The part they played in bringing the topic of being gay to the forefront of the population’s thoughts cannot be underestimated, as Andrew Lynford and Mark Homer played Simon Raymond and Tony Hills, Walford’s second ever gay couple.
Simon Raymond, who was played by Andrew Lynford, arrived on Albert Square a year after his future partner Tony, as he made his debut in 1996 when he came in search for his sister Tiffany, after his abusive relationship with ex boyfriend Howard falls apart.
The pair never had the best star to life, with their father Terry being an abusive alcoholic and their mother had walked out on them when they were young. A year earlier in 1995, Tony made his debut when he arrived from Norfolk also with his sister Sarah. When he arrives, Tony has a decidedly pro-drugs attitude, as he sells ecstasy with his friend Dan Zappieri. Eventually though, despite his pro-drug attitude, and despite even saying “no one ever died taking E”, he decides to quit dealing when Dan sells some E to his sister without his knowledge.
Tony soon falls in love with Tiffany, Simon’s sister, despite previously feeling confused about his sexuality, but decides not to act on it. But after a trip to Blackpool, wherein Tony is unable to control his urges and kisses Simon, and Simon wrestles with the huge decision of whether to tell his sister Tiffany or not.
Tony, however, decides that the kiss meant nothing, so Simon decides not to tell Tiffany, but it didn’t end there for the pair. Simon initially tells Tony that he must confront his demons but after all the denials and all the unpleasantness Tony shows towards him Simon decides to leave. He tries to, but Tony stops him, and from there they finally have the long and frank discussion they needed, during which Tony finally admits that he’s gay, and they kiss.
Tiffany was distraught over what happened, but her and her brother eventually managed to reconcile and she settled down with Grant Mitchell. Walford’s second gay couple would go through a lot during their time on EastEnders, but what they did go through only served to highlight the issues permeating in our culture about homophobia and intolerance.
It’s hard to believe now, but even only as recently as the late 90s, the attitude that a large majority of this country had towards homosexuality, and the lack of tolerance, was downright disgusting and even, at some points, a little disturbing.
It was an important storyline, because it presented a couple of gay men, in a relationship, experiencing all the same problems that any heterosexual couples would. It put a big exclamation point on the fact that yes, gay men are exactly the same as you and me, and they can encounter exactly the same problems. It showed the country that love and heartache is universal, irrespective of sexual orientation. That may seem like a slightly patronising message to send now, but at the time, it was an important one. Despite this, the author Margaret Llewellyn-Jones commented that Simon and Tony were two of the “straight-est-looking gay boys in London”, and that they were not convincing to the gay audience because “the gayness of the characters was ‘clawed-back’ and that the readers of the image who see them as unconvincing use a queer reading practice.”
She also said that: The two gay characters are signified within codes of recognition that are available to the central reader. To the queer reader they can be seen clearly as a rather dubious construction – they are a carbon copy of a ‘straight’ relationship where only the object of desire is different, rather than a relationship that signs itself as different. To a queer reader the gay relationship in this instance says nothing to them other than a representation of a straight relationship, what it does show is the implicit constructiveness of all of the relationships present in a soap’s fabric.”
The British press at the time echoed the author’s statements, saying that Simon and Tony were “dull and boring and not fun and upbeat like all gay man.”
The public had their apprehensions about the storyline also. In 1996, Simon and Tony shared a kiss on EastEnders that initially, according to an interview with Mark Homer who played Tony for Huffington Post, was planned to last eight seconds, was cut down to two because of pressure from the BBC producers who feared that the public would be outraged at the kiss.
The kiss was part of the storyline that was meant to promote understanding, acceptance and harmony for all in the LGBT community, but the British viewing public, for the most part, were not interested in such things, as the BBC received a huge amount of complaints about the kiss. The BBC cut the kiss down because they were expecting that the audience would not want to see “that kind of material” on a pre-watershed show, and that they did not want to “startle” viewers with the kiss.
Nevertheless, even with the kiss being cut down, the BBC received a huge amount of complaints about the kiss.
Eventually, and after four years and drama and tribulations, the BBC and the actors mutually agreed that the arc of their characters had run its course, and that they would leave. After coming to terms with the fact that Tony is bisexual and not gay, Simon decides to leave the country to travel around Europe, and Tony decides to go with him. The last time they are mentioned on the show, a letter sent by Tony to his family reveals that they have settled in Amsterdam.
Where are they now?
Starting with Andrew Lynford, after EastEnders, he started presenting shows for television, including Wild Thing, Taste Today and the comedy quiz Arty Facts – a show which he also devised himself.
Lynford has also taken his talents to the stage, as he wrote a 1970s style musical entitled Disco Crazee, which was directed by Bruce James in 2005. The show started at the Edinburgh Festival and ended up doing well and touring the country. Lynford continued to work in theatre, directing The Cheeky Chappie, a play about the comedian Max Miller, Side By Side By Sondheim and Ken Hill’s The Curse of the Werewolf at the Union Theatre in London.
He’s also directed plays in recent years such as Dirty Dusting, Mum’s The Word and Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather.
By 2013, Lynford had transitioned into theatre directing almost full-time, as he continued to find success with projects such as Wuthering Heights and the UK tour for the Neil Dunn play Steaming.
Most recently, he has worked in casting and is the Senior Talent Agent for www.beresfordmanagement.com
Mark Homer hasn’t done quite so much over the years. After leaving EastEnders, he appeared in shows such as Silent Witness, Spine Chillers and Casualty. His last appearance on TV was in 2006 before coming back to our screens this year for two episodes of The Dumping Ground.
Homer also has a couple of movie credits to his name, including Never Play with the Dead, a low-budget horror film from 2001 and a 2009 short film Taylors Trophy. But it appears as though the former EastEnders cast regular hasn’t done a huge amount of TV work, focusing more on writing, since his role which ended up being a hugely important role not only for the show, but also for the casual viewer’s interpretation of homosexual relationships.
It’s hard to think now, looking back, that people even in the late 90s could be that appalled at a couple of gay men sharing a kiss, but even though we now think that things are far more inclusive “these days”, homophobia is still a rampant evil, and we should never forget that.