BBC Naked: the Clever Coverup that Reveals all!

The other night I finally had the opportunity to watch the final episode of the BBC’s Series 2 of “Sherlock” with my friend and colleague, the lovely and talented K. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might recall K’s appearance in the Birthday Chronicles, and those of you who have seen us together will express little surprise at what follows.

K and I have spent many a Saturday night at my apartment, watching and re-watching some of our favorite films, most recently BBC’s “Sherlock” (about which we are publishing a long-anticipated book chapter…watch this space for details). Well-equipped with equal measures of wine and wit, K keeps up a steady stream of live descriptive video. As she has frequently pointed out, my blindness shouldn’t rob me of essential (and sometimes non-essential) visual details. So adept has she become at transmitting visual information that, in true Sherlockian fashion, I have often declared, “I’m lost without my describer.”

This past Saturday night’s viewing of “The Reichenbach Fall,” in addition to the usual routine of giggling, pausing, rewinding, and giggling some more, was responsible for the coining of a new catchphrase about to take the world by storm. Partway through the episode, K drew my attention to two particularly enticing scenes. IN the first, John Watson (Martin Freeman) emerges from the shower at the Baker Street flat he shares with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).

K: John just walked into the room, and he just got out of the shower, and his hair is wet, and it’s really sexy. Oh, and he’s wearing a robe. Nothing else. Just a robe. You need to know that. It’s important.
Me: And he’s clearly naked under the robe, even though you can’t see anything, because, you know, this is the BBC.
K: Yes, exactly, and he looks really sexy. I mean, really. I just think you need to know. I don’t want you to miss out.

Scene Two: Sherlock and John are in their Baker Street flat, finishing dressing for a court appearance.

K: OK, so, get this. Sherlock and John are in the flat, and they’re finishing getting dressed for court. IN the same room. Sherlock is buttoning up his shirt, and John is adjusting his tie, and oh…there’s eyefucking. Sherlock is totally eyefucking John’s reflection in the mirror. So, they either were just naked, or they’re thinking about getting naked.
Me: They’re BBC naked!

And thus was coined the phrase “BBC Naked,” adjective- a state of appearance in which a character’s clothing is arranged in such a way as to suggest a prior state of nudity or to encourage the audience to visualize the character in a state of nudity to circumnavigate the awkwardness of actual televised nudity. Perhaps one of the best-cited examples of BBC naked is this scene from their wildly popular television adaptation of Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/ (1995). Discussing the scene in an Interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” several years ago, Colin Firth (whose dripping Darcy has become iconic among fans and scholars of Austen alike) revealed that in the original script, Darcy dives into the lake completely naked. “But,” Firth pointed out, “the BBC didn’t consider that acceptable…so, then in the end I thought, well, what’s second most spontaneous to taking all your clothes off and diving into a pond? And I suppose, really, not taking any of them off.” Thus the image of him emerging from the lake to confront Elizabeth Bennet, dripping and distinctly flustered, while intended to lend an air of propriety to the sexually-charged scene, had precisely the opposite effect.

Hence my assessment of the above “Sherlock” scenes as prime examples of the BBC naked strategy, particularly in scene two. The ritual of dressing together is sumptuously sensual. If John and Sherlock are not dressing after an episode of intense lovemaking (which K and I have in fact theorized is the case), the depiction of dressing together intensifies their level of intimacy and comfort with one another, which, sexualized or not, is an oft-inevitable result of sharing domestic spaces and routines.

Now, of course, having coined this catchphrase, I am presented with a daunting task, because with great power comes great responsibility. It is now my mission to re-watch every BBC series to which I have ever been exposed to seek out examples of “BBC nakedness,” which extensive list will serve as evidence for introducing the term into popular discourse. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.


  1. guate6 said

    I have to say that I’m a bit surprised that the article was what it was and it’s the first time I’ve found something you’ve written to be rubbish.
    The implicit homosexuality is astonishingly grotesque and uncalled for. The idea of forcing a scene to have a sense of sexuality when it can quite simply be devoid of that is demeaning to the matter, and I would say embarrassing to the person thinking/writing about that.

    Note, this has nothing to do with the term you coined, which I think is very apropos, though its idea really is not a new one (such as ABC-naked, PBS-naked, etc.), I applaud the humor it brings.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      Firstly, what we were commenting on was entirely tongue-in-cheek. Secondly, I wouldn’t have talked about a homoerotic reading of the scene if there hadn’t been talk by people involved in the series about the fact that the relationship between John and Sherlock can be interpreted as sexual. Both actors have commented upon the fact that in the Conan Doyle stories, you’ve got two blokes living in a flat together in the 1890’s, and “someone’s got to explore that,” as Martin freeman put it. If you watch the series, you will notice jokes to that effect in the script (people mistaking them for being a couple, for instance), and Martin Freeman, who plays John Watson, has joked that Sherlock is “the gayest thing” he’s ever done.

      This isn’t about whether or not I do or do not condone homosexuality. This is about looking, with an academic eye (albeit sarcastically) about the way that television portrays and sometimes circumnavigates, the oft-awkward connotations attached to male/male relationships, whether bromantic (as John’s and Sherlocks unarguably is) or sexual (as the series has often hinted at, even if both Stephen Moffat and Benedict Cumberbatch are now claiming that Sherlock is either heterosexual or asexual).

      What you need to recognize is that my academic eye is sometimes–and often necessarily so–trained in a different way than my personal/moral eye. Part of my job entails commenting upon and considering the way that television, film, literature, and popular media in general deal with such issues as I discussed here, because we often use popular media as the barometer by which we measure our own understanding of (and/or acceptance of) such things.

      Thirdly, referring to your ABC/PBS comment, that might not be untrue, but the BBC is notorious for such things, particularly when it comes to adaptation, and even more so with adaptation of texts originating in earlier centuries. The technique of lending propriety to an otherwise sexually-charged scene (re Pride and Prejudice/wet shirt, which I think is the touchstone example) is as much an invitation to reinterpret the scene as it is a clever cover-up. This is essentially what we mean by the term “BBC naked”. WE’re invited to read further into the scene, not to ignore what is being covered. Had you watched the series, and I recommend that you do, you would have reacted much differently, because you would have been aware of, if not in agreement with, some of the subtextual elements that K and I drew attention to.

      Finally, and most importantly, it’s essential to recognize that there is a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek element to what we do that makes it laughable, and you can’t always take it seriously. That said, it wasn’t my intention to offend, and if I’ve done so, I apologize, but you can’t come to the defense of the actors or writers and claim that they would be offended, because they have acknowledged (and producer Mark Gattis in particuarl) has encouraged fans speculating about such things). You don’t need to condone certain behavior to be able to acknowledge that it exists, and whether you condone it or not, it’s important to be a participant in conversations about the way popular media portrays it.

  2. […] year, neither of which are in any way responsible for the expansion of my ego. I single-handedly coined a new term for analyzing nudity in BBC dramas, participated, with great success, in Blogging Against Disablism […]

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