Michael Cashman shares emotional reason for EastEnders return as part of trailblazing gay couple

A still from Eastenders showing gay characters Colin Russell and Barry Clark - played by Michael Cashman and Gary Hailes

More than three decades after they made history as one of TV’s first gay couples, EastEnders’ Colin Russell and Barry Clark are set to return to screens for Dot Cotton’s funeral.  

Russell (Michael Cashman) and Clark’s (Gary Hailes) on-screen relationship, which lasted between 1986 and 1987, featured a historic moment – a small kiss on the forehead – which prompted complaints from the public at the time. 

However, not only did their short-lived relationship spark complaints, it also inspired many viewers in a positive way. 

Hailes said: “I periodically get letters from people telling me they are marrying their boyfriend, and they can do that because of what we did back then. 

“Apparently, they used the scene where Dot realises that Barry and Colin share a bed in schools to educate people about gay relationships.”

In December 1987 their relationship came to an end, and Hailes has since claimed that the fictional couple’s time together concluded because of Section 28.

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Following the couple’s relationship Russell went on to have a romance with Guido Smith (Nicholas Donovan) and the pair shared the first-ever mouth-to-mouth same-sex kiss, which again caused controversy. 

Cashman’s last appearance on EastEnders was in 2016, when he invited Dot Cotton, played by June Brown who passed away in April this year aged 95, to a same-sex wedding. 

“When I went back in 2016, it was specifically to work with June on what we thought would be a very important story for the two of them – Colin’s wedding,” he shared.

Russell and Clark are now staging a return to the screen for Dot Cotton’s funeral – marking the first time they’ll be on-screen together in three decades. 

Cashman said he said “yes” as soon as he was asked by the show’s bosses to return to Albert Square. 

“I couldn’t imagine Colin not being at his amazing friend Dot’s funeral and I couldn’t imagine not being there for June,” he said. 

“She created a television icon that will stretch beyond the test of time. I had to be there, and I was humbled that they thought of me.”

Clark said of his return: “I cannot tell you how many messages I’ve had since the news was announced. I have been inundated! I wasn’t expecting it.

“I’ve enjoyed hearing all the speculation about Colin and Barry’s return and what it might involve.

“All I can say is that the episodes are so well-written, and there’s a real understanding of what went on for them before.”

Section 28 remained in place until 2003 when it was finally repealed under a Labour government.

Under the harmful legislation, teachers were forbidden from informing children about LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships, councils were prohibited from funding books, plays, leaflets, films or other materials showing same-sex relationships, and LGBT+ youth groups were shut down.

EastEnders airs Monday to Thursday at 7.30pm on BBC One. It is also available to watch on BBC iPlayer
The episode featuring Dot Cotton’s funeral is scheduled for Monday, December 12, 7.35pm