As queer as ever

He’s been bringing gay characters to our screens for 30 years and with a searing new series about the Aids epidemic in the pipeline, Russell T Davies is a more- than- worthy winner of our Culture Award


Ask any gay man of a certain age about his life, and Russell T Davies’ ground- breaking 1999 drama Queer as Folk will almost certainly get at least an honourable mention.

“Barely a week goes by without someone coming up and telling me they wanked off to my work,” laughs the 56- year- old writer and producer. “Not many writers get that, I’m very proud of it.”

Twenty years later — and with gay men no longer having to watch similar shows in their bedroom with the sound down low – Russell has kept their hands full ( so to speak) with the likes of Cucumber, A Very English Scandal and most recently Years and Years. Not to mention practicall­y revolution­ising British television with his revived Doctor Who and spin- off s Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

“Can I say,” he adds and we prepare for some words of wisdom, “how long’s it taken me to get an Attitude award? Fucking hell! Every year, me weeping in WH Smith in October…” he laughs. “I’m not bitter. You’ve waited until I was enough of a daddy to fi nally give me one.”

He’s getting the Culture Award, so not quite the out- to- pasture of a life- time achievemen­t gong. But goodness, what a body of work that time on planet Earth encapsulat­es.

“In 2021, it’ll be 30 years of being on- screen as a credit, because 1991 was Dark Season with Kate Winslet,” he says of the sinister children’s BBC serial. “Thirty years on- screen with your own shows is not bad. I’m quite proud of that. Maybe I’ll have a little celebratio­n all by myself in 2021, saying: ‘ Well done’.”

Indeed, it’s already 30 years since Russell fi rst brought a reference to The Gays to our screens, in Children’s Ward.

“It goes way back,” he says. “It was an HIV character, which isn’t gay but it allowed the door [ to] open for people to call that kid gay. If I could go back in time, I’d have made that kid gay. A year later Byker Grove did their Noddy story, the fi rst gay kid. I was so jealous of them.” Soap opera Revelation­s – with a gay bridegroom in love with his best man — followed as did Springhill, which included the story of a closeted teen.

“So I was always putting it in, into the scripts,” he laughs. “It was always there.

There’s a great uncatalogu­ed roster of gay characters that I was very proud of before Queer as Folk came along.

“So, it was the gayness that got my career to where it is. It’s not just a little incidental thing, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those gay stories.”

Written in 1998, QAF came about at a time when Russell describes his life as settling – having met his future husband, Andrew, while out in Manchester.

“I loved standing at the rail, watching the dancefloor, watching all those people. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually beginning to write a series in my head about those people,” he says.

Those people would go on to change lives – including Russell’s. “I think that show stands up to this day. Queer as Folk works because it’s true. I absolutely believe every word each one of those boys says. It has a real integrity to it. It was good for me, I didn’t realise I could write like that. It opened a lot of doors for me in terms of its truth and insight.

“That’s why we moved on from Queer as Folk very quickly because doors were opening.

“The fact that we got something like The Second Coming – an extraordin­ary piece of work – on ITV is amazing, that was the Queer as Folk eff ect.”

The Second Coming was the fi rst time Russell worked with Christophe­r Eccleston — who was soon to become the Ninth Doctor – although the Salford- born star had been up for the role of QAF’s libido- driven Stuart Jones.

“He was extraordin­ary in that audition,” Russell recalls, “because he did it and he said, ‘ I’m wrong for this, I know exactly the right actor you want for this: Aidan Gillen. He’s the only actor I’ve ever met who acts like he’s got a cock’.

“It’s great, isn’t it! I know what he means, you meet Aidan and that’s what he did throughout – he had such a great sexuality. So that was Chris. Literally handed over the part. Up to that point we’d never heard of Aidan Gillen. Now of course, you’d die beating a path to Aidan’s door.”

The series went on to be given an American twist by Showtime, with US audiences


enjoying 83 episodes over five seasons, while a reboot for Bravo is in the works.

There’s also talk of a French version, “Which would be lovely, and automatica­lly sexy,” beams Russell.

In 2015, he returned to the world of gay men with Cucumber, which although linked to QAF through the return of Hazel, was met with mixed reviews.

“You know, when you haven’t got Charlie Hunnam being rimmed in the first 20 minutes, it’s not going to be quite the same show and it has its impact in diff erent ways.”

A mantra that could be applied to any series, perhaps? “They should all have it! Doctor Who especially! But you’re aiming for diff erent shocks,” Russell says.

“I won a Bafta for best writer for episode six, I have nothing to complain about with the response to Cucumber. That’s the only prize in the country you want. So I’m very happy.” With a knowing look, Russell’s seen through what was supposed to be a cunningly disguised question. “What you’re saying, essentiall­y, is that gay men complained about it. What a surprise,” he roars with laughter. “Which they did about Queer as Folk. We’re whitewashi­ng the past now. The very fi rst public screening of Queer as Folk was at The Nightingal­e in Birmingham and the fi rst question from the audience was, ‘ What about bisexual representa­tion?’’

“I thought: ‘ For fuck’s sake, I’ve just worked so hard to get gay representa­tion on television and you’re criticisin­g me’.

“But out of that I go and create Captain John Harkness. I do listen. Although my heart sank into my boots, I thought, ‘ What a good point’. It doesn’t take the shape or form they’re imagining – he was thinking about a nice drama about bisexual life in Birmingham. What I come out with is a space pirate, played by John Barrowman, who sleeps with everything!”

Did the BBC never question having a bisexual space pirate in their fl agship sci- fi series, Doctor Who?

“Not a question, not a moment, nothing. It’s amazing. Again, if you’re coming to me, what do you expect? And they came to me for ‘ my’ Doctor Who. That’s what they came for, and that’s what they were going to get.”

Another ground- breaking moment in Russell’s Doctor Who was a brief kiss between the Timelord and Captain Jack.

“Someone did come up to me and have a go about that, at a wedding of all places,” Russell recalls. “Some woman – the only time it’s happened that overtly – said: ‘ I’ve got kids at home and they shouldn’t be made to watch that’, and I fucking bollocked her.

“I was so rude to her I practicall­y drove her out of the wedding. I wouldn’t let go. She thought she’d come up to me and say one thing and I just followed her through the wedding. I was like, ‘ Give me your name, give me your number because I’m going to phone social services because you shouldn’t be in charge of children’.

“They’re not bringing up their children properly. That’s like saying you won’t teach them how to eat or read and write. It’s wrong. You’re bringing up your children wrong. Then her husband joined in and he was trying to shut his wife up, not me!”

Educating people is somewhat topical at present, something that Russell’s been revisiting himself.

“There’s a lovely bit in Boys about Section 28. One of the best scenes in it,” he says when we discuss LGBTQ life being part of school education in Britain. “We’ve been here before. Here we go again, all the same panic, all the same shrill voices.”

His advice to the parents? “Stop worrying, just listen. [ Some of] these Muslim families have got their gay sons and lesbian daughters sitting there quietly rolling their eyes, hiding in fear or going and living their own lives without mum and dad. It’ll pass. I always think that these things will pass in the end.”

Boys – you may be wondering – is Russell’s


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Darren Scott Photograph­y Markus Bidaux
Russell T Davies
Words Darren Scott Photograph­y Markus Bidaux Russell T Davies
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