The shock of HIV has changed us and society

Autumn 2017
James House

As a non-medic, my knowledge of healthcare (such as it is) has been gleaned through filming in the NHS, as a patient, and as the son of committed, lifelong GP William House. Recently I directed Epidemic:When Britain Fought AIDS for Channel 4, a film that told the story of the early years of the AIDS epidemic in this country and the (successful) fight to get central government to take action.The experience of making that film inspired this article.


The AIDS epidemic, perhaps particularly in the UK, changed society’s attitudes for ever. Gay men suddenly became visible, and conversations about sex and sexuality were increasingly unavoidable. Over time, rejection changed to sympathy and eventually a certain kind of solidarity. A brief 35 years later we have marriage equality. The speed of social change has been immense but for the gay community – and others – life is still lived in a precarious balance.

First Paragraph

As a documentary director working
in television you don’t always get to make programmes you have a personal connection to. With tenacity and a degree of luck you can manoeuvre yourself towards things you feel are worthwhile, and you find ways of caring about them. But it doesn’t always feel personal. So, as a gay man, when I was approached by a production company with some seed funding from the Wellcome Trust to develop a film about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the UK I leapt at the opportunity. Three years later, and scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homo- sexuality in England and Wales, Epidemic: When Britain Fought AIDS went out on Channel 4.