There’s a moment of revelation for Paul (Lee Ingleby) in The A Word as he watches autistic teenager Mark (Travis Smith) dancing around at a gig and enjoying the music with a smile on his face. He’s totally at home in the mosh pit and he’s having the best time in the world.
Up until now, Mark has come across as sullen, angry and withdrawn, but that transformation fills Paul with hope: his own little autistic boy Joe might grow up and be happy, after all.
And this is a storyline that contains a lot of truth, because writer Peter Bowker has revealed he was actually inspired by his friend’s autistic son and his “visceral” love of music.
Joe (Max Vento) has been obsessed with music since we first met him two years ago, memorising lyrics, band names and the year each song came out. But Bowker’s friend rang up to give him a new perspective on why that might be.
Speaking at a screening in London, Bowker explained: “[My friend] heard me on [Radio 4’s] Front Row and he’s very argumentative, and he rang me and he said, ‘I think you’re wrong about the music.’
“I’d always said that I thought that what was happening with the music was that Joe was simultaneously finding a way to be social with that whilst keeping the world out.
“But [my friend’s son] has almost a visceral response to music. And he said, ‘What you didn’t mention is that he loves it … the only time he fits in to this world is when he’s in the mosh pit, because he jumps up and down all the time.'”
Bowker already knew he wanted to create an older character with autism in the second series, played by an actor with autism himself. This was the perfect image, so – “being a writer” – he nicked it.
“I said do you mind if I suck the marrow out of your life? And write it down?” Bowker joked, “And he said, no not at all.”