‘I Gave My Bottom to Swansea’ – Russell T. Davies on Youth Theatre, Love, and Where He’d Take the TARDIS

Russell T. Davies, the former Doctor Who showrunner – and one of the most pivotal men in the series’ history – appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday. Naturally, he talked about Who, describing it as being his ‘whole life for five years’ and an institution that ‘earns a place in the national hearth.’ Russell even selected as one of his discs a series anthem: Neil Hannon singing Murray Gold’s Song for Ten. Another of his song choices is Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, whom he ‘worships’ and yet, when she wrote to invite him to tea, he was so tremulous at the thought, he didn’t dare reply.

But Russell has much more to talk about from his life than Who and his superb taste in music. He also relates the early experiences that forged him, including his time as a young man in the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre, which he describes as a ‘properly creative space’:

It got me writing, it didn’t just put on plays. It was run by a man called Godfrey Evans, who’s still alive, still wonderful, and it taught me punctuality, it taught me discipline.

Readers of The Writer’s Tale – that chronicle of late-night anguish and procrastination as emailed to Benjamin Cook — might raise an eyebrow at that, but his time there clearly left its signature. As a young man, he played Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then, decades later, adapted the play into a film for BBC One starring Maxine Peake and Matt Lucas.

Maxine Peake in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Russell also talks a little about his most recent work, Years and Years, and his embrace of his identity as a ‘gay writer.’ As a gay man, he thinks he had a special insight when approaching his adaptation of John Preston’s A Very English Scandal, which was based on the events around the Norman Scott trial:

The story had always been told by straight men and it was always a very mysterious story, people would think ‘why did Jeremy do this, why did Norman do this?’ How odd… and I came along, read it, and I met Norman Scott and I said I get this completely. These are gay men; this is how they live… [I got] the passions of them and the secrets, the closetedness.

Davies sees the progress gay people have made over the past few decades as only the first steps of an adventure:

We’ve always been there, behind the scenes, making the sensible decisions, for thousands of years… but as an ‘out’ society, we’re less than 50 years old really, and that’s nothing. There are things that we said, things that we felt, emotions in our hearts that have not been put on screen yet, or on the page, or into fiction.

And that brings us to the great love of his life, Andrew Smith, who died last year of a longstanding brain condition. Although he regrets not being able to recognise the symptoms of Andrew’s brain seizures (visions in his mind of an Edwardian lady smiling sarcastically) for what they were sooner, Russell regards himself as being ‘very lucky.’ Not only did he get to marry ‘the nicest man in the world’ but also became his principal carer. Andrew died with Russell at his side and with ‘great palliative care from the NHS.’

Those eight years I cared for him are our happiest years. They were so intimate and so honest. Everything else just falls away. There’s no nonsense… I am talking about love here. That is the word, love. He will be in every good man I ever write now.

Russell and Andrew.

And so, if Russell did have a TARDIS, where would he go? To watch himself, out clubbing at 1.50am on 12th April 1998, when he first met Andrew:

I would go back to that club and be a bystander. We caught eyes: what a magic moment.

You can listen to Desert Island Discs podcast here.