Blurred Lines: The Queer World of Bad Girls




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Peer reviewed



Bad Girls is a British women-in-prison drama which ran for 8 series between 1999 and 2006. Produced by Shed Productions for ITV, Britain’s largest commercial network, the series offered an insider’s view of prison life from the perspective of its female inmates and their managers. By the time of the third season in 2001, Bad Girls was attracting over eight million viewers each week of its 16-week run (BARB 2001). In the United Kingdom, Bad Girls video sales stood at number seven in the chart during 2000, ahead of Friends and Buffy, and just behind Star Trek and The Simpson’s (BARB 2001 as quoted in Herman 2003:142). The series has subsequently been sold to 17 countries. FX, HBO and NBC have all been in talks with producing their own version of the series in North America. A central and popular narrative of the first three series of Bad Girls, was the love affair between lesbian inmate Nikki Wade and the Prison’s ‘straight’ Manager, Helen Stewart. Differing from the familiar tropes of the women-in prison genre, wherein constructions of lesbian characters are usually marginalized, pathologized, face grim futures or suffer violent deaths, Didi Herman has argued that that the Wade/Stewart storyline signaled Bad Girls’ displacement of heteronormativity in favor of homonormativity; in which lesbian sexuality is constructed as ‘normal, desirable and possible’ (Herman 2003:141). Extending Herman’s analysis, this chapter explores the homonormative constructions of gender and sexuality in Bad Girls but considers how and why it should do so in the British context at the turn of the millennium. As such, this chapter historicizes and contextualizes the constructions of gender and sexuality in Bad Girls in relation to other film and televisual examples of the women-in-prison genre, including Within These Walls (LWT 1974-1978) and Prisoner: Cell Block H (Grundy Television Productions and Network 10, 1979-1986) as well as in relation to the shifting social, economic and broadcasting cultures of this period; namely New Labour, ‘girl power’ and the more competitive and de-regulated system of broadcasting in the United Kingdom. It is in relation to these overlapping contexts, that this analysis will situate Shed Productions’ particular queering of ITV prime time schedules via its production of Bad Girls and Footballers Wives (Shed Productions 2002-2006).



Anti-heroine, queer feminism, prison drama, female ensemble drama


Ball, V. (2017) Blurred Lines: The Queer World of Bad Girls. In: Buonnano, M (ed.) Television Anti-Heroines: Women Behaving Badly in Crime and Prison Drama. Bristol and Chicago. Intellect.


Research Institute

Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI)