Five-Ring Circus

Why Was This Lesbian Kiss in the Opening Ceremony? Plus: NBC Did Not Censor It.

Brookside lesbian kiss
This lesbian kiss from the British soap opera Brookside was shown briefly during the opening ceremony.

Screenshot of Brookside courtesy Channel 4.

Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony spectacular was full of striking imagery—doves on bicycles, giant inflatable babies, sky-diving royals. At this very minute, someone is surely planning a Ph.D. dissertation, or at least a pop-up video, decoding the significance of all its elements. Why do rugby tries explain the national identities of the component nations of Great Britain? Why do Brits appreciate dark satanic mills as much as they love their clouded hills? And where did all those proto-industrialists learn to dance?

But the question that dominated my Twitter feed was whether NBC had censored the transmission of Britain’s first lesbian kiss. This came in the odd pre-parade section, “Frankie and June Say … Thanks, Tim,” a celebration of digital Britain. As young Londoners Frankie and June enjoyed their first kiss, the big screen showed famous film and TV smackeroos, involving Hugh Grant, Shrek, Lady and the Tramp, and various other megastars. Immediately after the canine-spaghetti-eating make-out scene, two young women were shown locking lips.

This scene lasted just half a second, but according to a few overheated news reports, since the ceremonies were aired around the world, this was the first same-sex kiss shown in some Middle Eastern nations. And despite some claims that NBC didn’t show the kiss, this armchair detective proved that it did indeed air. It’s just that it flashed by so quickly, you could blink and miss it.

What made this girl-on-girl action significant enough to include in the Olympics opening ceremony? It was the first lesbian kiss that appeared on British television before the 9 p.m. “watershed,” meaning that it was considered suitable for all viewers.

The smooch appeared on Brookside, a now defunct British prime-time soap opera that was set on a housing development in the Liverpool area. Brookside was a perfect choice for Boyle’s parade of fabulousness, not only because it focused on social issues—including homosexuality, domestic abuse, drug use, and social mobility—but also because it was the signature program when Britain’s Channel 4 launched in November 1982, starting the growth of the multi-channel TV universe.