Getting good reviews is always a pleasure but getting a good review two decades after the programme transmitted is sensational! And yet that’s what’s happened.
Today, Christmas Eve 2015, AFTER ELLEN ran a celebration of Camp Christmas, (click here) a Christmas special we created for Channel 4 for Christmas Eve in 1994. At that time the UK was a pretty unfriendly place for the LGBT community. Section 28 had become law, ignorance about HIV was rampant and homophobic attacks were common both on the streets and in the media.
We decided we wanted to strike back, but rather than make a polemical documentary we decided to attack with humour, snow and woolly jumpers.
Both my producing partner and I were fans of the Perry Como-type Christmas shows we’d grown up with as kids, the ones with people gathered round a fire (singing), neighbours dropping by (more singing), and a flurry of snow when the family finally turned up (much much more singing). So we decided to try and create one of those feelgood, warm hearted shows with one fresh twist – everybody on the show would be gay.
At that time there were almost more reindeers pulling Santa’s sleigh than out celebrities. But luckily our first choices to host the show – Andy Bell and Melissa Etheridge – were not only out but up for taking part. We saw Lea DeLaria whilst we were in LA filming a documentary and she made us laugh so much we flew her over to London. We went to Zurich to film with Martina Navratilova, New York to film Quentin Crisp and the NY Gay Men’s Chorus, and to San Francisco where we filmed Armistead Maupin in bed. In the studio in London Julian Clary voiced our reindeer, Lily Savage served drinks, Stephen Fry agreed to be Father Christmas, and Derek Jarman thought it was such a politically bold idea that he determined to take part, despite his very poor health. Polly Perkins, one of the UK’s popular soap stars not only came on the show, she brought her kids to share the sofa with Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer (who was then the highest ranking female in the US military).
We filmed in one of London’s largest tv studios in front of a rowdy crowd. We’d built a real log cabin (well three walls of it) and had blown a large portion of the budget on the best type of fake snow. Our mothers and grandmothers were in the audience. The green room was a zoo. At one point, just before we were going to start filming it all got so delirious that Caz Gorham (my creative partner) and I locked ourselves in a tiny photocopying cupboard, said we were having a producers meeting and had a mad dance just to get rid of some of the nervous energy.
The show got good ratings, earned an immediate cult following and provoked questions in the House of Commons about the degeneracy of the whole enterprise. Amongst other things we were criticised for having Derek Jarman in an entertainment show on primetime tv when his HIV sickness was so evident. For us, his being there was precisely the point of the show, because the Christmas we showed that Christmas Eve wasn’t a fantasy; for us it presented a reality that was in many ways being denied. All we did was add some songs and turn the volume and the brightness up.