As Davies says, it’s quite tricky to describe: “Which is almost a worry when you’re pitching and selling to people because I like a one-line pitch.” I say it’s Peter Watkins’ 1965 War Game meets Davies’ own Queer as Folk meets Doctor Who … meets Cold Feet.”
The futuristic elements in the first episode are tweaks of what exists now. Mobile phones are not triangular or circular or crazily different but you can just tap one to another and contacts are miraculously transferred. The family talks regularly to one another in a big simultaneous conversation, walking around the house, not trapped by a screen on their mobile phone: “It’s a conference call, in a sense, but an updated one,” says Davies.
Vivienne Rook’s political rise comes on the back of her deliberate provocation on the panel of the BBC’s Question Time, where she uses a four-letter expletive to express her lack of concern about Israel and Palestine. “She’s very aware of what she’s doing. It’s that modern trickster who knows how to play the media machine … it’s Trump, it’s Johnson, Farage. Lyons family matriarch Anne Reid does a speech in the last episode where she says, ‘Beware the tricksters. The clowns. They will laugh us into hell’.”
Davies wants to stress the warmth and the strength of the family in his drama because “don’t we all turn on the news now and say ‘Oh for God’s sake!’ and turn it off?’. I can’t bear hearing all those people – on all sides. And as for ’You pass my deal and I will resign’ – the lack of sense in that makes my head boil.
“So I don’t want to present this as a drama that will make your head boil. It’s about people dealing with those issues but it’s not about the issues themselves. It’s about how to survive.”
Is it the Philip Larkin line about all that survives of us is love? “Oh yesssyessyess, wait till you see the ending. Yes! Hahahahahhah.”
Although Davies is at his saddest when we meet, the week marking six months since his husband and partner of 20 years, Andrew Smith, died, he is like a geyser erupting with many wild bursts of laughter and hilarity. He was born and brought up in Swansea (the only son with two sisters) of Viv and Barbara, both classics teachers. He is curious and generous – with his time, himself, and towards other writers and shows. His voice is extremely musical, tilting up and down like the hills and valleys of Wales, and he can talk at a gallop. He is also happy to segue into his many different enthusiasms.
Since politics is on all our minds, I wonder what he considers are the ingredients of a good politician. Theresa May is criticised, he thinks, for not being interesting enough, adding presciently … “And by the time this interview sees print, Boris Johnson might be prime minister. It’s absolutely possible. Why? Because he’s so entertaining, because he’ s so funny,” Davies says.
“This is what Trump is. The whole world has been Apprenticed. “
In the late 1990s, after years being frugal and saving ( £20,000 by 1995: “Because people said, ‘As a writer you’re going to be poor, you’re going to live in an attic and you’ll need money to fall back on’.”) Davies, then in his mid-30s, had a party animal phase that came to an abrupt end when he suffered an accidental overdose.
Were you actually close to death? “I think it was pretty bad. Yes.” Were you taken to hospital? “No, so it wasn’t that bad, obviously. But one more little moment … if I had gone a bit further …
“Anyway, it was an exaggerated version of the moment everybody realises ‘Time to stop going out now and settle down’.”
Davies then set out to find The Boyfriend: “I thought ‘I’m going to go out and if I sleep with a hundred men, one of them will do’. I went out ferociously, five nights a week, looking for the one. And it worked. Andrew was number 35.”
One of his incentives was watching friends who were older and single and thinking: “Actually, they’re getting a little madder and a little nastier, and you need someone to say ‘No’ to you.”
Andrew and Russell met in a club “at 10 to two in the morning”, Davies says. What was it that made you …? “Handsome. He was so handsome. Across the club I could not believe that there was this handsome man and he was looking at me. I literally did this [swivels around assuming it must be someone behind him]. All the time I was going out with him, I thought ‘How did I get such a handsome man?’.”
In his communicative way, Davies searches for a photograph of his late husband on his phone and presents an old picture of a dreamy-eyed Adonis in a black leather jacket. But, as he says, for the long term it’s got to be about more than the good looks, so what qualities was he looking for in The Boyfriend? “Well, you don’t know ’til you find him. Someone to have a laugh with, someone to be relaxed with, that’s all.
“Because my job is high-pressured. It is tough. I have to have opinions and express what I want and be prepared to fight for that all day long. We both love television and we watched it all the time and we properly laughed. We used to laugh night and day.”
It helped that Andrew worked in a completely different world as a customs officer: “He had no idea that people wrote things. He said, ‘What do you mean, you write’?”
When they met, Davies was already successful, working on Queer as Folk, which was to be his ground-breaking television series for Channel Four. This preceded his even bigger hit, restoring a flagging Doctor Who (a passion of his since childhood) to the must-watch Saturday evening family show.
The couple were living in Los Angeles, where Davies was in discussions about a television version of Star Wars when Andrew was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was given just a three per cent chance of recovery.
They returned to Manchester and Davies took two and a half years off work to care for his partner. “I was surprised by the number of people who were surprised that I did that, yes,” he says. That was his rainy day and all his years of putting aside his earnings went on caring for Andrew. “I had the money saved up so nothing was a worry,” he says.
“We had seven years of that illness together and it’s lovely to come and talk about my shows but that’s the greatest work I’ll ever do on this earth.
I was surprised by myself because I thought my work was more important to me. But, actually, I love caring for someone.
Russell T Davies on becoming a carer
“I was surprised by myself because I thought my work was more important to me.”
I remind Davies that he once said, early on, that if Andrew had a heart attack he would probably walk over his body to write his script. “All nonsense. I thought I would have got a nurse in … I would never, ever have done that. He was a bit disabled but quite able-bodied so I didn’t have to do the dirty end of caring but nonetheless I was there. He wasn’t steady on the stairs, so I was with him night and day to help him and get every meal ready.
“I was surprised by my patience and I’m surprised by how much I miss it. I knew I would miss him. I knew I would miss the love. But, actually, I loved caring for someone. There’s not enough written about carers. I never resented it but you would think, ‘Well, if this is over one day, I’ll be free’. I imagined there would be a great freedom. I imagined I would run off to New York. But I’m here because I only want to go to New York with him, really. All that freedom that I imagined would exist means nothing.
“It’s six months this week. All the widows warned me that six months was hard, and it is hard. I expected to miss him but we knew he would die one day. We had 13 years before he was ill but it’s hard to remember that at the moment. I’m stuck in the last four weeks of him dying.
“Little by little, I know it will pass. I knew I would miss loving him but what I didn’t know I would miss is being loved. That’s quite hard. That’s hideous, actually. No-one warns you about that. I didn’t expect that to vanish but it’s just gone.”
Apart from his home in Manchester, the city he has lived in since he was 24, Davies still has a house in Mumbles, Swansea, Wales, and gets out his phone again to show the view across the whole bay, the curve of sand and sea, from his kitchen window. His sisters, both teachers like their parents, live there and he considers it to be his home also.
Growing up, the television was always on: “My parents were war children so it was almost like an extension of the radio that you kept on during the war.” In the 1970s living-room, all brown furnishings and artworks made of string, the family would watch shows like I Claudius. “I was about 12 and it was full of orgies and stuff. The first men I saw kissing were on I Claudius,” Davies says.
From the age of 11, he knew how he felt about boys. You weren’t the only gay in the village, so to speak? “You were at that age, yes,” he says, “in the 60s.” John Inman and Frankie Howerd were on the telly … “You didn’t discuss them being gay. They were just ‘elaborate’.”
His father was a keen rugby player who almost got a cap for Wales and was chairman of the Swansea Rugby Club for many years.
Davies did not share his father’s enthusiasm for rugby and when a PE teacher at his school, from whence he got a place at Oxford, insisted that he play because he was “Viv’s son”, his father intervened. He picked his 11-year-old son up from school and they went for a walk. “He gave me the most fantastic little speech saying, ‘I do not expect you to love rugby. I see fathers bringing up their sons, making them play rugby and I think it’s wrong – you do whatever you want to do’.
“Little did he know! Hahahahaha! I took that to heart! HAHAHAHAH. But what a wise thing for him to say. He was a good person and brought me up properly.”
He came out to his parents when he was a punk in his teens. “You rehearse it but it doesn’t come out exactly as you imagine it,” he says. “I did my Mum first and my Dad second. My Dad’s was like a rollercoaster of a sentence. I started over there [pointing to the right], talking about France, and this sentence literally went up and down, over the hills and over the dales, came back round through the corkscrew to say, ‘and by the way, I’m gay’.
“He was very relaxed and said, ‘I thought so’. Same with my mother. Because they watch you night and day. And you never stop coming out, do you? I come out every day.”
Davies didn’t talk about his job with Andrew but his husband always watched his programs at transmission. “That’s why I’m quite sad about this one. As he was dying, he said ‘I’ll never get to see Years and Years now’, and I said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, it’s rubbish’. I thought it might make him feel a bit better. That’s terrible, isn’t it? Bless him.”
There is no comfort for him in the hope of rejoining him in the after-life: “I don’t believe in it for a second, I’m afraid. My sister was with me as Andrew died and she said: ’He’s here now. He’s looking down at us’ and I said, ‘Stop. Stop now. Don’t do that.’ It was really nice of her but it’s just not true. She said it for the loveliest reasons.”
Davies, like the writers he admires, is able to create worlds for everyone from children to knowing adults; fantasy to gritty reality and sometimes where they overlap. He holds no truck with the idea that you can conjure a way of being only if you have been that way yourself: “A sentence that has sustained me through all my writing is that ‘A moment’s imagination is worth a lifetime’s experience’ and that is true.”
Davies says that something may have been experienced but that doesn’t mean that it has merit if the person expressing it can’t write. He weaves back to his point that the problem with the internet now is that everyone is articulating their opinion but “just because it’s going into print doesn’t mean it has authority or truth behind it – it can be as clumsy as anything. You have to have a writer’s mind, frankly, to be snotty about it, to be able to get to the truth and the insight about the heart of that truth.”
Years and Years is screening on SBS.