Boy Meets Girl writer Elliott Kerrigan: “What did I know about the trans experience? Nothing. Absolutely nothing”

The man behind the BBC's first transgender comedy reveals why he wrote it - and why his mother watched it in stony silence

2015 has been a year I’ll never forget. I’ve achieved something that I never dreamed I could achieve: to create and write a brand new sitcom for BBC2. So, yes, it’s been great. But – and this is a big but – I also got some things disastrously wrong.

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Things I got disastrously wrong

In 2014, we made a ‘taster’ episode of Boy Meets Girl, to be screened at the Salford Sitcom Showcase. Shortly after that, I received a copy of the DVD in the post. Now everyone else, as soon as they got their copy, showed it to their friends and family asap. I didn’t. I thought, ‘I know what’ll be a really nice Christmas present for everyone, I’ll show them all the pilot episode on Christmas Day. Won’t that make it a memorable Christmas Day!’

I should add here that I’d told no one I know about the content of Boy Meets Girl. I hadn’t even told them the title (why? I’ve no idea). So for half the year, my family and friends knew nothing about Boy Meets Girl. All I told them were the initials of the title: BMG. That’s all they knew.

Christmas Day is fast approaching. I’m suddenly getting really nervous. Everyone is dying to see it, but I’m thinking, ‘What if they don’t like it? What if they hate it? This could be the worst Christmas Day ever!’

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m a mess of nerves and anxiety. I keep dropping things. I stub my toe on my bed and the coffee table (the same toe as well). And everyone is saying, ‘Looking forward to BMG’ or ‘One more sleep till BMG!’ I try to smile and say ‘yeah’ but I’m now really nervous. I’ve just built it up too much. Why didn’t I just show everyone when I got the DVD? But it’s too late now. Plus Christmas Day is now hours away.

Christmas Day. We’ve all had lunch. I managed to eat a bit, but not as much as I would normally eat. Everyone then sits down in front of the TV. Everyone has a drink and everyone is beyond excited. Karl, my brother, puts the disc in and my mam tells everyone to shut up. 

The first episode of BMG starts. Now the first scene is Leo and Judy in a restaurant, on a date. Judy takes a deep breath and then tells Leo “I was born with a penis.” Now this is just the first line but it got a huge laugh at the Salford Sitcom Showcase. I look around the room. My brother Karl is laughing. His girlfriend Isobel is laughing. The dog, Ronnie, is laughing too. I then look at my parents. They are stony-faced. Their heads turn to look at each other. They give each other a look which I can’t read. Their heads then turn back to look at the TV.

Episode one continues. Karl and Isobel continue to laugh and really enjoy it. (The dog, the harshest critic, has curled up and gone to sleep). My mam and dad are as silent as the grave. Not even a smile. Cut to me thinking, ‘Well this has to be the worst screening in the history of the world.’

Once the pilot episode ends, everyone tells me what they think (as if I don’t already know). Karl loved it. It reminded him of Gavin and Stacey which, for him and me, is the biggest compliment as we both adore that show. Isobel loved it. She loved the characters, especially Peggy.

It’s now time to hear what my parents think. (And I’m reminded of something Ken Dodd said: We get into this business to make our parents proud.) My dad admits that he was a nervous wreck in case it was rubbish, but he thinks it’s very good. And now my mam: “I can’t believe the first line has the word ‘penis’ in it.”  

On Boxing Day, my parents’ friends are coming to the house. I’m thinking, ‘I know they really like it if they show their friends.’ Well their friends come round and they ask me to put the show on. I sit with them to see how they respond. Well what a difference a day makes. EVERYONE loves it. They laugh all the way through, my parents included. 

Things I got right

I’d seen The Trans Comedy Award on the BBC Writersroom and thought, ‘What a great opportunity for someone.’ But I never for a second thought, ‘I should enter that.’ I wanted to, but what did I know about the trans experience? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

I was then in a shop, just wandering round, and I saw a trans woman that I’ve seen before. I just smiled as I always do and then walked on. And on the bus heading home, I couldn’t get this woman out of my head. I was wondering what she might watch on TV, which TV show spoke to her about her life, her experience. And I couldn’t think of a single show.

That was the moment when I thought, ‘I’m going to write a show for you.’ But even though I’d decided to enter the Trans Comedy Award, I didn’t have a clue what to do. And then one night I had a really deep sleep. When I woke up, I had the first page of Boy Meets Girl in my head. And then I was off. (It’s worth mentioning here that scripts change all the time, but that first page never changed. Not one word changed.)

And it’s all down to a woman I saw looking at pens and notebooks in a department store. I sincerely hope that she’ll be watching Boy Meets Girl. She is the reason that I wrote it. 

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Boy Meets Girl begins on Thursday 3rd September on BBC2 at 9.30pm