had wit as sharp as a supermodel’s hipbones. One treasured comedy moment ensued when she jokingly asked fellow housemate Melanie Hill if she would like to shag.
Anna Nolan (left) and Melanie Hill (right)
This was the first "real life" lesbian many had ever seen on TV, and not only was she a hugely positive representation, she was also cheered on by the mainstream. When she made it to the final round of the show, my entire workplace (mainly straight) racked up the company phone bill by voting for her on a rota system throughout the day. They even made badges of her face and wore them proudly to a Big Brother party in a local gay bar.
Although she finally lost by 2% to housewives favorite Craig, she at least had the consolation of running into the arms of her beautiful blonde girlfriend Tania upon leaving the house. Sadly, all other lesbians who have appeared on Big Brother since the days of Anna have been embarrassing, frightening or downright bizarre.
Bad Girls, 1999-2001, ITV – Seasons 1-3
Sarah: Never has there been a story of star-crossed lovers shown on primetime television quite like the one between inmate Nikki Wade (Mandana Jones) and Governor Helen Stewart (Simone Lahbib) on G (Spot) Wing.
At the time of its original broadcast, Bad Girls was one of ITV’s most popular, mainstream shows due to the camp storylines and top notch dialogue from characters like Shell “I’ll cut your tits off and make them into curry” Dockley and part-time lover and sidekick Denny “You’re a shi–in’ nutter Schell” Blood, and comedy rivals, Sylvia “Do I look like I was born yesterday?” Hollamby, and Yvonne, “Not unless you age at the speed of light,” Atkins.
However, in living rooms across the country, sitting in between their parents, were young lesbians impatient for the next installment of "Hikki." When it looked like Helen would end up with a man at the end of season three, I remember feeling duped and a little heartbroken. When Helen finally uttered the words “I want a woman” to Nikki and kissed her in the final episode, there wasn’t a dry lesbian in the UK. (Dry-EYED lesbian, that is.)
I don’t think there has ever been an ending quite so deliciously perfect, and I am still writing weekly letters to Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus begging for a spin-off. Join me.
Simone Lahbib (left) and Mandana Jones (right)
Tipping the Velvet, 2002 BBC2
Sarah and Lee: If you are ever in the UK and you’re not sure if the girl you fancy across the bar is gay, then you need only call her “an exquisite little tart” to find out. If she is a British dyke, then she WILL have seen Tipping the Velvet and will offer you a cig and a glass of wine. If she is straight, then you do face getting a slap.
Already huge fans of the book by Sarah Waters, we approached the TV show with some trepidation, fearful that it would sully and dilute Nan Astley’s incredible, romp filled journey. In reality, the three-part program by Andrew Davies was a mouth-watering and utterly authentic adaptation.
It not only brought strap-on dildos to BBC primetime and offered us a plethora of truly genius quotes to savor (“But I didn’t want to be her sister… I wanted to be her sweetheart” and “Oh miss, what a thing to do!”) but also gave us new crushes in the form of Keeley Hawes, Rachael Stirling and Jodhi May.