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″Intimate Contact” - Britain’s First TV-Movie About AIDS

March 16, 1987 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Clive Gregory is a prosperous executive who lives in the affluent outer suburbs of London with a wife and two children. He also has AIDS.

The story of Clive’s gradual demise and its effects on his family and colleagues is told in ″Intimate Contact,″ the first British TV-movie about acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The series started March 9 on the Independent Television network.

Daniel Massey stars as Clive, and Claire Bloom plays his wife, Ruth, in the $2.4-million drama directed by Waris Hussein and written by Alma Cullen.

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″Intimate Contact″ is an AIDS drama with a difference, though, because it deals with the disease among heterosexuals rather than in the homosexual milieu in which the majority of AIDS cases in United States and Europe have been found.

Clive catches the disease in a drunken one-night tryst with a female prostitute in New York. He is not aware of his affliction until he returns to England, where he he is condemned for having a ″gay″ disease. AIDS can appear anywhere from several months to seven years or more after a person is infected, scientists say.

The show’s creators expect ″Intimate Contact″ to raise a few eyebrows, but they stand by its integrity.

Daniel Massey, son of the actor Raymond Massey, said the show’s inherently dramatic subject drew him to the project.

″I was hooked into the stories of the people, and that’s what really thrilled me,″ the 53-year-old actor said. ″There are few people around to whom AIDS had happened in a straight situation. People really thought it was a gay disease.″

The British government’s publicity campaign on AIDS is strongly aimed at heterosexuals in order to help prevent the disease from spreading. It is most commonly spread by sexual contact; victims can also be infected by contaminated blood transfusions, contaminated needles used by drug abusers or from a woman to her unborn child.

Ms. Cullen, a Liverpool-born writer who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, said she thought that having a woman write about AIDS demonstrated how the disease transcends gender.

″I was interested in writing about intolerance - that’s the true subject; AIDS is simply the catalyst,″ said Ms. Cullen, whose 1984 TV drama ″Northern Lights,″ with Judy Parfitt and Rik Mayall, won her an Emmy nomination.

Her script examined the disease from the wife’s perspective as well as the victim’s. ″I wanted to investigate what would happen to Ruth when she became an outcast and to trace her development actually preferring to be an outcast,″ she said.

Some early reviews criticized ″Intimate Contact″ for reducing AIDS to the level of soap opera. But its cast and crew disagree.

″Soap opera tends to deodorize and homogenize, and I don’t think this does,″ said Massey. ″Alma has an acid in her writing, which is very useful.″

″We were confident Alma would be able to do full justice to the subject without dipping into sentimentality or the sensational,″ said Patrick Harbinson, the series’ script editor.

He said his TV-movie was superior to ″An Early Frost,″ the acclaimed 1986 TV movie starring Aidan Quinn as a young homosexual dying of AIDS and Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands as his parents.

″That was a quite tender little piece, (but) we go a lot further,″ said Harbinson. ″Our implications are social. It’s Claire Bloom who carries the series; her life is blown to pieces.″

″The program reflects with great starkness and openness what is happening,″ said Massey. ″More than anything, I want to take the sting out of prejudice. Without compassion, you’re not going to cure the thing.″