Russell T Davies has created one of the greatest monsters in TV history. Henry Best, the “hero” of his new series Cucumber, is an amoral, pant-sniffing sexual predator with a terrible secret. He is also rather irresistible. Davies, Britain’s greatest contemporary TV writer, has dreamt up a character to rival John Updike’s Rabbit for flawed complexity.
Cucumber is a brilliantly imagined return to Manchester’s gay scene portrayed so memorably in Queer as Folk (Channel 4, 1999). But this time his characters aren’t young and horny, they’re middle-aged and horny – overweight, balding, dissatisfied, jealous, invisible, loudly salivating over the young meat surrounding them, or quietly disappointed. And always (as with everything Davies does) they’re very human.
As for Davies himself, he couldn’t be more different. This giant of a Welshman (6 ft 6, “technically one inch short of a giant”) rocks with enthusiasm, shakes with laughter and takes life’s setbacks with equanimity. Still best known for reviving Doctor Who, he’s been away from our screens for some time as he turned into a full-time carer for his partner who has grade-four brain cancer, and is miraculously still alive. But what a return Davies has made. Cucumber is only part of his unholy trilogy, alongside Banana and Tofu (their names come from a medical study to categorise male impotence).
Cucumber is on C4 and Banana follows on E4 right afterwards and focuses on the peripheral younger characters from the main drama. Meanwhile in Tofu, online on 4oD, real people (including some of the actors) discuss modern sexual mores.
For the best part of a decade, Davies has been talking about Cucumber and Banana, even if they didn’t go by those names back then. It was the project that meant most to him. Yet time and again, life and Doctor Who got in the way. “I thought Doctor Who would last a year and I was going to write the gay men drama after that. But it just became this huge roller coaster that made me determined never to do a second series again.” Davies ended up executive-producing 60 episodes of Who, as well as creating Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
After six years on Doctor Who, Davies packed his bags and headed off for LA with his boyfriend Andrew Smith. This, he decided, was where he’d write the new gay drama. But Andrew was diagnosed with cancer and given a three per cent chance of surviving. The couple moved back to Britain – initially to Manchester, where Andrew (like Davies 51 years old) was treated – and then back to Swansea, where Davies could be close to family.