From 'Banana' To 'Cucumber,' New Series Spans The Spectrum Of Sex
The creator of the 1999 BBC series Queer As Folk has made three new TV series about gay men and women — and two of them are coming to the U.S. later this month. They have the conspicuous names of Cucumber, Banana and Tofu. Russell T. Davies says the titles came from a study he read from a scientific institute in Switzerland that investigated men's sexuality.
"The categories of 'cucumber' and 'banana' and 'tofu' were categories this sex survey came up with for ... states of arousal within the male, and the degrees of arousal, the degrees of happiness, shall we say, with cucumber being the most full on, banana being a middle stage and tofu being softer," Davies tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I loved it. I read this article and I thought, 'Oh, that's the series I've been trying to write for years!' which is a genuinely hard look at men and their sexuality. So this three-part structure was born."
Cucumber, the main show, tells the story of Henry, a middle-aged gay man and his life and his loves and his adventures. Banana is a series of shorter tales that use some of Cucumber's male and female supporting characters, who are lesbian, trans and younger.
"If Cucumber is a novel, Banana [is] short stories," Davies says.
Tofu, which isn't slated to come to the U.S., is a documentary series of 10-minute pieces that cover almost every category not covered in Cucumber and Banana, according to Davies.
It uses "truly fascinating people to explain their lives and areas of sexuality that might not normally be covered," Davies says. "Between the three shows, we cover the world."
Cucumber and Banana premiere in the U.S. on the Logo TV cable channel on April 13.
On Cucumber beginning with a couple who don't get married even though gay marriage is legal in Britain
Writers aren't there to lead the parade; they're there to watch the parade. When these [gay marriage] laws are passed, yes, as a person I celebrate and I have a civil partnership myself and I'm delighted and happy. As a writer, I think every writer in the land ... thinks, "How marvelous! What can go wrong with this?" because actually that's the territory that every straight writer has been exploring for thousands of years — as in relationships and couples and what goes wrong and what goes right. So this couple was always heading for this problem, no matter what the law says because this story is one that's been burning in my heart for a decade or so.
On wanting to write middle-aged gay characters
I'm getting older — I was once that beautiful, dancing young man, believe it or not, and I've had 20 years to kind of look at life and reflect and become that older man. But I think, again, as a writer, you kind of want to go those open prairies where no one else is writing, where stuff is untouched, and actually the lives of middle-aged men [are] comparatively unexplored.
I think there's a tendency for gay characters who are now brilliantly, marvelously cropping up in more and more numbers and more and more shows and becoming more and more visible — I think we're culturally at a stage where those characters are pretty and sexy. I love my middle-aged cast, I'm not saying they're not sexy, but actually ... they're not the most beautiful people in the world, and neither am I, so that's fair enough. There are essays to be written about the fact that our culture is seen as pretty; our culture is seen as handsome; our culture is seen as fit and beautiful. ... But I think in gay terms, [my shows cover] new territory.
On how being a closeted teen has helped him as a writer
When you're in school — and I went to a big state school ... quite a rough, massive school ... and [at] 13, 14 everyone goes to parties, everyone starts getting drunk and everyone starts kissing. Eventually, [at] 14, 15 everyone starts having sex. The gay kids don't, as a rule — we tend to be the ones sitting back. And I still think this is the case — we're the quiet ones. We are sitting, watching ... if we are kissing someone, it's probably a lie.
This is changing, you now have such a thing as the gay teenager in the world, which is so wonderful. That literally didn't exist [when I was a teen], the out gay teenager, I mean. And I could sit and rage about those years and say what a terrible thing and if only I could have grown up with the opportunities that the straight kids were having, but part of me thinks actually that's made me who I am now, maybe that's led to what frankly is a great career as [a] writer, because I think I have great observational skills. I think I can sum people up very well. I think that comes from people watching and maybe those quiet teenage gay years gave me that ability – so, hooray.
On the response to Queer As Folk
When I wrote Queer As Folk, which had a 15-year-old young gay character coming out of the closet (in the American version he was 17), ... he was sexually active and his parents knew and his school found out and that was a very big, bold move back in 1999, if I do say so myself.
As a result, when I'd go out ... socially or if I'd be out at gay events or something like that, I became a magnet for young boys who had left home. ... Literally they'd queue up in front of me and say, "I'm Nathan; I've left home. My parents hate me." While I'm very aware that genuinely, terribly, dramatically, people can be thrown out of their homes, it's actually very rare, I think.
I kept meeting these young gay men who were simply teenagers, who had simply thrown a teenage strop and stormed out of home. ... That's kind of in the DNA of a teenager. When it's a gay teenager, it becomes about the gayness, but actually what it is, is about being teenage and simply saying, "Mum, Dad, you don't understand me." ...
In the end, I could've set up a [Peanuts character] Lucy van Pelt psychiatrist booth with a sign that said, "The psychiatrist is in." And I literally just had to sit there dispensing advice to these kids. ...
My advice was always the same, which was: "Go home. Go home."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Two new British TV series about LGBT men and women are coming to America this month. Both shows are created by my guest, Russell T. Davies, who also created the 1999 British series "Queer As Folk," and he rebooted "Doctor Who" in 2005. The two new series were commissioned for Channel 4 in England and premiere in the U.S. April 13 on the cable channel Logo TV.
Russell wanted to write about different generations of gay people today, so he created two different shows to do it. "Cucumber" centers around two middle-aged men. Some of their younger LGBT friends and colleagues, who are minor characters in "Cucumber," are the stars of the companion series "Banana."
Let's start with a scene from the first episode of "Cucumber." Henry, played by Vincent Franklin, and Lance, played by Cyril Nri, have been living together for nine years and are settling into middle age. At Lance's suggestion, they're having what's supposed to be a romantic dinner at a fine restaurant. After chatting about the latest developments at work, Lance surprises Henry by proposing.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CUCUMBER")
CYRIL NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Will you marry me?
VINCENT FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) No.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) OK (laughter).
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Where did that come from? We never even talked about it. It's not even on the radar. I don't actually know what you mean. Why on earth would we do that?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It doesn't have to be a big ceremony.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Yeah, but why would we do it? I don't understand why. We're happy, aren't we? Why do you want to change? Is something wrong? Is there something you're not telling me?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) No.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Well, then.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It makes sense financially.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) That's terrible. That's no reason to get married. Imagine if a straight couple said that.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) So you think people should only get married out of love?
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Yeah.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Then will you marry me?
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) It's not that - it's sort of...
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) OK.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) No, I'm saying...
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) I understand.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Oh, don't make a thing of it.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) I'm not. I asked a question. You said no. There we are - done.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Look, it's just not there in my head. It's not an option - never was. It's not my fault they went and invented it - 'cause I knew when I was 10 years old I'm never getting married. It's never, never, never been there.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) And then you met me.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) So?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It's just something I'd like. That's all. I'd really like it. I'd love it. I would love it. So will you think about it?
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) No.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Cucumber." And Russell Davies, welcome to FRESH AIR.
RUSSELL T. DAVIES: Thank you.
GROSS: It's just so interesting, you know, gay couples are able to legally marry in England, as they are now in many states in the U.S. And gay marriage was legalized in England starting in March of 2014 - huge victory for gay rights, but your series starts with Henry telling his partner of nine years he does not want to get married. Why did you start it that way as opposed to celebrating the hard-won right to marry?
DAVIES: I think that would possibly be a boring drama, actually. I think the funny thing is that of course it is wonderful when these laws are passed and equality is achieved, and I am literally celebrating that fact. But I think the writer, the dramatist - you see, I think writers aren't meant to lead the parade. I think they're to watch the parade. And when these laws are passed, yes, as a person, I celebrate. And I have a civil partnership myself, and I'm delighted and happy. As a writer, I think every writer in the land sort of rubs their hands together with glee and thinks, right, how marvelous - what can go wrong with this? Because, actually, that's the territory that every straight writer's been exploring for thousands of years, as in, relationships and couples, and what goes wrong and what goes right. So this couple was always heading for this problem no matter what the law says, 'cause this story is one that's been burning in my heart for a decade or so. So - and it gives me the material for eight hours of drama. I love it.
GROSS: So you mentioned you have a civil partnership, but you're not married. Is it legal where you are?
DAVIES: Oh, yeah, it's legal. We got the civil partnership in 2012. I'm supposed to know these dates, aren't I? First of December, 2012 - that's right. And he'd be very pleased of me remembering that. And since then, marriage has become legal. I suppose we will. We just haven't gotten around to it yet.
GROSS: You created the series "Queer As Folk" for the British Channel 4. An American version of that series, which was an adaptation, was shown in the U.S., and it was about, like, young, gay men. Why did you want to now write about a middle-aged couple?
DAVIES: Simply because, well, I'm getting older. I was once that beautiful dancing young man - believe it or not. And I have had 20 years to kind of look at life and reflect and become that older man. But I think, again, as a writer, you kind of want to go to those open prairies where no one else is, where no one else is writing, where stuff is untouched. And, actually, the lives of middle-aged men is comparatively unexplored. I mean, I think there's a tendency for gay characters who are now brilliantly, marvelously cropping up in more and more numbers in more and more shows and becoming more and more visible. I think we're kind of culturally at a stage where those characters are pretty and sexy. I love my middle-aged cast. I'm not saying they're not pretty, and I'm not saying they're not sexy. But, actually - they're not listening to this, so I can kind of whisper that slightly - they're not the most beautiful people in the world, and neither am I. That's fair enough. But, actually, I think there is a - there are essays to be written about the fact that our culture is seen as pretty. Our culture is seen as handsome. Our culture is seen as fit and beautiful. Of course...
GROSS: And is really prizing those things that you just mentioned.
DAVIES: Absolutely. So does straight culture. It's - I'm not hiving that off as an exclusive gay trait. It's that - middle-aged gay men pine for their stomachs and their hairlines and their waistlines just as much as anyone else does. That's a very common aging thing to think. That's the human race. But I think in gay terms, it's new territory.
GROSS: So you said you were once the beautiful dancing young man. Were you the beautiful dancing young man, or were you the dancing young man admiring the guys who were actually really beautiful?
DAVIES: How did you know that without having met - this great distance? Who's been blabbing over there? Yes, I was - even then - it's true actually. I had my moments. I've had my nights once or twice.
DAVIES: And also, I'm glad they're over, I've got to say. But it's - actually, the truth of that is you've gone straight to the heart of it, actually, which is that I wrote "Queer As Folk" - I wrote that in 1998, and it went out in 1999. And as you said, the British version was the original version. And I wrote that having gone out clubbing - particularly in Manchester in the north of England - for 10 or 15 years. And I genuinely used to love going out clubbing on my own. If I bumped into friends of mine, I'd actually get quite cross because I loved watching that world. I loved watching the dancing couples, the dancing non-couples, the arguments, the kisses, the friendships, the women - clubs packed full of men with a hundred stories - 100,000 stories going on.
I literally sat down - I kind of reached the age of 35 and sat down and wrote "Queer As Folk" very fast, very, very quickly and very fiercely. It was quite a ferocious piece of work because I had been standing there watching it for all that time. And I kind of realized why I had been watching it. I wanted to write about it. But, oh, I'm glad those days are gone, as well (laughter).
GROSS: Were you on the sidelines because you were a writer or because you were shy or afraid to participate?
DAVIES: I'm not - I don't sound particularly shy, do I? But, although, everyone's shy.
DAVIES: But, then again, everyone is shy, especially in relationship situations. I think it's very rare not to be shy in that. It's - I think - that's fascinating. Is it the writer? I sometimes think - and I think this is - my next statement's going to be full of generalizations -but I also think it's to do with growing up gay - that when you're 13, 14 - when you're in school - and I went to a big state school. I went to a massive school of - quite a rough, massive school of 2,500 people. It was enormous. And 13, 14, everyone goes to parties. Everyone starts getting drunk. Everyone starts kissing. Eventually, 14, 15, everyone starts having sex. The gay kids don't. As a rule, we tend to be the ones sitting back. And I still think this is the case. We're the quiet ones. We are sitting, watching it. If we are kissing someone, it's probably a lie.
This is changing. You now have such a thing as the gay teenager in the world, which is so wonderful. That literally didn't even exist - the out gay teenager, I mean. And I could sit and rage about those years and say, what a terrible thing, and if only I could have grown up with the opportunities that the straight kids were having. But part of me kind of thinks, actually, that's made me who I am now. Maybe that's led to what, frankly, is a great career as a writer because I think I have great observational skills. I think I can sum people up very well. I think that comes from people watching. And maybe those quiet, teenage, gay years gave me that ability.
GROSS: So you have three interlocking current shows that you created, two of which are about to start on American TV on the Logo cable channel, "Cucumber," "Banana" and "Tofu." Would you explain the differences between each show and why each has the title?
DAVIES: Yeah, the titles kind of came first. The titles are all factual titles in a strange way. They came from a study that I once read - a genuine study from a scientific institute in Switzerland, which was generally a study of sexuality investigating men's sexuality and investigating their physical sexuality. And the categories of cucumber, banana and tofu were categories that this sex survey came up with for - how can I say politely - states of arousal within the male and the degrees of the arousal - the degrees of happiness, shall we say, with cucumber being the most full-on, banana being middle stage and tofu being softer, shall we say.
So this scientific institute came up with this, and I loved it. I read this article. I instantly thought, oh, that's the series I've been dying to write for years, which is a hard look at men and their sexuality. And so this three-part structure was born. You got "Cucumber," which is the main show - that's the mother ship - and that is a great, big novel of a show that tells the story of Henry, a middle-aged gay man and his lives and his loves and his adventures.
Running alongside that, you've got "Banana," which are more like short stories. If "Cucumber's" a novel, "Banana" are short stories, and they ancillary, supporting characters from "Cucumber" and explore their lives with a much more diverse range of women characters, lesbian characters, trans characters, younger characters.
Thirdly - the third part of the triptych - is "Tofu." And that - that's not actually being made available in the states. I think that's on channel4.com in Britain. That is a documentary series - 10 minutes documentary series about kind of covering almost every category not covered in "Cucumber" and "Banana," but using the cast, talking as themselves, using stars, using some porn stars, using members of the public, using truly fascinating people to explain their lives and areas of sexuality that might not normally be covered. So between the three shows, we cover the world.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Russell Davies, who is the creator of "Cucumber," "Banana" and the show "Tofu." "Cucumber" and "Banana" are coming to the American cable channel Logo starting on April 13. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Russell Davies. He created the British TV series "Queer As Folk" which was adapted into an American TV series of the same name in the 1990s, and now he's created a whole bunch of series. He recreated "Doctor Who" in 2005. Now he has two series that are coming to American television - "Cucumber" and "Banana." And "Cucumber" is about a middle-aged gay man. "Banana" is about some of the other characters in Henry's story, but it builds out these characters into their own stories. So those are the two companion shows - "Cucumber" and "Banana" - that start in America on April 13 on the Logo channel.
So before the next question, I want to mention to parents of young children who might be listening that this question will be more sexual in nature. So as we were discussing earlier, the main character of this series is Henry, a white middle-aged man, and his partner of nine years is Lance, a black man who works at an aquarium. And their sex life is not very good right now. And this is because Lance wants to have a more sexually active life, but Henry has declined to ever engage in penetrative sex. So this is very frustrating to his partner, Lance.
GROSS: So is Henry uncomfortable about being more sexual because he was brought up to be closeted and was uncomfortable, perhaps, with being gay himself so still has kind of appropriated homophobia even though he's gay? Is it because he's afraid of AIDS? Is it because he just doesn't like it? I've been trying to figure that out. And I'm wondering about why you brought this question into the series and if there are any insights about Henry you want to share.
DAVIES: Absolutely - I love that question because I can say yes to all of that. And actually, the whole eight hours keep considering Henry and considering his attitudes towards sex and examining why without there ever being a magical answer. And there isn't a revelation. There's not a plot twist. But it's what the whole show is about. It's about - see, gay men are seen, both within fiction and both within our culture, as sexual beings. And there's very few people on Earth who can actually hold up their heads and say, I am a sexual being, apart from me, obviously. I'm a tiger.
DAVIES: But it's very rare to find that, and it's more difficult to explore different forms of sex and sexuality and the physical act of sex in a culture that insists that you do one thing and you do it well and you do it constantly and vigorously. And I kept on reading surveys about gay men and sex. And always talked about in these surveys - there was always a fascinating little statistic that was never questioned. And it would ask, do you and your partners have penetrative sex? And this fascinating number that would vary between 20 percent and 40 percent would say, no.
Now - and let me say now, I'm saying, and the drama itself is saying, that's fine if you don't do it. That's fine. But why is this such a secret? Why are we only seen as people who do that? And is it right that we're seen as so monolithically one thing? And why aren't we talking about this? As I discovered, there are very, very, many couples who don't want to have that particular form of sex. But that's a bit of a secret, isn't it? And if it's a secret, then there's something going on.
And there's - you start to touch on questions of gay shame, growing up in the '80s with AIDS. Although, I don't actually think that's what drives Henry's shame because I think this has been a problem for thousands of years, actually. So all of this is happening within Henry. That's what Henry is created for, to explore that. It is never so pat as to come up with a simple answer.
GROSS: And in your drama "Cucumber," which is also part comedy, Henry's partner, Lance, is having a kind of odd flirtation with a swimmer in the aquarium where he works.
GROSS: And this is in Manchester. And this swimmer is, like, very attractive - very attractive face, very attractive body. And he's very flirtatious with Lance. But at the same time, anytime Lance picks up on the flirtation, this guy gets very offended that Lance might possibly think he's gay. So I want to play this scene where they meet. And this is at the aquarium. And Lance introduces himself to Daniel, the attractive new swimmer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CUCUMBER")
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Don't mind me, just wanted to say hello - Lance Sullivan, head of corporate and education.
JAMES MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) A little careful. Sorry.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It's Daniel, yeah? They said you'd come from London.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Yeah, I was at Sea Life for about six years. You know, it's weird. I was part of the white shark project right from the start, so this is like coming home. What about you? Are you a Manchester man?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Not originally - been over 18 years. My boyfriend is the - is native born and bred.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Does he work here?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) No, insurance - boring.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Don't say that. We all need insurance. Those men keep us safe.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Yeah, I suppose. I'll tell him you said that. Anyway, mustn't keep you - was just saying hello.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) We should go for a drink.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Yeah.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) With your boyfriend too, not just you and me. That might freak him out. Though, don't get me wrong, I mean to a normal bar, not your sort of place - don't want you leading me to the dark side. Well, not on the first night. Yeah, so I'm still kind of exploring the sea, really. I want to know where is good for a drink or...
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) We could show you.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) OK. But not Canal Street, OK? We've all heard about Canal Street.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Well, it's not what it was, but - why? What's wrong with it?
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) To be fair, they'd all buzz around me like insects.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Yeah. Well, anyway, work to be done.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) What about Friday night?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Maybe. I'd have to check.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Don't raise my hopes, now. I know men like you. See you around.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) And you.
GROSS: OK. That's a scene from "Cucumber," which begins on the American cable channel Logo April 13. And we heard Cyril Nri as Lance and James Murray as Daniel. So that's a kind of funny scene with this flirtatious character who - kind of flipping back and forth between flirtation and kind of homophobia. It's also a potentially dangerous situation 'cause...
GROSS: ...Yeah - you don't know - how homophobic is this guy? How conflicted is he about his own homosexual feelings?
GROSS: And do you think that's something that a lot of gay men go through and not knowing how to read somebody and not knowing whether they're being friendly or if this is a potentially volatile situation?
DAVIES: I think - I'm so glad you picked that up. It's dangerous actually because actually, I've sat with people through that scene, and they've laughed (laughter). They've kind of chuckled away at the funny, half-camped over. And actually, I think that scene is sending out warning signals. And what I'm trying to show there is partly Lance's innocence at work. When you see this scene, the man, the diver, is stripped to the waist and looking absolutely gorgeous. And I love the fact that Lance goes into flirt with this man but instantly mentions the fact that he's got a boyfriend. He's rubbish at flirting. He can't even flirt. He has to give himself away too honestly straight away, which I think is very sweet.
But when you're outside the scene, you can see the warning signs. You've picked up on them. You've picked up there's something strange about that man. I think when you fancy someone, you can be so blind to those signs. And as the relationship with Daniel progresses throughout the series, it's like - I certainly know a lot of friends, and a lot of people kind of approach me in the streets and talk to me about this plot. I've had people sort of saying that they've been in that situation like Lance. And when you fancy someone, you forgive them. And we all do this. We all do this. You forgive bad behavior. You can forgive abuse. You can forgive nonsense that they give you because you fancy them and because you always think you can make them better and because you think you can help. So actually, that's Lance's blinder.
So it's - as a viewer, when you watch the show, you're very critical of Henry 'cause Henry fancies younger men. He's lost to it. He can't help it. That's who he is, and he's not alone in that. Lance, in comparison, looks more mature, looks more sensible but isn't. He's got exactly the same faults and is blind to problems in the way that we all are.
GROSS: My guest is Russell Davies, the creator of the British TV series "Cucumber" and its companion series "Banana." Both premiere in the U.S. April 13 on Logo TV. After break, we'll talk about what it was like for Davies coming out in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Russell Davies, the creator of two British TV series that premiere in the U.S. April 13 on the American cable channel Logo TV. The show "Cucumber" is about two middle-aged gay men who have been together for nine years when the series begins. The companion show, "Banana," is about their younger LGBT friends and colleagues. Davies also created the 1999 British series "Queer As Folk," and he did the 2005 reboot of "Doctor Who."
One of the young men in the series in his story is depicted in the companion show to "Cucumber." The companion show is called "Banana." He tells people that his parents are so homophobic, he can't ask them for money. He can hardly even go home again. They're so angry, and they hate him for it. Then we see a scene with him at home and he has these, like, lovely parents.
GROSS: They're perfectly fine with him being gay. They just want him to make sure, you know - make sure you're engaging in safe sex. That's all they want to know. And so, like, why does he need the drama of saying, like, oh, you know, the homophobia in my family...
DAVIES: I know. Imagine saying to a 19-year-old, why do you need the drama?
DAVIES: That's how they live. That's what it's there for. That's, like, food and drink and air. And that's not all. I have to follow that quickly by saying that's not all young gay men. But I used to meet -when I wrote "Queer As Folk," which had a 15-year-old young gay character coming out of the closet. In the American version of "Queer As Folk," he was 17. In Britain, he was 15. And he was out, and he was sexually active, and his parents knew, and his school found out. And that was a very big, bold move back in 1999, if I do say so myself. And as a result, whenever I'd go out - if I'd go out socially or if I'd be out in gay events or something like that, I became a magnet for young boys who had left home - a magnet - who'd come up to me and say I'm Nathan. The character was called Nathan. And literally, they would queue up (laughter) and run to me and sort of say I'm Nathan. I've left home. My parents hate me. And while I'm very aware that genuinely, terribly, dramatically people can be thrown out of their homes, it's actually very rare, I think. And I kept meeting these young, gay men who were simply teenagers who's simply thrown a teenage strop and stormed out of home. You don't - every teenager understands their - you don't understand me. I'm leaving home. That's kind of in the DNA of a teenager. When it's a gay teenager, it becomes all about the gayness, but actually what it is about being teenage and simply saying Mom, Dad, you don't understand me. And I used to sit there - in the end, I could've set up, like, Lucy van Pelt's psychiatrist booth and sat there saying the psychiatrist is in. And I literally had to sit there dispensing advice to these kids. They were older, about 18, 19 years old, I'd say. And my advice was always the same, which was - go home. Go home. It's your fault. I bet your mom and dad are lovely. I think you've just thrown a queeny (ph) strop. Go home and talk to them. And I met some of those men afterwards and genuinely - and they were grateful. They'd say yes, I went home. I went back home to Scotland. And they were completely fine - and my mom's my best friend now - because they were just being kids. I do know that boys really - and girls - are really thrown out of home by terrible parents, but also - this is what I mean about being in 2015 now. There's difference shades of stories now. There's different gradations of gayness. There's stuff that isn't being told. And I wanted to have a laugh with that simple, young, gay liar - oh, my God, the lies I told when I was young - completely follow them. That's probably one of them...
GROSS: Tell us one of the lies.
DAVIES: Oh, just the nonsense about - I would lie about having kissed people. I would lie about having slept with people. There's a lot of stories going around about you and me, Terry, still.
DAVIES: But I would - you know, just in your 20s. I look back and I cringe. And now I'm 52 now, and I go, oh, dear. And I put that into scripts 'cause I think it's fun. And again, there's plenty of straight, young characters like this in dramas, and it's about time to get the gay ones on a level footing.
GROSS: You're working on a new TV series now set during the AIDS epidemic. Is that the period when you came out and started to be a sexual person?
DAVIES: It is. It's - I haven't even written a word yet. I'm still talking and thinking and reading about it, but it's probably the drama that I was always heading towards, actually. I came out - well, kind of - I was 18 in 1981, so actually my growing up and my coming out coincides ridiculously accurately with the emergence of AIDS. I can remember I found the very first British magazine that shocked me and scared me, which was published in July in 1983, when a copy of HIM magazine in Great Britain put out this cover of gay men trapped in a test tube - naked men writhing, boiling in a test tube with headlines saying Gay AIDS Death Panic. That literally stopped me in the street. Now, I bought this in a news agency in Britain, walked out in the street, and I stopped dead in the street when AIDS as an actual real thing - instead of just this distant echo from across the Atlantic - struck into my heart as something that was actually happening. I've got the copy of this magazine. I've gone and found it. And inside it says we suspect that by the end of this year, there may have been at least 10 deaths from this. I thought, oh, my God, what a different world that was. What an astonishing thing we went through - the epidemic, the deaths that happened.
GROSS: There were so many people - there still are a lot of people but this is more so true in the '80s and '90s - who had a public platform, whether it was in a church or in politics, to say homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is sick. Homosexuality is - it's a diseased way of behaving. Then you have the AIDS epidemic, and it really - you know, there are certain acts of gay sex that actually become life-threatening unless you use protection. And I'm wondering - I don't know what your coming out was like, your coming out to yourself and your coming out to other people - but if the AIDS epidemic made that emotionally harder to deal with being gay.
DAVIES: Yeah - I mean, you've beautifully described that - how monstrous it was. And it was almost fulfilling a bigot's prophecy of what life was like to be gay - how extraordinary. That's why the cover of that magazine - the first magazine to really burst into the British consciousness with AIDS - actually says death plot. It actually includes the word plot on the cover. There wasn't a plot, but that's the - it was the only terms in which we conceive of it. It looked so planned. It would look so ridiculous. I can remember being sort of, like, 21 years old and being told that this disease affects Haitians, hemophiliacs and homosexuals. And I remember sitting there thinking, it can't just be attracted to the letter H.
DAVIES: I genuinely wrestled with that. And I genuinely disbelieved in the existence of AIDS because I was thinking, well, this is just silly. This is just silly, paranoid thinking.
GROSS: You're 52 now, and one of the issues you're facing now is that your partner was diagnosed with a brain tumor. You'd both been living in LA at the time he was diagnosed, but you moved back to Manchester to be near your families while he's being treated. How is he doing and what is the prognosis?
DAVIES: Thank you for asking. He's doing amazingly well. He was actually diagnosed with the Grade IV brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. And if anyone's listening to this out there then - have experienced this, they'll kind of know how bad that is. And actually let me say - if anyone's listening to this out there who knows how bad this is - you can survive it. He's doing very well. He's kind of - he's been very damaged by like seven operations on his brain, so there's - it's almost like the equivalence of a stroke. He's kind of, like, recovering from all that and, it's never going to be a complete recovery, but, nonetheless, that's a brilliant recovery compared to the options. So, you know, who knows what the long-term prognosis is? It's a nasty little cancer that persists. But when it first happened, you would've thought that he was doomed, and the fact that he's still alive is a miracle. It's actually quite astonishing. So life is strange, but continues to be good. Andrew Smith, his name is. He's a lovely man.
GROSS: Since you say he'll never quite be the same because of the tumor and because of the brain surgeries, do you feel like you're married to a different person now? You're not married, but that your partner's a different person now?
DAVIES: Yeah. Oh. Well, he might as well be - no, to be honest. I kind of think it's been a fascinating process for the two of us. And, you know, much to my - you know, I find myself as a carer now as well. Not completely full-time, 100 percent carer. Those who genuinely spend their lives caring would laugh at my light workload I think. Nonetheless, I do have to act as his carer. He has a certain amount of problems with mobility and stuff like that. And actually, I'm kind of - you know what? It's one of those times in life where I'm kind of surprised how good I am. I never thought I was particularly nice. I always thought I was quite selfish, and it was all about me in this relationship. And actually, we're doing fine. Actually, I like caring for him. It's kind of - it's not like being with a different person. It's like being with - do you know what it's like? It's like being with a purer version of that person. It's kind of like - you know 'cause you stripped away whatever worries you might have about jobs and nonsense and day-to-day - what's for tea? Where are we living? You know, all the nonsense is kind of gone and you're left with a very pure relationship, which is just me and him. I have to say we're - and goodness, I do know this - we're very, very lucky that financially we're fine 'cause my job is lovely and pays me very well. And even if I just survive off "Doctor Who" repeat fees for the rest of my life, I'll be fine - and how lucky we are.
GROSS: I want to end on our interview on a note pertaining directly to your series "Cucumber," which is about to start in the states. Your main character, Henry, who's a middle-aged gay man, introduces something in the second episode called Henry's rule.
GROSS: Henry's rule is that every happy couple is in danger because every happy couple has a mobile phone. And if you think you're happy, take your partner's phone and read the last twenty texts. I will tell you that I am so boring that if you read my last 20 texts, you would find things like, what time are meeting at the restaurant? And what's the landmark at the red light so I know that's where I'm supposed to turn? You know, like, that's what you'd find.
DAVIES: You say that, Terry. Let me see.
GROSS: So what would I - would I find secrets on your phone? It strikes me as a terrible place to keep secrets.
DAVIES: It's not quite as simple as like I'm having an affair and stuff like that. It's also that I think every single one of us has a mild-level flirtation with someone. It's those people you know that you give two Xs to instead of one or just an extra little thanks. It's like even in the happiest of couples there's a low-level murmur, I think, of just an appreciation of other people. I do like that it's going to be said in "Cucumber" that when this test is applied in the very first scene of episode two, it's applied in a supermarket watching lots of different couples. And the lesbian couple are fine, and the gay couple are fine, and it's the straight couple who end up hating each other and being mortified by the texts. So that's my take on the world, thank you. Hurray for the gays.
GROSS: Russell Davies, thank you so much for doing this interview.
DAVIES: Thank you. I've loved it. Thank you very much.
GROSS: Russell Davies created the British TV series "Cucumber" and its companion series "Banana." Both premiere in the U.S. April 13 on the cable channel Logo TV. Coming up, David Bianculli reviews a new HBO documentary about Frank Sinatra that's part concert-film. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.