Sir Ian McKellen remembers being part of UK TV's first gay kiss: 'People I've never met tell me they're so grateful'

·TV Reporter, Yahoo Entertainment UK
·3-min read
Sir Ian McKellen has spoken about a defining moment in his career. (Getty Images)
Sir Ian McKellen has spoken about a defining moment in his career. (Getty Images)

Sir Ian McKellen has spoken about being part of the first gay kiss to air on UK TV and the wide-ranging effects it had on those watching it who thanked him for years afterwards.

The 82-year-old actor who has starred in The Lord of the Rings and X-Men features in BBC Two's Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen on Thursday, where he talks about the landmark moment in British TV.

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McKellen played the title role in a 1970 theatre production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, where he kissed James Laurenson as Piers Gaveston and which aired on the BBC.

He tells Rajan: "We had a passionate kiss, James Laurenson and I, for which I'm always grateful, and it was broadcast by the BBC.

January 1970:  Actors Ian McKellen and James Laurenson playing a love scene between Edward II and Gaveston during a dress rehearsal of Marlowe's 'Edward II' at London's Piccadilly Theatre.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Ian McKellen and James Laurenson starred as Edward II and Piers Gaveston in the production. (Central Press/Getty Images)

"The BBC wasn't out to shock people or educate people, it was just doing a play that had a big success at the Edinburgh Festival and two seasons in London."

He continues: "I think it's the first play ever with a gay hero. Nevertheless, there it was and I don't remember anyone complaining.

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"And of course, since, I've heard from people I shall never meet saying I'm so grateful to you for that kiss which I was watching in Indiana with my parents and we had a good conversation about it afterwards and I'm now a happily married gay man... So it was wonderful."

Programme Name: Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen - TX: 03/03/2022 - Episode: Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Sir Ian McKellen, Amol Rajan - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Production
The actor talks to Amol Rajan about his life and career. (BBC Studios)

McKellen adds: "I didn't do that play because I was on a mission to tell people about homosexuality and certainly not my own, I was closeted, that's the word, I wasn't honest about my sexuality."

The actor also talks about losing his parents - his mother when he was just 12, and his father who died a few weeks after watching him in his first West End show.

McKellen says of his father: "I didn't talk to him about being gay."

Programme Name: Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen - TX: 03/03/2022 - Episode: Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Sir Ian McKellen, Amol Rajan - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Production
Sir Ian McKellen also talks about his parents. (BBC Studios)

Asked whether he wishes he had, he says: "Of course. The idea that he couldn't have coped with the fact that his son was gay is inconceivable to me. There would have been no moral judgment."

He also shares that his mother was keen for him to become an actor even as a child and that it is something that has kept him going throughout his career.

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"My mother told her sister before she died - too young - that if Ian became an actor she'd be happy because actors brought such joy to people's lives," he says.

"And I've held onto that."

Amol Rajan Interviews Ian McKellen airs on Thursday, March 3, at 9pm on BBC Two.

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