Edinburgh TV festival: Drama chiefs get lessons in passion

Producers told the secrets of successfully depicting sex on television
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The Independent Online
BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, women in control and a proper story are the essential ingredients to make sex on television a ratings winner, the Edinburgh TV Festival will be told tomorrow.

A special session at the festival, designed to teach drama producers what the public likes, will see research showing that two-thirds of viewers say sex scenes are a necessary part of television dramas. More important to audiences than the quantity of sex on television is the way it is portrayed, the research will show.

A rape scene in the Jimmy McGovern drama The Lakes provoked 150 people to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Commission last year - the biggest protest of the year. But a number of romantic, consensual sex scenes in the same drama were found to be enjoyable by the focus groups hired for the Edinburgh research. They liked the scenes because they were gentle, the characters were in love and they fitted the context of the story line.

Even a scene in ITV's The Vice, in which a prostitute was seen seducing a policeman, was found acceptable by the researchers. Drama producers will be told they can show such scenes because the female character was in control.

In contrast, a scene from a version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, starring Sean Bean and Joely Richardson, was disliked because Richardson played her role as a passive woman and there was too much thrusting music and phallic imagery. The focus groups told researchers the scene was too old fashioned.

Most enjoyable of all to viewers is the anticipation of sex. In McCallum, the ITV crime drama, the star, John Hannah, was seen in a long, drawn- out, teasing love scene, which was named by viewers as particularly enjoyable.

In fact viewers said they found scenes of lovemaking more acceptable when they were preceded by an extended build up. Nick Elliott, the controller of drama at ITV, commissioned the research and will present the full findings to a session at the festival tomorrow morning. He said: "My belief is that viewers do like seeing sex in drama - if the sex that is shown is a fair and honest way into the story. What is clear is that they like attractive man and attractive women in clean underwear and no grubbiness. The people having sex have to be nice people and the men and women need to have an equal footing."

Mr Elliott added: "The Broadcasting Standards Commission and regulators like Lady Howe [of Aberavon, who chairs the commission] say we have too much sex on TV but here we have 64 per cent who say the levels are not only acceptable but necessary. I feel quite strongly about this, because I am fed up of being told that viewers don't like sex.

"They don't like tacky sex, they don't like violent or non-egalitarian sex. They like the females to be as much in control as the males and they like the arousing nature of the preamble rather than the actual bump, bump, bump."