Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Sitting pretty

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2004-11-07 Observer.jpg


With a drama about megalomania in south Wales, the rebirth of Doctor Who and a nudity-free life of Casanova, Russell T Davies, creator of Queer as Folk, has become the must-have television writer

The glass of red wine might not be his first (in fact, it's his third, possibly his fourth), but then Russell T Davies is in a celebratory mood. The Welsh-born Manchester resident has made the journey south to London today for the screening of his new ITV drama, Mine All Mine, attended by both press and cast. Its reception proves positive, the audience laughing in all the right places, and so everybody mills about the bar afterwards, eating mini-sausages on sticks and toasting one another with alcohol. Davies, who is really quite unnecessarily tall and consequently sticks out a mile, is very much the beau of the ball.

'Well, I'm being sociable, which makes a nice change from being stuck in front of a computer screen,' he explains. 'Another glass of wine? Why not?' Over the next couple of hours, he will air kiss an awful lot of cheeks and increasingly come to resemble a sloshed uncle at his favourite niece's wedding.

Mine All Mine is a cosy piece of television, perhaps uncharacteristically so from the writer of Queer as Folk, the groundbreaking late-Nineties Channel 4 series that revolved around, as Davies succinctly puts it, 'a 15-year-old boy having the best gay sex of his life'. But then he has turned a creative corner of lateand is becoming increasingly mainstream in his output. Next year, he is bringing Doctor Who back for a primetime Saturday night audience.

First, there is Mine All Mine, which follows the trials and tribulations of the gleefully argumentative Vivaldis whose father Max (Griff Rhys Jones) is convinced he owns the whole of Swansea, Davies's south Wales birthplace. Max's family think he's mad until it turns out that he's right. It's not just about that, of course. It's about love and loss, too, so, in many ways, this is ITV's tame answer to Channel 4's Shameless. It may go out on Thursday evenings, but its comfy PG certificate comedy dramatics make it more like traditional Sunday night viewing.

'Oh, now come on,' he says. 'I think I've earned all my controversial stripes by now, don't you? I'm sure I'll piss off my audience in Gay Land with this, but then I already did that when I followed Queer as Folk with Bob and Rose .'

The latter - which despite being both charming and award-winning, was watched by very few people - starred Alan Davies as a gay man who falls in love with a woman. If his first programme appalled the Daily Mail , his second was widely criticised by the writer's gay fanbase.

'Yes, they proclaimed me a traitor,' he says, 'but I really don't care what audience I have or who chooses to follow my programmes. I hate the idea that I have to represent any particular section of society; I just write good telly, that's all. I'm sure whichever gay fans I have left will be convinced I've put all kinds of discrete homosexual subplots into Mine All Mine but, in truth, I haven't. There is one gay character [the teenage son, Leo] but he doesn't see any action, I'm afraid.'

The idea to create a family drama came to Davies three years ago as he sat by his mother's bedside, watching her slowly die of cancer. He wanted to write something set in his native city and something based (albeit loosely) on his loud and chaotic family.

'I remember reading once about a family who were unaware that they owned a large chunk of Manhattan due to an obscure will,' he says, eyes wide. 'Had they known, they would have become instant billionaires. I mean, can you imagine? Of course, I was never going to set it in Manhattan when I could have Swansea instead. To be honest with you, it effectively wrote itself. I'm ever so happy with it. I suppose I could have written a depressing drama about cancer, but, instead, I wrote something lively, sexy and very Welsh.'

Davies was born 41 years ago. After university, he landed a job in the local Swansea theatre because he felt, erroneously, that theatre was his natural calling. After a couple of years of pronounced disillusion, he sought a job in television instead and, 'the moment I stepped into my first TV studio, I felt like I'd come home'.

For the next 12 years, he worked as a writer, producer and director for children's TV (winning a best children's drama Bafta in 1996 for Children's Ward ), before embarking on some grown-up stuff: a short-lived soap called Revelations and a latterday Upstairs Downstairs entitled The Grand . Then, in 1997, a friend of his made a suggestion. 'She said I should be writing something gay. And I thought, what a novel idea.'

Twelve months later, Queer as Folk was on our screens, creating an unholy fuss. Suddenly, Davies found himself first famous, then infamous.

'I never planned to go public, you know,' he says, 'but there was just so much misrepresentation flying around. The poor actors were made responsible for the words and actions I had written for them and a lot of the time they didn't know what they were talking about. So I never had a choice, really.'

It was the most bewildering thing that had ever happened to him. Were he younger, he argues, he would have been able to enjoy it more, but here he was, a man in his mid-thirties, contentedly putting on weight and sliding steadily towards middle age, now suddenly thrust into the limelight.

'It was bizarre but then I was lucky because I'm fast, I'm quick and I can talk. I know a great many people who couldn't have gone through that, who would have been torn apart having to face the kind of treatment I got. Even for me it was...well, it was ferocious. Mmm, isn't ferocious a lovely word?' He smiles, mostly to himself. 'Anyway, where was I?'

Gay media storm or thereabouts.

'Of course. So there I was, having to defend myself against all manner of idiotic shock jocks on the radio and some very stern journalists, as well as the people of Gay Land who were horrified that I chose to depict homosexuals as people who liked drinking and shagging. I remember thinking I could either sink or be brilliant in this situation...' Davies, shameless self-dramatist that he is, pauses, and allows the pause to become pregnant. ' I chose to be brilliant.'

Queer as folk won several awards before subsequently being sold to America, where it is on its fourth series. Now officially hot property, he turned to Bob and Rose, another critical success but a victim of poor scheduling and, subsequently, low ratings. His notoriety was restored in 2003 when, in The Second Coming starring Christopher Eccleston, he had Christ reborn as a bloke called Steve who worked in a Manchester branch of Blockbuster video.

'That caused an awful lot of fuss, didn't it?' he says, guffawing with all the mischievousness of an errant schoolboy. It also made him a valuable commodity and one of the very few people in TV capable of being controversial, clever and populist simultaneously. He must, I say, have been feeling very good about himself and very secure.

'Oh, I don't know about that. I may be in demand right now but, trust me, one duff script and I'm out on my ear. Either that, or a new director general will arrive, someone I once abused while drunk, and the door will slam shut in my face. Nobody's ever a sure thing in this game, darling.'

Nicola Shindler, the producer with whom he has collaborated since 1998, doesn't agree. 'Russell is in an incredible position right now,' she confirms. 'And that's because, quite simply, everybody wants to work with him, whatever the subject. And that is a pretty enviable place to be. He is simply a brilliant writer.'

Prolific, too, for he is now working on a couple of new BBC projects to be broadcast early next year. The first is that rather unlikely resurrection of Doctor Who which, as the Daily Star has already proclaimed, will not feature a gay man or a woman as the lead. 'I was on the radio the other day and the presenter, a woman, asked me whether the doctor was going to wear a pink shirt and a chiffon scarf,' Davies says sourly. 'I'm sorry, but what a thoroughly stupid question.'

It will star the aforementioned Eccleston as the doctor, with Billie Piper as his customary female sidekick. I ask him why he chose to bring back something that should have died when Tom Baker left in 1981? 'I absolutely adore Doctor Who ,' he beams. 'Always have, always will, and that's why I would ask all of its fellow disciples out there to trust me on this one, because it's going to look like Die Hard !'

The budget, reputedly, is huge, although he won't reveal it. 'I can tell you that it will look as gorgeous as any American TV series you have ever seen. The special effects are out of this world.'

What of its themes? Eccleston, an actor noted for both his gravity and a seeming inability to smile, has already been quoted as saying that the new series will carry the 'emotional weight' of Hillsborough , while echoing the dark, post-9/11 times in which we now live.

'Nonsense and bollocks!' Davies counters. 'I'm sure Chris said nothing of the sort. This is Saturday night fare, so of course it's not going to be dark. It's going to be fun, great fun, and while I could never claim that it will scare the living daylights out of your average well adjusted adult, I am hoping it'll put the frighteners on kids, especially when the Daleks arrive.'

The Daleks, he reveals, have undergone a major overhaul. This time, they can climb stairs.

His second project is a three-part drama about Casanova. Davies has been wading through 12 volumes of the man's autobiography, desperately hoping to find at least one incident of homosexuality. 'Nothing! The bastard was completely straight. Nevertheless, it's fascinating stuff. He didn't just fuck a lot of women, old Casanova, he loved them as well.'

While it will be appropriately lavish and velvet round the edges, he insists that it will contain little in the way of sex and no nudity. 'Christ, no,' he thunders, spilling wine on the carpet. 'I can't bear all that Nell Gwyn nonsense. There will be no tits whatsoever!'

Davies registers a reaction I thought I'd suppressed, then grins widely. 'You look disappointed,' he says.

He is clearly a workaholic but he insists that TV is his life. He has been in a happy relationship for six years with a customs officer named Andrew Smith, and, while they live separately (Davies likes his space), they spend every weekend together in front of the box. They don't visit the cinema much - why bother when they could watch Coronation Street instead? Holidays are a headache due to programme-taping anxieties, and right now he can't bear to be parted from his current televisual obsession: reality shows. Mine All Mine goes out directly after the new series of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here. Davies is ecstatic.

'I love them, they are just fantastically riveting and anyone who suggests otherwise is a pretentious arsehole.'

He tells me that on the train from Manchester this morning, he saw Jason Cowan from Big Brother 5, the blonde, musclebound Scot who, upon his exit from the house, complained that he had been misrepresented by the programme.

'I was fascinated by him, couldn't stop watching him and listening to his mobile phone conversations. And you know the funny thing? He was every bit as awful as he was on the show!' He roars with laughter. More wine is spilt.

Caption: Christopher Eccleston: The Second Coming

Caption: Mine All Mine: a tale of everyday Welsh folk

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  • APA 6th ed.: Duerden, Nick (2004-11-07). Sitting pretty. The Observer p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Duerden, Nick. "Sitting pretty." The Observer [add city] 2004-11-07, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Duerden, Nick. "Sitting pretty." The Observer, edition, sec., 2004-11-07
  • Turabian: Duerden, Nick. "Sitting pretty." The Observer, 2004-11-07, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Sitting pretty | url= | work=The Observer | pages=7 | date=2004-11-07 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 June 2024 }}</ref>
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