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Russell T Davies' Manchester (part 1)

He moved here to write Why Don't You?, and ended up penning Dr Who. Andy Murray begins a two-part tour of the city through the eyes of its king of the small-screen

Published on January 8th 2009.

Russell T Davies' Manchester (part 1)

He’s currently one of the most acclaimed, high-profile figures in the British media industry. He first broke through as the writer of Queer as Folk, Bob & Rose and The Second Coming, and has virtually become a household name as the mastermind behind the relaunched Doctor Who. And guess where he came from?

Well, ok, strictly speaking he comes from Swansea. But since the late Eighties, it’s Manchester that Russell T Davies has called home. More than that: many pivotal moments in his television career have been played out here, and several of his most acclaimed dramas are actually set in and around the city. The writer and his adopted environs have become indivisible. Come with us, then, on a special tour of RTD’s Mcr….

Pic 1: BBC Manchester
Essentially Davies’ life in Manchester began here on Oxford Road. In 1988 he transferred from BBC Wales, where he’d been working behind the scenes on Why Don’t You?, to the show’s permanent new home at BBC Manchester. For the next few years New Broadcasting House became his workplace, while a Fallowfield bedsit became his home.

Before long Davies was appointed as Why Don’t You?’s producer and worked on a whole host of other BBC Manchester Children’s shows, increasingly in the capacity of scriptwriter. In late 1992 he even wrote three episodes of Chucklevision, though he quickly discovered that slapstick wasn’t really his metier. “Anyone can write one Chucklevision,” he’s since suggested. “'Ooh, they slip on a banana skin and they get a custard pie in the face.' By the second Chucklevision, you’re like, 'Umm, they slip on… an apple core. They get… an apple pie in the face...' Third Chucklevision, you are bleeding from the eyes!'”

Nevertheless, when the Brothers Chuckle were awarded a Special Children’s BAFTA last month, it was Davies that was chosen to present it to them. I like to imagine that, as the gong was passed over, a rib-tickling “To me!” / “To you!” routine ensued.

Pic 2: Granada
Davies was thriving as a Children’s producer at BBC Manchester – sufficiently so for him to buy his ex-boss's house on the outskirts of the city centre – but he wanted to concentrate on writing. Edging towards this, he took up a post as script editor over at Granada, where he learnt his trade from the likes of Paul Abbott and Kay Mellor. In time, he graduated fully into scriptwriting, working on a wide assortment of zero-budget Granada soaps. One such was the barmy Springhill, in which the supernatural forces of good and evil were in pitched battle over the birth of the Anti-Christ on a Liverpool council estate. (And they say Brookside went far-fetched.)

Davies’ biggest writing break yet came when he left Granada to work with Red Productions, newly established by independent programme maker Nicola Shindler. Coincidentally, Red were based on Granada premises, just across the car park from his former job. Which was handy.

Pic 3: Canal Street
Since he’d moved to Manchester, Davies had thrown himself into the city’s vibrant gay scene. He was a Canal Street regular, and has since confessed that, for instance, he dreamt up the conclusion to the first series of Granada’s period hotel saga The Grand while sitting by the fountain downstairs in Cruz 101 – not widely known as a place where the Muse waits to strike.

A later episode of The Grand focussed on a gay barman character, Clive, negotiating his way around 1920s prejudices. Subsequently, Davies was encouraged to capitalise on this, and write an all-out contemporary gay drama for Red Productions. The end result, 1999’s Queer as Folk, was filmed in and around Canal Street itself, with particular attention on The New Union, Cruz and Via Fossa. It drew heavily from Davies’ own memories of the Manchester scene – up to and including a character reminiscing about losing their virginity during location filming for The Two Ronnies.

According to The Guardian, Queer as Folk established Davies as ‘the Jacqueline Susann of gay Manchester’. Indeed, for a brief while he actually took up residence in a flat just off Canal Street, only to decide that it didn’t suit him. Subsequently he confessed to gay.com UK, “It was bizarre – I almost literally never went out. I became a hermit! I went out for chips of a night, it was very handy for fast food, that was all…. That city centre loft lifestyle was not for me.” It was the proximity to McTucky’s, then, that eventually saw him off.

Pic 4: Davies’ neighbourhood
Davies’ next big project, 2001’s Bob & Rose, was an unconventional love story starring Lesley Sharp (as Rose, straight) and Alan Davies (Bob, very much gay). Canal Street featured again, as did other areas of the city centre, and select spots around sunny South Manchester. The vital scenes where the characters first meet were filmed, at Davies’ suggestion, on the very road where he himself lived. (For the sake of privacy, it’s not the one pictured here, of course – but it’s one not unlike it. And it’s particularly handy for curries.)

Nor was this the first television appearance of Castle Davies. Back in Queer as Folk, a major character was shown having a fatal overdose in, bizarrely, the writer’s own kitchen. Thankfully, he’d got the washing up done first.

Incidentally, Davies wrote everything up to the third series of Doctor Who at his Manchester home, feeling almost superstitious about working anywhere other than at his own trusty desk. That makes these rainy streets the birthplace of the Slitheen, the Ood… and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler.

Pic 5: St Peter’s Square
Once upon a time, far away from the gluhwein excesses of the Christmas market, a big moment from Bob & Rose was shot here: the sparsely attended rally by PAH (Parents Against Homophobia), concluding in a drag queen spontaneously chaining himself to a passing bus. This was an echo of a genuine protest against a major public transport company that’s run by an outspoken homophobe. (No, no clues. Alright, it rhymes with ‘gauge broach’). In the script, to avoid litigation, Davies gave his fictional bus company the holding-name ‘TBC’ – as in, ‘to be confirmed’. Brilliantly, the art department took this to stand for ‘The Bus Company’ and followed through, which is why a bus labelled ‘TBC’ appeared in the finished episode.

Part two of the Russell T Davies tour will be published next Friday.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Michael WestJanuary 8th 2009.

wtf? OK its cold but - I thought this was gonna be an interview not something from Wikipedia

Sarah Louise JonesJanuary 8th 2009.

I worked on seven out of eight episodes of the first series and I have got to say it was one of the best productions I have ever worked on. The cast were extremely friendly and we had such fun filming it! RTD has got to be admired and respected for his creative genius and refreshing scriptwriting-I look forward to next weeks article xxx

Karen HJanuary 8th 2009.

Some odd comments here. I read this because I admire the work of Russell T. It appealed to me. Just because it's Mancon doesn't mean you have to read it. I look forward to the second part. In fact I wasn't going to comment at all until I saw the nasty comments. Probably hundreds of others who've enjoyed it think the same.

Ali McGowanJanuary 8th 2009.

Whether you rate his material or not, I don't think anyone can disagree that our Mr Russell T Davies is a bit of an unsung hero. Queer as Folk was truly groundbreaking and incredibly fun to watch. I was on Canal Street several times when it was being filmed - and of course at the time me and my mates had no idea what they were filming, nor how big it would become. Then of course there is the new Doctor Who. I think he's turned it from a bit of a cult show into something much more mainstream and enjoyable. We all sat round at Christmas and watched it - it's that kind of simple but good TV fodder and long may it continue. And finally, I accidentally met Russell T Davies - in his own house, many years ago! I was in need of a builder and was going down my road seeing who'd had renovations done, so that I could hopefully use the same builder. I knocked on his door, explained what I was after and he kindly showed me round his lovely house. I had no idea who he was until I saw him on TV much, much later - months, if not a year or more. He was such a genuine and friendly chap. Keep up the good work and cheers to RTD!

WTFJanuary 8th 2009.

**** me, are you really going to to do a second part? This is banal crap.

Michael WestJanuary 8th 2009.

FANCRUFT - save it for Wikipedia so it can be really reviewed - what a waste of space

Emma BurnsJanuary 8th 2009.

If you're not interested, don't read it.

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