‘Queer as Folk’ Creator on UK TV’s ‘Less Hysterical’ Approach to Gay Issues

One of British TV’s most successful and prolific wordsmiths, Russell T. Davies has written for and created numerous series. His groundbreaking 1999 drama “Queer as Folk” raised the bar for the depiction of gay life on television. He also brought LGBT characters to “Doctor Who” and spinoff “Torchwood,” which starred gay actor John Barrowman.

But the U.K., as Davies puts it, is a lot more relaxed than America when discussing gay rights. “There seems to be a more frothy and religious element in America, and in the U.K. we’re calmer, less hysterical about religion,” he says.

Although he’s not remotely a fan of David Cameron’s Conservative government, he gives it credit for having passed legislation in 2013 allowing same-sex marriage. The movement behind it had started around the time of the general elections in 2010. “About five years ago, there were reports that Cameron would pay for his attitude (toward gay rights) in the next election,” Davies says. Of course, the Conservative party won, and in May was re-elected.

In 2005, when Davies wrote Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman) into “Doctor Who” as the first non-hetero character on the show, he says he took a deep breath. “I kind of was waiting for someone, somewhere to raise an objection,” he explains. Instead, the character proved so popular that he earned a spin­off — the adult-themed “Torchwood.”

Davies left “Doctor Who” in 2011, and the series continues to create varied characters, lately featuring a fan-favorite lesbian couple, one of which is a Silurian warrior from prehistoric Earth. “It’s diversity beaming to little kids,” Davies says.

While “Queer as Folk” didn’t face censorship problems in the U.K., the writer says the series had trouble selling internationally. In the U.S., it was adapted by Showtime, and ran from 2000 to 2005. “There was a bar in Hawaii selling VHS tapes of the show to people all around the world — it had a black-market life,” Davies says. “I would get letters from Russia, from Pakistan, India, from people who were not allowed to see it, but had seen it on black-market VHS.”

To Davies, the mandate of the U.K.’s Channel 4 was a dream come true. “(They) had an agenda to be ballsy, to include voices that didn’t have an outlet,” he notes, and “Folk” did well in the ratings, eventually. “It was hard — sponsors pulled out — but the channel absolutely never flinched. They completely backed the show.”

Davies agrees that the younger generation sees homosexuality as no big deal — “It’s been one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given,” he says — but cautions that same-sex-oriented children still experience violence in school. “Being gay is being on the firing line,” he maintains.

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