Statement: Holby City’s use of the Bury Your Gays trope is condemnable

Bernie in black

30 July 2019

The BDB Collective and its allies condemn the hospital drama Holby City’s use of the lesbian death trope despite earlier backlash, and the calculated harm caused to an audience particularly at risk of mental health vulnerabilities. We ask that the producers of the show engage with the fans and provide an explanation as to why it was thought necessary to feature this damaging story arc, especially since the character of Bernie Wolfe (played by Jemma Redgrave) had been written out in December 2018.

Starting with the episode “Honeymoon” (series 21, episode 29) on 16 July 2019, a four-episode story arc culminating on 6 August 2019 will feature the death (or presumed death) of Bernie Wolfe, an ex-army trauma surgeon, a fan favourite. While at this point it isn’t certain if the character will end up alive, it must be considered that the circumstances surrounding Bernie’s exit seven months ago caused significant displeasure among Holby City’s lesbian and bisexual fans, in some cases leading to incidents of self-harm and mental health breakdowns. It must also be noted that this is the second time that the series have teased with a lesbian death, the first being in the episode “It’s Only Love If It Hurts” (series 19, episode 26), first broadcast on 4 April 2017.

The Bury Your Gays trope, one of its varieties being the Dead Lesbian Syndrome, “is a homophobic cliché. It is the presentation of deaths of LGBT characters where these characters are nominally able to be viewed as more expendable than their heteronormative counterparts.” (TVTropes.com)

In response to complaints about the episode in which Bernie Wolfe’s death is confirmed (“When World’s Collide”, series 21, episode 30, 23 July 2019), a representative of the BBC Complaints Team said, “Many fictional characters are killed in dramas, but I can only assure you this isn’t because of their sexual orientation.” Earlier, in December 2018, both the BBC as well as the broadcasting regular OfCom had dismissed fan complaints, and the production team of Holby City have consistently refused to engage with any criticism except to defend the story. 

Previously, Holby City had acknowledged the significance of the story to the LBT audiences and had promised care. For example:

“Bernie and Serena is my storyline and I’m highly invested in that. The story is a celebration, really. I can promise there’s no way I’d work so hard to create something I believe in so fundamentally and then just kick it into the gutter.” (Kate Hall, series producer, in 2017)

“Lesbian representation is so rare, particularly on a mainstream, pre-watershed television show, that people were thrilled to see it, and rightly so.” (Catherine Russell, actor, in Holby City: Behind the Screen by Sue Haasler, 2018)

“We felt very responsible for getting it right. Because the lesbian representation on mainstream television particularly for our age is non-existent. So were very keen to make sure that we got that right for you.” (Catherine Russell, Berena Q&A panel at MCM Comic Con, London, May 2017)

“We can’t take for granted our visibility… we’ve got to keep fighting for it, we’ve got to keep putting it on screen.” (Simon Harper, executive producer, accepting the DIVA award LGBT Series/Storyline of the Year, June 2018)

“I believe we have also been groundbreaking with LGBT representation with the Berena storyline.” (Simon Harper, interview released by BBC Media Centre, December 2018)

Note: More quotes and promises about the #Berena story arc are available at https://berena.writeside.net/resources/complain-to-the-bbc/berena-and-representation/ 

About BDB

The BDB Collective is a group of people from across countries and timezones, across occupations and cultures and ages, gay and straight, who were brought together on social media by Holby City’s #Berena storyline, a lesbian romance between two 50-something surgeons, Serena Campbell (Catherine Russell) and Bernie Wolfe (Jemma Redgrave). After being promised a respectful representation, audiences were given an amalgamation of the worst stereotypes about lesbians and bisexuals, and about women, and about older women.

Social media discussions among ourselves led to the formation of the #BerenaDeservedBetter hashtag, which then turned into a campaign for better representation of lesbians on TV. BDB is a platform for those who wish to explore and/or challenge WLW representation in popular culture, to voice their opinions, and to take action. It is a space for the fans, by the fans, run by a collective of women and women-identified individuals.

BDB is available to answer any questions about the campaign, about WLW representation in television, and about the Holby City story arc in question. Please email berenadeservedbetter@outlook.com. We are also available to help with the complaints process. For access to our writings and analyses, please visit our website https://berena.writeside.net.

One Reply to “Statement: Holby City’s use of the Bury Your Gays trope is condemnable”

  1. Just want to say why make a storyline like that and destroy it

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