Vincent Franklin as Henry and Cyril Nri as Lance
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Iain Dale: 'I wanted to enjoy Cucumber, I really did'

2015-03-04
Russell T Davies' Channel 4 drama Cucumber has proven divisive viewing for LGBT viewers, particularly after last week's shocking episode lit up social media. Here, Attitude columnist Iain Dale gives his view on the show... I wanted to enjoy Cucumber, I really did. I was a massive fan of Queer as Folk back in the late 1990s and expected great things from creator Russell T Davies' latest take on modern gay life. As someone in his early 50s, I thought it would be really good for a new drama to look at life for the slightly older gay man. It would be a risky thing to do bearing in mind our obsessions with youth, but if Cucumber was even half as riveting as Queer as Folk we’d all be happy. Cucumber But I’m not happy. It’s not that I have found Cucumber boring or totally without its moments. In fact, despite the drab nature of the first episode, I’ve stuck with it and have even enjoyed it. There has even been the odd laugh out loud moment, although these have been far more infrequent than in the often hilarious Queer as Folk. So why has Cucumber disappointed me? People who don’t interact with gay men often have very stereotypical thoughts about us: We're promiscuous. Obsessed with sex. Older gay men constantly prey on younger models. Penis size is all-important. Gay relationships never last. They are never monogamous. I could go on, but you get the picture. Sadly, Cucumber has fallen into the trap of portraying these stereotypes as if they are truths, and then throwing in a few more for good measure. Black men all have large penises, the show tells us. The storyline where Freddy blackmails his schoolteacher he happens to bump into after a few years was like something out of the 1950s. Henry filming videos involving his 15-year-old nephew wasn’t just weird and uncomfortable, but something a real-life Henry would have run a mile from. Yet straight viewers were probably nodding in condemnation, no doubt saying “See Mavis, I told you, they’re all like that – all wanting a bit of underage boy booty”. Cucumber Now, I appreciate this is a drama, and that sex sells, but I don’t know anyone in gayworld who is obsessed with sex to the extent that virtually every character in Cucumber is. More or less every storyline within the somewhat shaky plot has some sort of sexual element to it. Life’s not like that, is it? The only genuinely interesting subplot I can think of is the debate about anal sex. Henry doesn’t like it, and refuses to do it. It lies at the centre of his breakup with Lance, who is desperate for a bit of arse action. Henry prefers to stay on the vanilla side of sex. I am sure most non-gay men imagine that gay sex has to involve anal sex, and who’s top or bottom. Does it really? Then we come to last week’s episode. It came as a shock. I’m not going to write about the details as I don’t want to ruin it for those that haven’t seen it, but I will say I felt somewhat traumatised by it. As soon as it had finished I rang my partner, who was elsewhere. “Whatever you do, don’t watch Cucumber before you go to bed,” I said. Naturally, he ignored me and watched it anyway. He has an ability to compartmentalise TV soaps and dramas and tell himself that none of it is real and they are only actors. I am different. I replay things in my mind time and again and then relate them to events in my life and imagine how things might have been different. And not in a good way. I suppose the fact that I made that phone-call proves that Cucumber has had an impact, and what more do you want from a drama? One thing Cucumber does achieve, though, is to make young gay men realise that one day, they too will get older. Reaching your thirties, forties, or dare I say it, even your fifties does not mean that your life has come to an end. When you’re 22 you cannot really contemplate being 52. I couldn’t. But as sure as eggs is eggs, one day it will happen. And you know what? It may not be Cucumber, but it’s certainly Bananas. By Iain Dale. Iain’s eBook ‘Gay Shorts’, a collection of his Attitude columns, is now available on Amazon.