The Culture Award 2016: Jonathan Harvey
Introducing Jonathan Harvey, award-winning playwright, screenwriter and recipient of the 2016 Winq Culture Award, presented by Coronation Street stars Brooke Vincent and Dan Brocklebank at our 2016 awards luncheon, supported by United Airlines.
When people talk about how attitudes to gay men in British society have changed in modern times, it would be as well to lay some of the credit at the door of Jonathan Harvey. The writer of the seminal play that is Beautiful Thing, as well as sitcoms Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful People, he has – this year – delivered his 230th episode of soap epic Coronation Street and published his fifth novel, The History of Us. He’s written for Tracey Ullman and a Radio 4 series for Stephen K Amos, too. Simply put, Jonathan is why gay is popular in popular culture.
Jonathan on growing up gay in Merseyside:
“I think I was always a camp child and I was always made to feel very safe by my family and loved and accepted. The outside world often had a problem. I suppose I’ve always had a little group of friends who were like that. My best friend died this year, but he was one of the campest. To look at him, he was really muscly and covered in tattoos so you’d probably shit yourself if you saw him, but once he opened his mouth and sashayed away, he was really camp and really funny. I was always drawn to people like that.”
Jonathan on channelling his anger into Beautiful Thing:
“Even though it doesn’t seem like an angry play, it was! Sue Townsend was a teacher of mine on a writers’ course and she said all writers write their best stuff from a sense of outrage or anger. And I certainly was very angry when I wrote Beautiful Thing; there was a sense of outrage about the inequality in the age of consent laws and that was all being discussed at the time in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. And all those Tory peers were talking about was sodomy, that was the word that kept being used. Any image of a working-class family where someone was gay was always about someone being a rent boy or kicked out, and my experience and the experiences of my friends weren’t like that. I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall. So that’s what I chose to do.”
Jonathan on Coronation Street’s gay heritage:
“I did an evening with him for the Manchester Pride festival a few years ago about the history of the show; Antony Cotton and everyone who’d had anything gay to do with the show was there. And just listening to Tony [Warren, show creator] describing walking into work at Granada every day and walking past Strangeways [HM Prison Manchester] and thinking, ‘Oh, well, I’ll end up in there one day,’ because it was illegal – even that was really interesting. I’m pretty sure – I don’t think I’m inventing this – that some of the early characters were named after drag queens on whatever Canal Street was then. So there was always a sort of camp sensibility there, and the women were in charge of those matriarchal families.”
Congratulations to Jonathan Harvey, the winner of the 2016 Winq Culture Award! Pick up your copy of Winq Winter 2016, out now, to read the full six-page feature, along with all the other interviews with our Men of the Year.