An open letter to Holby City

Signatures are now closed. In January and February 2019, we collected 280 signatures on this letter (scroll down to see all the signatures). Copies were sent to the BBC, including Simon Harper, executive producer of the show, and Tim Davie, CEO.


Simon Harper
Executive Producer, Holby City
BBC Studios
Neptune House
BBC Elstree Centre
Eldon Avenue, Borehamwood
Herts, WD6 1NL

We are a group of people from across countries and time zones, from across occupations and cultures and ages. We are gay and straight and we have been drawn together because of our love of the Berena storyline on the BBC medical drama Holby City. From the very first on-screen meeting of Bernie Wolfe and Serena Campbell and the iconic line, “Engine been growling or whining?”, we have embraced this rarity: a beautifully nuanced, mature story of love between two competent, professional women.

Despite a history of screen invisibility, misrepresentation, and tawdry and tragic tropes, and sometimes in spite of our own (often recent) experiences of being let down by ignorant or careless storytellers, we fell for this one hook, line, and sinker. We were encouraged in this regard by assurances from the Holby production team that they would take care with this story, that they understood the need to avoid stereotypes and harm. We were encouraged by the apparent enthusiasm with which those involved in bringing us this story took up the mantra of ‘representation matters’. We were encouraged by the words of Simon Harper, the executive producer of Holby City, upon collecting the 2018 Diva Award for best LGBT storyline: “We can’t take our visibility for granted, we’ve got to keep fighting for it, we’ve got to keep putting it on screen.” That these assurances came from a show that would in December 2018 hurriedly jettison the storyline has caused a great deal of hurt.

The manner in which the relationship ended subjected viewers to the usual negative stereotyping associated with f/f media representation, namely promiscuity and infidelity. We watched as two characters we had grown to understand and to love inexplicably morphed into unrecognisable caricatures of themselves. This depiction was carried to the point that the story made no sense canonically. We were baited mercilessly with spoilers suggesting that in Berena’s final episode, which was marketed as a celebration of love in all its forms, they might actually marry. In the aftermath, Holby City has ignored any criticism or complaint. Multiple social media and blog posts have been written about the harm done, yet the BBC claims not to have any evidence that harm has been caused.

We are not ignorant of the realities of making a continuing drama, and the pragmatic reasons that may exist for ending this storyline. Our complaint is not that it ended, but that the manner in which it ended, and the ways in which the episodes were publicised and promoted, are not acceptable. By the BBC’s own editorial guidelines, the organisation is not allowed to perpetuate inaccurate and offensive stereotyping. Nor is it allowed under the Ofcom code to broadcast material that may cause harm to its audience.

The ending of Berena in the two episodes broadcast in December 2018 fell short on both measures.

By having Serena cheat on Bernie, and by having Bernie imply that she too had been unfaithful during their time working apart, the storyline invoked stereotypes about the fidelity and commitment of bisexual women that were narratively unnecessary. We do not expect the BBC to take responsibility for representing all queer women, but it is careless (to say the least) for a public service broadcaster to say that it recognises how rare representations of relationships between older women are, and that it recognises what this means to the audience, and then to pay no heed to the context in which that audience sees their content. To promote those episodes with the suggestion that Bernie and Serena’s relationship might be healed – to the point that they might marry – compounds this neglect, and caused demonstrable harm.

This is not the first time that f/f relationships have been depicted and treated in this way, but we are determined that our voice be heard on this occasion and we will state our message unequivocally. Stereotypical representation, queer baiting, and complete disregard for the wellbeing of your target audience is not acceptable from a public service broadcaster of the BBC’s standing and goals.

In signing this letter, together we call upon Holby City and the BBC to review this storyline and to address the following points:

  • We ask Holby City to acknowledge its flawed representation of f/f relationships with specific reference to the Berena storyline, and apologise for the harm caused to its viewers. We ask the producers/other relevant persons to engage in good faith with those who have experienced this harm, in order to understand what has happened, and to assist with the below.
  • We ask Holby City to formulate and follow a policy which ends ‘queer baiting’ and stereotypical presentation of the f/f community.
  • We ask Holby City (and other BBC programmes depicting LGBTQ characters) to access experts academic, experiential, and clinical, who understand ‘queer baiting’ and who will recognise the harmful stereotypes which assault the queer community. In accordance with the BBC’s own diversity aims, LGBTQ writers should be involved in LGBTQ storylines; lesbians and bi women should be heavily involved in, if not responsible for, f/f storylines and characterisation.
  • We ask Holby City to adopt an apposite mantra: first, do no harm.

Signed by:

1 JULIE H. United Kingdom
2 Sheryn M. India
3 Georgina T. United Kingdom
4 Sandra P. United Kingdom
5 Romilda C. USA
6 Jaymie B. Scotland
7 Diana S.
8 Amy E. United Kingdom
9 Viv P. UK
10 Claire H. United Kingdom
11 Nicola G. United Kingdom
12 Payal D. India
13 Julie H. England
14 Karen E. UK
15 Melissa S. United Kingdom
16 Larissa G.
17 Danielle G. Northern Ireland
18 Samantha F. UK
19 Jane M. England
20 Joanna S. United Kingdom
21 Petra A. Sweden
22 Helen A. Sweden
23 Jessica F. United States
24 Jan R. UK
25 Sophie C. UK
26 Victoria S. United Kingdom
27 Niamh S. West Midlands
28 Emma W. United Kingdom
29 Rosa B. Sweden
30 Maria D. Uk
31 perrine g. France
32 Laura F. United Kingdom
33 Irene I. Scotland
34 Katherine L. UK
35 Catherine H. Wales
36 Maarit K. Finland
37 Mandy B. United Kingdom
38 Diana G. USA
39 Tal N. Israel
40 J Lynn S. Canada
41 Claire P.
42 Elizabeth O. United States
43 Paula N. USA
44 Kristen K. USA
45 Kirsty N. UK
46 Debbie R. Surrey
47 S B. UK 48 Janet B. UK
49 Sam M. United Kingdom
50 Louise D. Canada
51 Greete R. Estonia
52 Sandra M. England
53 Kate B. United Kingdom
54 Elizabeth G.
55 Dawn L. UK
56 Rachael U. UK
57 Claire P. United Kingdom
58 Lily-Elizabeth B. UK
59 Clare W. UK
60 Valerie B. United Kingdom
61 Sara J. UK
62 Екатерина V. Belarus
63 rebecca w.
64 Marie L.
65 Kirsty N. United Kingdom
66 Melinda T. United Kingdom
67 Fiona N. England
68 Greta K. United States
69 Joana C. Portugal
70 Leanne M. Scotland
71 Rebecca D. United Kingdom
72 Hannah H. England
73 Veronica F. USA
74 Sarah H. England
75 Kerry-Leigh F. Canada
76 Donna F. USA
77 Maggie S. United States
78 Hazel D. England
79 Emily R. United States
80 Julian S. United Kingdom
81 Linda W. UK
82 Nicola F. England
83 Sara N. Sweden
84 Jacqueline D. England
85 Sally P. UK
86 Sylvia W. Germany
87 River K. New Zealand
88 Sally W. UK
89 Rachel C. Wales
90 Joan D. Northern Ireland
91 Laura E. England
92 Genevieve H. New Zealand
93 Jodie G.
94 Lucja S. Poland
95 Emily W. England
96 liz B. United Kingdom
97 Andrea H. UK
98 Sophie J. United Kingdom
99 Grace J. UK
100 Natalie W. UK
101 Maggie W. United Kingdom
102 Katja G. Germany
103 Nat C. United Kingdom
104 Nosheen A. India
105 Husna S. India
106 Emma H. United Kingdom
107 Julie N. United Kingdom
108 Nic S. Northern Ireland
109 Karen M.
110 Lilian B. UK
111 Arsh S. India
112 Debbie L. UK
113 Jo B. Wales
114 Laura B. United Kingdom
115 fatos k. Turkey
116 Kirsty A. UK
117 Kennedy C. Canada
118 Liam O. 119 Sheryl B.
120 Chand S. India
121 Shweta V. India
122 Alana P. UK
123 Jojo H. UK
124 Annie C. United Kingdom
125 Jojo H. France
126 Caroline F. Sweden
127 Eileen T. UK
128 Johanna E. Sweden
129 Lizzi S. United Kingdom
130 Elizabeth E. United Kingdom
131 Sarah O. United Kingdom
132 Meg J. England
133 Sarah B. United Kingdom
134 Jessica O. Belgium
135 Sarah C. Canada
136 Brendon R. New Zealand
137 Kate S. United Kingdom
138 Sarah B. UK
139 Sabina B. UK
140 Eloise A.
141 Kelly J. UK
142 Aine R. Wales
143 Joanna E. United States
144 Catherine F. United Kingdom
145 Lydia G. France
146 A D. UK
147 Hayley S. United Kingdom
148 Chantelle T. UK
149 Frances G. United Kingdom
150 Emma L. UK
151 Marion C. United Kingdom
152 Amanda T. United Kingdom
153 Sabrina T. Schweiz
154 Gemma G. Ireland
155 Aleta T. Canada
156 Barbara K. Germany
157 Sarah F. UK
158 Alex T. UK
159 Renee H. Denmark
160 Rose-Mary F. United Kingdom
161 Rosie W. United Kingdom
162 EG R. UK 163 Linda O. Ireland
164 Sarah B. United Kingdom
165 Gemma W. UK
166 Amanda M. US
167 Andrew D. United Kingdom
168 Alexandra G. France
169 Sandra S. Germany
170 Corinna D. Germany
171 Carol M. UK
172 Kim D. The Netherlands
173 Cheryl A. England
174 David C. USA
175 Amy M. USA
176 Hanxuan M. China
177 Siobhan T. United Kingdom
178 Rob J.
179 isabelle b.
180 Clara D. UK
181 Karen M. United Kingdom
182 Donna C. USA
183 Chris C. United Kingdom
184 Naush A. India
185 Sadika B. India
186 Sheila R. UK
187 Lyndsey A. United Kingdom
188 Sui A. UK
190 Linzi D. United Kingdom
191 Jennifer R. United States of America
192 Karen H. United Kingdom
193 Gillian H. United Kingdom
194 Catherine H. Wales
195 Aysh A. India
196 Hannah H. United Kingdom
197 Amy H. UK
198 Aalana W. United Kingdom
199 Lynsey E. United Kingdom
200 Devi R. United States
201 Jessica H. England
202 Kerstin Elisabeth P. Germany
203 Dagbjort G. Iceland
204 Gary N. UK
205 Mimi S. United States
206 Helen A. United Kingdom
207 K. B. Germany
208 Edward R. United States
209 Helen H. United Kingdom
210 Lisa G. United Kingdom
211 rebecca c. United Kingdom
212 Sinead H. Ireland
213 Elliot C. United States
214 A J. UK
215 Catherine T. United Kingdom
216 Trish N. United Kingdom
217 Ulrike P. Deutschland
218 J M. United Kingdom
219 Lone W. UAE
220 Barbara B. US
221 Albina K. Kazakhstan
222 Kay H. UK
223 Samantha E. UK
224 Sarah M. United Kingdom
225 Mags K. United Kingdom
226 Ava F. England
227 Claire W. Switzerland
228 Brittany T. Canada
229 Fee M.
230 Fluffy W. Australia
231 Hannah C. Philippines
232 Orlaith D. Ireland
233 Charlotte V. United Kingdom
234 Hollie C. United Kingdom
235 CHRIS K. India
236 Harriet S. United Kingdom
237 Lucia A. United Kingdom
238 Sarah M. United Kingdom
239 Cindie D. USA
240 K O. USA
241 Laura P. United Kingdom
242 Jojo R. UK
243 Maria B. England
244 Helena S. Canada
245 Simon H. New Zealand
246 emma b. UK
247 Roberta F.
248 Cindy W. Canada
249 Julieanne H. United Kingdom
250 H F. USA
251 Karen S. Canada
252 Charlotte M. Wales
253 Abi S. United Kingdom
254 Ursula K. United Kingdom
255 Elizabeth S. United Kingdom
256 Jordan M.
257 Rosalynd S. UK
258 Kasey B. Scotland
259 Jessica N. United Kingdom
260 Ellie K. United Kingdom
261 Eileen T. England
262 Cassandra S. United Kingdom
263 Deborah O. UK
264 Dean Owen J. United Kingdom
265 N S.
266 Lyn P. United Kingdom
267 Frayda G. USA
268 Selina M. United Kingdom
269 Rebecca F. United Kingdom
270 Pamela V.
271 craig h. UK
272 Amanda A. UK
273 Claire C. Scotland
274 Emma O. United Kingdom
275 Emily H. United Kingdom
276 Lauren F. United Kingdom
277 Mary W. USA
278 Jonathan R. United Kingdom
279 Beth M. UK
280 R J. UK