Documentary - AIDS: The Unheard Tapes

"John" sits at the front of a stage with a sparkly curtain and drum kit behind

Starting on BBC Two on Monday 27th, this innovative three-part documentary series tells the story of the British AIDS crisis as it’s never been told before. Watch the trailer...

Press Release

Forty years ago, a mysterious disease first appeared in Britain’s gay community. A deadly and complex virus with no known cure, the ‘gay plague’ arrived at a time when homophobia and discrimination were commonplace. Few could talk openly about their experiences - or their illness.

As the crisis grew, a small group of pioneering researchers began recording audio interviews with infected gay men and their friends. These interviews - a frank, intimate and sometimes humorous account of life at the heart of the AIDS epidemic - were archived in the British Library and have never been broadcast before. The series brings them to life with young actors who lip-sync to the original voice recordings.

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes combines these lip-synced historical testimonies with modern interviews from British activists, scientists, doctors and nurses who lived, worked and campaigned throughout the crisis.

Starting with the death of Heaven barman Terry Higgins in 1982, and ending in 1996 with the emergence of the first successful drug combinations, the series explores how pioneering medics and the gay community worked together raise awareness, fight prejudice, and ultimately find ways to treat the devastating virus.

Part one of the series starts in London, 1982. Thirteen years post the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, the largest gay club in Europe opens its doors - and Heaven is packed. Whispers begin to circulate of a mysterious new disease, a ‘gay cancer’ from New York, and Terry Higgins becomes one of the first people in Britain to die from what will become known as an ‘AIDS-related disease’.

Revolutionary activists and doctors come together to discover what they can about this new virus, as numbers of those infected start to rise. Fear and stigma spread across the nation, contributing to a culture of extreme homophobia and ignorance. Gay activists take charge of trying to spread educational messages about safe sex for the first time.

The stories of men including David, Pete, John and Tony, recorded at the time, bring these experiences to life. Their real voices are lip synced by actors, giving first-hand insight into their lives at the time. They try to understand what they are hearing about AIDS and cope with discovering their diagnoses at a time of heightened stigma and fear, when there is no cure.

As 1985 arrives, and with it the first HTLV-3 antibody test, the numbers of those infected with HIV gradually become clear, and the true scale of the epidemic begins to emerge.

Part 1 of AIDS: The Unheard Tapes starts on BBC Two on 27th June at 9.30pm to 10.30pm

Image - John (Luke Hornsby), BBC
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