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The Cancellation of Gentleman Jack: A Year On – Sarah Wingrove

Statue of a woman sat down, resting one arm on her knee. Colourful flowers laid out at the bottom of the statue.

On the morning of the 8th of July 2022, fans of the television series, Gentleman Jack (HBO/BBC, 2019-22) awoke to the news that their hopes of a third season were not going to be realised – or certainly not by the commissioning network, HBO (now branded as Max in the USA). I remember sending voice notes to friends whilst sat in bed, shedding confused tears onto my phone screen, thinking frantic thoughts such as ‘Is this it for the GJ fandom?’ and ‘Should I be interviewing everyone right now?!’ Having started my doctoral studies in 2021 on the subject of the show, Anne Lister, in response to reading the series’ companion biography and becoming intensely engaged in learning more about Lister and the contemporary community which formed around her, this news was worrying both academically and personally. [1]

Less than 24 hours later, however, a community-led campaign was started which has continued to engage Gentleman Jack fans on and off-line in a multitude of endeavours, all with the shared aim to #SaveGentlemanJack. A year on and this project has by no means given up, and despite my concerns of last summer, the wider Anne Lister community has continued to connect with one another, whether they are still invested in a third season of the television series which brought many together originally, or not.

Anne Lister (1791-1840) could certainly be considered a jack of all trades: autodidact, industrialist, mountaineer. The most well-known aspects of her person, however, are her prolific journal-keeping and her love of women. Coined the ‘first modern lesbian’ by Professor Chris Roulston, Lister has become a key historical figure for lesbian and broader queer communities. [2] Lister was not always confident or comfortable with her love for women, stating that she ‘ought not to like women…apologizing for my inclination that way’ [3], but as she got older, she would become more assured of her love of ‘the fairer sex’, albeit still in private. [4]

The two seasons of Gentleman Jack, created by Yorkshire-born television triple-threat Sally Wainwright (writer, director and producer), followed Lister’s life from July 1832 until around 1836, and introduced a wider audience to Lister’s life and her loves, particularly Mariana Lawton neé Belcombe (1788-1868) and Ann Walker (1803-1854). Whilst Lister’s love-life and her perspectives on it is not the only reason fans admire her so ardently in the present, the depiction of romantic affection and desire between women in the mid-19th century it provided has been lauded and analysed in both academic and popular publications. [5] Indeed, Janet Lea has referenced the ‘Gentleman Jack effect’ to identify the impact the television show has had on its audience across the globe, and the subsequent responses of this enthusiastic community including creative expression, changing perspectives of themselves and their relationships and forging new friendships. [6]

When the announcement was made that the show was not to be renewed for any subsequent seasons, this ‘Gentleman Jack effect’ gained a new focus and began drawing from various strengths of the community which had previously been forged. Initially a petition was launched, with a letter-writing campaign, a flash mob at Shibden Hall with choreography to the television closing tune by O’Hooley and Tidow, and Gentleman Jack fan presence at Leeds and Brighton Pride events consequently occurring before a campaign website was launched on the 5th September 2022. Later that month, on Thursday 22nd September, a community-funded billboard went up throughout the afternoon in Times Square, New York, to further promote the campaign, utilising fan art by digital artist, Kylie Conning.

Shibden Hall on a sunny day. It is surrounded by grass and blue sky.
Shibden Hall

Continuing into 2023, the campaign was further promoted at a Royal Television Society event hosted by York St John University in February and Anne Lister birthday celebrations in April. The most recent in-person endeavour came at the start of the summer, as on Sunday 4th June 2023, a banner with Conning’s artwork of Lister and Walker kissing was flown over Shibden Hall, emblazoned with the key campaign phrase: ‘SAVE GENTLEMAN JACK’.

Whilst the broader community has not been united on every method utilised to approach saving Gentleman Jack, those involved in the campaign have been dedicated, planning ‘power hours’ on social media to maintain visibility of campaign hashtags. As of the 31st of July 2023, the campaign is organising to send packages to the BBC, HBO, and Lookout Point, including fan-created items such as letters, fan art and photographic evidence of the Anne Lister and Gentleman Jack communities.

Similar fandom-led campaigns striving for more episodes of beloved television series have seen their efforts come to fruition, including other sapphic-led shows such as Wynonna Earp (2016-21) and more recently, Warrior Nun (2020-) and A League of Their Own (2022-). With both Wainwright and Gentleman Jack production company, Lookout Point currently attached to the upcoming Disney+ series, The Ballad of Renegade Nell, and no news from any channel or streaming service prepared to pick up the mantel, the chances of a Gentleman Jack renewal announcement in 2023 is…slim.  Ultimately, however, whether the series is renewed or not, what remains is its lasting, tangible impact. Alongside the continuing efforts of the fan community, new publications on Lister continue to be released, such as Decoding Anne Lister and Learned by Heart, providing novel analyses and perspectives on the lives of Lister and her contemporaries. [7]

Janet Lea found that every lesbian who participated in her 2020 study anticipated that the ‘Gentleman Jack effect’ would continue to be felt. [6] I know this to be true, for as I write this blog, the interviews I was so worried I would not be able to conduct back in July 2022 are drawing to a close. The response to my call for participants was so immense that I had every participant I needed (and more) in less than a week. Whilst the responses or attitudes of the community may change as time moves on, Gentleman Jack and Anne Lister’s story will continue to be renewed as we learn more about its subject and ourselves.

If you would like to attend upcoming celebrations of the lives of Anne Lister and her contemporaries, please see details below:

  • ALM – Anne Lister Memorial will be held in Halifax from Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th September 2023 for the anniversary of Lister’s death in 1840. More details will soon be available via Calderdale Council’s website here.
  • Anne Lister Research Summit – Details will be announced shortly by ALRS on their website here.
  • ALBW – Anne Lister Birthday Week, will be taking place from the 1st – 8th April 2024 in Halifax. More details will be announced here.
  • ALS – the Anne Lister Society meeting Call for Papers will open later this month with details here.  
A woman smiling at the camera wearing a navy coat. Part of Shibden Hall is in the background.
Sarah Wingrove at Shibden Hall


Sarah Wingrove is a PhD candidate at the University of Surrey, where she is conducting an interdisciplinary studentship entitled Heritage, Tourism, and Lesbian & Queer Identification: Anne Lister and 21st century ‘Lister Sisters’. Sarah has previously published research on the Anne Lister enthusiast community and their travel behaviours in relation to Lister’s own. She is a member of the Anne Lister Society, a host of The SGS Podcast and has acted as a facilitator for the Anne Lister Research Summit on a variety of topics. Images author’s own.





[1] Choma, A., (2019). Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister: The Official Companion to the BBC Series. London: Ebury Publishing.

[2] Roulston, C., (2013). The revolting Anne Lister: the U.K.’s first modern lesbian. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 17 (3-4), 267-78. DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2013.731866.

[3] Journal of Anne Lister, SH:7/ML/E/26/2/0004, 15 August 1816. Transcribed by West Yorkshire Archive Service Codebreakers.

[4] Journal of Anne Lister, SH:7/ML/E/4/0122, 29 January 1821. Transcribed by West Yorkshire Archive Service Codebreakers.

[5] Dhaur, P., (2019). Gentleman Jack has achieved a rare feat: embracing a queer woman as the hero of her own story. The Independent [online newspaper]. June 3, 2019.

Maier, S.M. and Friars, R.M., (2020). Stoically Sapphic: Gentlemanly Encryption and Disruptive Legibility in Adapting Anne Lister. Neo-Victorian Studies, Special Issue: Queering Neo-Victorianism Beyond Sarah Waters, 13 (1), 125-52. DOI:10.5281/zenodo.4320781.

Ng, E., (2021). The “Gentleman-like” Anne Lister on Gentleman Jack: Queerness, Class, and Prestige in “Quality” Period Dramas. International Journal of Communication, 15, 2397-2417.

Ng, E., (2022). “What unholy Chart is this?!”: Paratextual intertextuality in Gentleman Jack fan posts of scholarship on Anne Lister, Journal of Lesbian Studies, 26 (4), 458-467, DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2022.2083753.

Reinschmidt, J., (2019). ‘Gentleman Jack’ Season One: Anne Lister and Lesbian Visibility. FlipScreened [online magazine]. June 30, 2019.

Roulston, C., (2022). From text to screen: Gentleman Jack then and now. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 26 (4), 309-322. DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2022.2085235.

[6] Lea, J., (2021). The Gentleman Jack Effect: Lessons in Breaking Rules and Living Out Loud. Santa Fe: Laurel House Press.

[7] Gonda, C. and Roulston, C. (eds.), (2023). Decoding Anne Lister: From the Archives to ‘Gentleman Jack’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Donoghue, E., (2023). Learned By Heart. London: Pan Macmillan.