My doctoral research project explores the ways that British television could represent sex, bodies and intimate lives in the long 1970s. I argue that television – an area often understudied by historians - was a crucial site in the discursive struggle to demarcate the boundaries around ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ sexual practices and bodies. I show how these discourses were involved in the formation of subjects, both in the ways producers imagined viewers, but also the ways a viewer’s sense of self was constructed through their engagement with these mass cultural artefacts.
Each of my four chapters takes a different area of the television landscape as a vantage point onto these research questions, moving from the centre of ‘ordinary’ programming to the margins of schedule. The first chapter uses viewers’ complaints about dirty jokes in sitcoms to explore the struggle over an ‘acceptable’ language with which to talk about sex and bodies on television. The second focuses on the ‘heat-throbs’ of medical dramas and their fans to explore the cultural representation of doctors and nurses, the construction of heteronormative romance, and producers’ imagining of women viewers. In the third chapter, I take one parent’s protest against BBC Schools Television’s Merry-go-Round series as a starting point to explore what was at stake when producers, in collaboration with psychologists and teachers, discursively secured primary-aged children as a legitimate audience for sex education. Finally, my fourth chapter focuses on the BBC’s access series, Open Door, to assess how marginal groups, such as the Urinary Infection Club, tried to use television to secure their ‘ordinariness’.