"Saturday 7pm and it's over to you": screenwriter Russell T Davies tells DMU students how he was given the reins at BBC One

by Shahanna Sheikh

He reinvigorated Doctor Who for a new generation and broke new ground with gay drama Queer as Folk and now Russell T Davies has shared his screenwriting secrets with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) students.

The Welshman gave an animated and enthusiastic talk about his career as one of Britain’s most successful screenwriters to a packed lecture theatre in DMU’s Clephan Building.


Russell, who has also created the programmes Bob and Rose and, recently, Cucumber, talked students through his early years, trying to break into television.

He told students: “I used to save my wages so I could become a full time writer; I saved like mad for three years. Scriptwriting was what I wanted to do, I’ve always loved television.”


He started off his journey by working for ITV Granada. “I’m very lucky. As a writer I needed to meet people, and I realised it's completely fine to have characters who are just there,” he said.

“The confidence you have to have is that they want you. Believing in yourself is why I’m here.”

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Russell told students that rather than simply write, his ambition was to be a show runner – the overall creative authority for a programme.

He said: “I always aimed to be the show runner. The ladder you want be on is executive producer, which is hard but ideal. To do this you have to be there for the meetings, the drafts, the table reads and edits.”


During the lecture Russell explained his own personal stories and how he writes. “When writing, my advice is to understand why people do things, don’t play the result. Also find people who you like to work with because for the first few years you will work with idiots.

“Going into an in-house BBC production, I loved Doctor Who and I still do. They told me ‘Saturday 7pm and it’s over to you’. I was given absolute freedom.”

Throughout the talk Russell answered numerous questions regarding his career and the difficulties he faced. One student raised the point that often when scriptwriting, public reactions can discourage writers if characters have been killed off.

Russell said: “I do worry about the new writers; you have to be really tough to translate stuff. I felt the pressure but I got great joy as well.”

Russell is currently working on a project based on the book A Very English Scandal, which tells the story of the political scandal which ended the career of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe.

He said: “He was a married man who allegedly tried to get his male model lover shot. I’ve written the script and it’s being shot in October.”

Posted on Friday 19th May 2017

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