In a brand new episode, Melvyn Bragg sits down with screenwriter Russell T Davies.
One of Britain’s foremost screenwriters, Russell T Davies has been at the heart of some of the most ground-breaking, funny and provocative shows on television over the past 20 years.
His 1999 Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk was a landmark in TV’s depiction of sexuality, vividly chronicling the lives of three gay men living in Manchester. His inspired originality shone through shortly after with the end-of-the-world drama The Second Coming and the comedy Mine All Mine.
But his name became more widely known to mainstream audiences in 2005 when he revived the BBC’s classic sci-fi series Doctor Who after a 16-year hiatus.
Davies returned to the subject of gay life in 2015 with the sexually uninhibited dramas Cucumber and Banana, and the online series Tofu.
Attitudes (and laws) may have changed since Queer as Folk was first broadcast 16 years previously, but the one thing that has unquestionably remained constant is Davies’ absolute mastery of TV drama.
We caught up with Russell to ask him about his South Bank Show experience.
How was your meeting with Melvyn on The South Bank Show?
It was a powerful time for me because it gave me a chance to visit old places, to remember old influences, the things and the people I’ve loved over the years. I actually found it quite humbling.
How important is TV as a medium to you?
Well, it’s my job, and my passion, and my favourite thing. I know how lucky I am to combine all those things. I’m passionate about it, in all its shapes and forms, which doesn’t mean I’m blind to its pitfalls. But there are people queueing up to declare its pitfalls, night and day, so let me be its defender!
Do you think TV gets the credit it deserves within the arts world?
I think any area of the arts can bemoan its lot – if I were to complain about TV’s reputation, there would be poets and playwrights asking, what about us? Sometimes, I kind of like the fact that TV is treated with a healthy disrespect. It’s omnipresent, that TV set, burbling away in the home. It isn’t framed and given stature by an arch or a cover or a spotlight, so it’s taken for granted – but I think that’s one of its strengths, too, and when it rises up and takes us by surprise, there’s nothing like it.
What were the most challenging aspects of bringing Doctor Who back to our screens?
I think the single greatest problem was the way the show had degraded in people’s memories. Unfairly, I think! As a fan, I knew it was always brilliant, but I could see that for the public, they remembered the cheap ephemera. So we had to awaken that old love, repair the memories, while at the same time presenting it to a new generation as completely new. Quite a juggling act! But I’m enormously proud of our success, every single day.
The South Bank Show, Sky Arts, Wednesday 8pm