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Girl (1974)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Girl (1974)
For Second City Firsts, BBC Birmingham for BBC2, tx. 25/2/1974
35 minutes, colour
Directed byPeter Gill
ProducerBarry Hanson
Script EditorTara Prem
[Written] ByJames Robson

Cast: Myra Frances (Harvey); Alison Steadman (Jackie); Stella Moray (Maggie); Eileen McCallum (Bailey)

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Private Jackie Smithers is leaving the Women's Army, bruised after the end of a relationship with one of her officers.

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It is sometimes assumed that British TV's first lesbian kiss appeared in 1994, between Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson in the boundary-pushing soap, Brookside (Channel 4, 1982-2003), In fact, some 20 years earlier Alison Steadman and Myra Frances shared an on-screen kiss in James Robson's 'Girl'.

Produced as part of Second City Firsts (BBC, 1973-78) - a product of the BBC's Birmingham-based English Regions Drama unit dedicated to nurturing regional talent - 'Girl' tells the story of Jackie, a young army recruit forced to leave her position in the forces when she becomes pregnant, and her secret relationship with Chrissie, her army superior.

The half-hour Second City Firsts slot offered fairly modest budgets, and so the action takes place largely in one room, although there is a brief flashback which shows the pair in bed together during the time of their affair. Dressed in her civilian clothes, Jackie presents a stark contrast to the officious Chrissie, smartly turned out in her Corporal's uniform, a constant reminder of the two women's difference in status, and, perhaps, of the naivety of the fragile Jackie. This aspect is further emphasised by the pictures of male pin-ups that adorn the walls of Jackie's dorm, giving it the feel of a teenage girl's bedroom.

While the scenes that occur in the present are fraught with tension, the flashback sequence of the women sharing a post-coital cigarette is relaxed and intimate, as the pair cuddle and make plans for the future. Jackie's circumstances seem bleak, but this sequence provides the play's one true moment of comfort. Rather than viewing the lesbian relationship as perverse or keeping it purely subtextual (as it might have in earlier, less liberal times), the tone is frank and even progressive, albeit in a melancholic sort of way. This is particularly apparent in a moment of almost melodramatic euphoria when the pair sing along to 'This Girl's In Love' by lesbian icon Dusty Springfield. Robson introduces a more humorous touch with Chrissie's comment that the song is "top of the gay girls' hit parade".

Though it seems mild by today's standards, 'Girl' was very controversial at the time, and the BBC's anxiety was evident in the decision to precede its transmission with a special announcement by the controller of BBC2.

Michael Blyth

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Video Clips
1. Memories (2:40)
2. Today's Women's Army (2:23)
3. Home truths (4:15)
Permissive Society, The (1975)