"Ahh, maybe my favourite thing. Great example of tone, everyone got the tone exactly right. “Hovering six inches off the ground” said the director, and it does. First time I met Penelope Wilton, who’s now Doctor Who’s Harriet Jones. She delivered the gay-rights speech that I've always wanted to hear!"

Bob & Rose

A Rose By Any Other Name 

Bob is gay, Rose is straight...and they're a loving couple. That's the premise of a new TV series from Queer as Folk writer Russell T Davies, who reveals his real-life inspiration

 A friend of mine fell in love. With a woman! Which deserves an exclamation mark, because Thomas was, and is, the happiest out, loud and proud gay man you could meet. But there he was, all of a sudden, walking through town with his new girlfriend, Rhian, and then, as time passed, inviting us to his wedding, then the christening of his child, while continuing to be gay as a goose.

Of course, Manchester ignited with rumour. Especially among those of us whom tabloids love to call 'the gays'. And it was a particularly bright and vicious form of gossip, because Thomas and Rhian refused to obey the rules. Faced with something which didn't fit our view of the world, we started inventing. Gossip is the most creative writer of all - in no time at all, savage smiles were telling me that Thomas was having a nervous breakdown; that he was only doing this to have kids; that Rhian was exerting some strange, exotic blackmail. I was even told that recently he fell out of a 12-foot Christmas tree and landed on top of his secret male Russian lover. Still clutching the fairy, no doubt.

Fantastic stories ran riot, fuelled by gay self-loathing and its evil twin, misogyny. And I bloody loved it. Oh, I stoked those flames, passing those stories on with relish, ready to believe anything about this romance except that it might be real.

Alcohol came to the rescue. One night I found myself alone with Thomas, and the gin and vodka flowed. By three in the morning I could ask all those forbidden questions, reducing this absurd comedy relationship down to the sheer mechanics - how can you have sex with a woman? And why?

Thank God, I've got the sort of memory that retains everything that's said when drunk. (Friends hate me for this.) Thomas said: 'Sometimes she goes to bed before me, and I sit downstairs, and I panic. I'm scared. I'm gay, I'm completely 100 per cent gay, and I wonder what the hell I'm doing to her. And I dread going upstairs. Every night. And then I go up, and I get into bed. And we talk. We talk, and she makes me laugh, and the next thing you know, we're doing it. Because I love her, I love the way she thinks, I love her mind.'

First of all, I felt ashamed. Second, I thought, there's a six-part drama. And not necessarily in that order. But there it was, an honest-to-God love story, the sort of thing I thought didn't happen in real life. And I'd spent a couple of years just taking the piss. Worse still, since the mad explosion that was Queer As Folk, I've had 20 dozen opportunities to stand at a microphone and demand equality - but there I was, as prejudiced as the next bastard, completely unprepared to allow this couple to fall in love. I was acting out of fear, the same fear I'd condemned in every homophobic thug.

The problem was, and the problem persists, that Thomas and Rhian just don't fit any of the labels. I'm still wary of taking the media-friendly, chattering-classes stance that labels don't matter, that we should chuck them in the bin; I'm labelled gay, and I love that label, I need it. Equally, if you're working in a car factory and you've been closeted for the entire 50 years of your life, you're carrying an awful and important label. They aren't easily shrugged off. But maybe we need more labels. Like, five million more, and that's just for starters.

We need a vocabulary that will fit the sheer complexity of ordinary men and women. Thomas and Rhian continue to struggle with it, albeit with a good deal of laughter. Technically, I suppose he's bisexual. But it doesn't feel very technical to him.

I waited a couple more years, letting Thomas and Rhian morph into Bob & Rose, the ITV drama that stars Alan Davies and Lesley Sharp. Gradually I had to strip down the source material, because the original couple aren't just walking examples of sexual mores, they're volatile, eccentric and brilliant characters in their own right. Like most people, they're far too mad to put on screen. I had to make Bob Gossage and Rose Cooper much more ordinary, so that their extraordinary story would stand proud.

The more I focused, the more my intentions changed. Inspired by my own initial ignorance, I had intended to write six hours attacking prejudice, in all its shapes and forms. I lined up cardboard characters in the script, all ready to attack the central couple. But typing away, I came to realise that prejudice is, of course, stupid. (I'm 38 years old, and still realising that now.) And, frankly, I'm not going to let such stupidity on screen. It exists in life, of course, and needs to be tackled in drama, but there are soaps galore ready to point that out. Let Les Battersby do all the shouting, I can find something else to say.

To my surprise, Bob & Rose started to become the gayest thing I've ever written. Because over six weeks, everyone comes out of the closet - unloved wives, secret James Bond fans, and those who are simply lonely, all harbouring some sort of love that dares not speak its name. And all realising, through the actions of Bob and Rose, that they can shout it out loud.

When it came to getting the show commissioned, a slighter, dafter prejudice emerged. Friends and colleagues were amazed that Red Production Company and I wanted to take this to ITV, the last place they'd expect to find a gay leading character - but then, most people open their gobs without even watching a television. To me, ITV's the land of Bad Girls, At Home With The Braithwaites and, yes, even good old Emmerdale with its remarkable quota of gay men, lesbians and bisexual prostitutes. (I might even buy a cottage there myself.) And true to form, the channel commissioned Bob & Rose in two days flat, and never once questioned its content.

But even now, days before transmission, prejudice lingers on in that amorphous beast, the Gay Community. Every night out on Canal Street, I'm asked: 'Why have you written that story?' Stuck in ghetto thinking, maybe through no fault of their own, these critics have got an agenda of the things I should be writing, and Bob's simple challenge doesn't fit the game plan. And in fairness, there is one, tangible fear: stupid people will assume that the series is saying all a gay man needs is the right woman. But the key word there is 'stupid'.

In the end, all I can do is turn back to Thomas. Sitting alongside his wife and child, he says, just as his alter-ego Bob now says: 'I was born gay, I'm gay now, I'll die gay, I'll have a gay gravestone.' Go on, then. Label that.

Episode 1

Bob has had a night out on Manchester’s gay scene; Rose has been out with a bunch of friends including boyfriend Andy. When they each end up alone in a strange part of Manchester, trying to get cabs, they strike up a conversation. Later, Rose tracks down Bob and engineers an accidental meeting and their friendship starts to develop, although Rose freaks out when she discovers Bob is gay. Also, Holly interferes to stop Bob and another male teacher getting too close.

Episode 2

Bob and Rose have sex in a train toilet and then both suffer feelings of guilt. Holly is hurt when she hears about it. When Bob goes to see his parents, Monica is hosting a meeting of Parents Against Homophobia with scores of PAH women stuffing condoms into packets. Encouraged (almost forced) by Carol, Rose agrees to move in with Andy but, in the end, can’t go through with it.

Episode 3

Bob and Rose try to keep their affair a secret but news gets out. Holly and Andy track them down when they go to a restaurant for a meal, leading to a bust-up between them in the street. But when Bob and Rose go out separately, both realise they need each other.

Episode 4

Bob and Rose meets each other’s friends and families. Rose’s pals love Bob, but Carl is nasty to Rose. Bob’s mum, who has devoted herself to the gay cause, is upset by the news; his father is pleased. Over dinner in Chinatown, Trev displays homophobia. Bob goes along to a PAH rally his mother has organised against Section 28 where she has an extraordinary outburst and chains herself to a bus. Bob joins her and they end up on the TV news, which Carol and Trev are watching. Amid it all, Rose tells Bob she loves him, but has to wait for him to reveal his true feelings.

Episode 5

The TV report means everyone knows about Bob’s gay past which leads to some uncomfortable conversations. Monica and William invite Carol and Trevor to dinner. William says he is ashamed of Monica so she moves out and in with Bob. Holly tries to get over her misery by dating old flame Gary (Lee Warburton), but it fails to do the trick. Rose tells her mother about Trev’s debts. Holly plants doubts in Rose’s mind about Bob. Meanwhile, he’s getting drunk with ex-boyfriend Carl.

Episode 6

Bob confides in Holly about what happened with Carl and she, true to bitchy form, embellishes the tale when she speaks to Rose. A hurt Rose tells Bob the relationship is over. But the pair of them are both miserable and Holly feels so guilty that she is determined to repair the damage. A rather gloomy episode with a happy ending




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