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AIDS: The Unheard Tapes — air date, contributors and all we know about the documentary

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes - a picture of a Philips dictaphone recording on an audio cassette, sitting on the edge of a wooden table next to a pint tankard of beer
Previously unbroadcast audio interviews tell the story of the AIDS crisis from a new perspective. (Image credit: BBC)

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes is a new three-part documentary coming to BBC Two which tells the story of the AIDS crisis in the UK as it has never been heard before.

Beginning in 1982, the series charts the arrival of a deadly disease in the UK — referred to at first as the 'gay plague', as the vast majority of those affected by it were gay men. At a time when homophobia was still rife, news of this new illness created a culture of fear and stigma around it, and very few of those affected were given the opportunity to speak openly and publicly about their experiences.

As the situation progressed, a small group of researchers began carrying out interviews with HIV-positive gay men to document how the crisis had impacted them and their community. The interviews were recorded on audio tape, and archived at the British Library.

AIDS Awareness activists matching in New York in the 1980s. Many of them are wearing t-shirts with a pink triangle on and the slogan "SILENCE = DEATH" underneath

An AIDS awareness protest in New York in the 1980s (Image credit: Alamy)

Now the interviews are being broadcast for the first time, with actors lip-syncing to the original recordings, as part of a new landmark series.

Here's everything we know so far about AIDS: The Unheard Tapes...

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes start date

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes starts on Monday, June 27 at 9.30 pm (11.35 pm in Northern Ireland) on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer. It is a three-part series, set to air weekly.

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes — who are the contributors?

The archive interviewees featured in the series, whose spoken accounts are lip-synced by actors, are identified by their first names only (or in some cases, to avoid confusion, a first name and an initial). The first episode features accounts from David, Pete, John, Tony, Michael, Jonathan and Tony O.

The series, which is narrated by Russell Tovey, also features recent interviews with experts in the field, including clinical immunologist Prof Anthony Pinching, gay rights activist Julian Howes, and key figures from the HIV and AIDS charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, including former chief executive Nick Partridge, co-founder Rupert Whitaker, and Tony Whitehead (who also features in the original interviews as 'Tony', portrayed on-screen by Hugo Bolton), the first chair of the organisation.

Hugo Bolton as Tony in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes. He is wearing a rust-coloured blazer over a white shirt with a paisley tie and black pinstripe trousers, sitting on a green sofa and looking into the camera. There are shelves full of books and plants on the wall behind him.

Hugo Bolton as Tony in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes. (Image credit: BBC)

"I wanted to tell my story — I thought I was probably going to die," says Tony Whitehead of his contribution to the initial interview project. 

"I wasn't well, and although there were treatments being developed, there wasn't a clear cure or confidence in the treatments. I knew how important it was to have this material because I had an academic background — it was so important to get it 'of the moment', because if I look back on it now, I can't help but reinterpret or change some things, perhaps. Memory plays tricks, and your own ego gets in the way sometimes!"

Is there a trailer for AIDS: The Unheard Tapes?

The BBC hasn't yet shared the trailer for AIDS: The Unheard Tapes, but we'll add it to this guide if they make it available.

Steven Perkins
Steven Perkins

Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and whattowatch.com (opens in new tab), who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.