April 1, 2015
Guest: Russell Davies
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Two new British TV series about LGBT men and women are coming to America this month. Both shows are created by my guest, Russell T. Davies, who also created the 1999 British series "Queer As Folk," and he rebooted "Doctor Who" in 2005. The two new series were commissioned for Channel 4 in England and premiere in the U.S. April 13 on the cable channel Logo TV.
Russell wanted to write about different generations of gay people today, so he created two different shows to do it. "Cucumber" centers around two middle-aged men. Some of their younger LGBT friends and colleagues, who are minor characters in "Cucumber," are the stars of the companion series "Banana."
Let's start with a scene from the first episode of "Cucumber." Henry, played by Vincent Franklin, and Lance, played by Cyril Nri, have been living together for nine years and are settling into middle age. At Lance's suggestion, they're having what's supposed to be a romantic dinner at a fine restaurant. After chatting about the latest developments at work, Lance surprises Henry by proposing.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CUCUMBER")
CYRIL NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Will you marry me?
VINCENT FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) No.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) OK (laughter).
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Where did that come from? We never even talked about it. It's not even on the radar. I don't actually know what you mean. Why on earth would we do that?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It doesn't have to be a big ceremony.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Yeah, but why would we do it? I don't understand why. We're happy, aren't we? Why do you want to change? Is something wrong? Is there something you're not telling me?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) No.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Well, then.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It makes sense financially.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) That's terrible. That's no reason to get married. Imagine if a straight couple said that.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) So you think people should only get married out of love?
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Yeah.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Then will you marry me?
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) It's not that - it's sort of...
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) OK.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) No, I'm saying...
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) I understand.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Oh, don't make a thing of it.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) I'm not. I asked a question. You said no. There we are - done.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Look, it's just not there in my head. It's not an option - never was. It's not my fault they went and invented it - 'cause I knew when I was 10 years old I'm never getting married. It's never, never, never been there.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) And then you met me.
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) So?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It's just something I'd like. That's all. I'd really like it. I'd love it. I would love it. So will you think about it?
FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) No.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Cucumber." And Russell Davies, welcome to FRESH AIR.
RUSSELL T. DAVIES: Thank you.
GROSS: It's just so interesting, you know, gay couples are able to legally marry in England, as they are now in many states in the U.S. And gay marriage was legalized in England starting in March of 2014 - huge victory for gay rights, but your series starts with Henry telling his partner of nine years he does not want to get married. Why did you start it that way as opposed to celebrating the hard-won right to marry?
DAVIES: I think that would possibly be a boring drama, actually. I think the funny thing is that of course it is wonderful when these laws are passed and equality is achieved, and I am literally celebrating that fact. But I think the writer, the dramatist - you see, I think writers aren't meant to lead the parade. I think they're to watch the parade. And when these laws are passed, yes, as a person, I celebrate. And I have a civil partnership myself, and I'm delighted and happy. As a writer, I think every writer in the land sort of rubs their hands together with glee and thinks, right, how marvelous - what can go wrong with this? Because, actually, that's the territory that every straight writer's been exploring for thousands of years, as in, relationships and couples, and what goes wrong and what goes right. So this couple was always heading for this problem no matter what the law says, 'cause this story is one that's been burning in my heart for a decade or so. So - and it gives me the material for eight hours of drama. I love it.
GROSS: So you mentioned you have a civil partnership, but you're not married. Is it legal where you are?
DAVIES: Oh, yeah, it's legal. We got the civil partnership in 2012. I'm supposed to know these dates, aren't I? First of December, 2012 - that's right. And he'd be very pleased of me remembering that. And since then, marriage has become legal. I suppose we will. We just haven't gotten around to it yet.
GROSS: You created the series "Queer As Folk" for the British Channel 4. An American version of that series, which was an adaptation, was shown in the U.S., and it was about, like, young, gay men. Why did you want to now write about a middle-aged couple?
DAVIES: Simply because, well, I'm getting older. I was once that beautiful dancing young man - believe it or not. And I have had 20 years to kind of look at life and reflect and become that older man. But I think, again, as a writer, you kind of want to go to those open prairies where no one else is, where no one else is writing, where stuff is untouched. And, actually, the lives of middle-aged men is comparatively unexplored. I mean, I think there's a tendency for gay characters who are now brilliantly, marvelously cropping up in more and more numbers in more and more shows and becoming more and more visible. I think we're kind of culturally at a stage where those characters are pretty and sexy. I love my middle-aged cast. I'm not saying they're not pretty, and I'm not saying they're not sexy. But, actually - they're not listening to this, so I can kind of whisper that slightly - they're not the most beautiful people in the world, and neither am I. That's fair enough. But, actually, I think there is a - there are essays to be written about the fact that our culture is seen as pretty. Our culture is seen as handsome. Our culture is seen as fit and beautiful. Of course...
GROSS: And is really prizing those things that you just mentioned.
DAVIES: Absolutely. So does straight culture. It's - I'm not hiving that off as an exclusive gay trait. It's that - middle-aged gay men pine for their stomachs and their hairlines and their waistlines just as much as anyone else does. That's a very common aging thing to think. That's the human race. But I think in gay terms, it's new territory.
GROSS: So you said you were once the beautiful dancing young man. Were you the beautiful dancing young man, or were you the dancing young man admiring the guys who were actually really beautiful?
DAVIES: How did you know that without having met - this great distance? Who's been blabbing over there? Yes, I was - even then - it's true actually. I had my moments. I've had my nights once or twice.
DAVIES: And also, I'm glad they're over, I've got to say. But it's - actually, the truth of that is you've gone straight to the heart of it, actually, which is that I wrote "Queer As Folk" - I wrote that in 1998, and it went out in 1999. And as you said, the British version was the original version. And I wrote that having gone out clubbing - particularly in Manchester in the north of England - for 10 or 15 years. And I genuinely used to love going out clubbing on my own. If I bumped into friends of mine, I'd actually get quite cross because I loved watching that world. I loved watching the dancing couples, the dancing non-couples, the arguments, the kisses, the friendships, the women - clubs packed full of men with a hundred stories - 100,000 stories going on.
I literally sat down - I kind of reached the age of 35 and sat down and wrote "Queer As Folk" very fast, very, very quickly and very fiercely. It was quite a ferocious piece of work because I had been standing there watching it for all that time. And I kind of realized why I had been watching it. I wanted to write about it. But, oh, I'm glad those days are gone, as well (laughter).
GROSS: Were you on the sidelines because you were a writer or because you were shy or afraid to participate?
DAVIES: I'm not - I don't sound particularly shy, do I? But, although, everyone's shy.
DAVIES: But, then again, everyone is shy, especially in relationship situations. I think it's very rare not to be shy in that. It's - I think - that's fascinating. Is it the writer? I sometimes think - and I think this is - my next statement's going to be full of generalizations -but I also think it's to do with growing up gay - that when you're 13, 14 - when you're in school - and I went to a big state school. I went to a massive school of - quite a rough, massive school of 2,500 people. It was enormous. And 13, 14, everyone goes to parties. Everyone starts getting drunk. Everyone starts kissing. Eventually, 14, 15, everyone starts having sex. The gay kids don't. As a rule, we tend to be the ones sitting back. And I still think this is the case. We're the quiet ones. We are sitting, watching it. If we are kissing someone, it's probably a lie.
This is changing. You now have such a thing as the gay teenager in the world, which is so wonderful. That literally didn't even exist - the out gay teenager, I mean. And I could sit and rage about those years and say, what a terrible thing, and if only I could have grown up with the opportunities that the straight kids were having. But part of me kind of thinks, actually, that's made me who I am now. Maybe that's led to what, frankly, is a great career as a writer because I think I have great observational skills. I think I can sum people up very well. I think that comes from people watching. And maybe those quiet, teenage, gay years gave me that ability.
GROSS: So you have three interlocking current shows that you created, two of which are about to start on American TV on the Logo cable channel, "Cucumber," "Banana" and "Tofu." Would you explain the differences between each show and why each has the title?
DAVIES: Yeah, the titles kind of came first. The titles are all factual titles in a strange way. They came from a study that I once read - a genuine study from a scientific institute in Switzerland, which was generally a study of sexuality investigating men's sexuality and investigating their physical sexuality. And the categories of cucumber, banana and tofu were categories that this sex survey came up with for - how can I say politely - states of arousal within the male and the degrees of the arousal - the degrees of happiness, shall we say, with cucumber being the most full-on, banana being middle stage and tofu being softer, shall we say.
So this scientific institute came up with this, and I loved it. I read this article. I instantly thought, oh, that's the series I've been dying to write for years, which is a hard look at men and their sexuality. And so this three-part structure was born. You got "Cucumber," which is the main show - that's the mother ship - and that is a great, big novel of a show that tells the story of Henry, a middle-aged gay man and his lives and his loves and his adventures.
Running alongside that, you've got "Banana," which are more like short stories. If "Cucumber's" a novel, "Banana" are short stories, and they ancillary, supporting characters from "Cucumber" and explore their lives with a much more diverse range of women characters, lesbian characters, trans characters, younger characters.
Thirdly - the third part of the triptych - is "Tofu." And that - that's not actually being made available in the states. I think that's on channel4.com in Britain. That is a documentary series - 10 minutes documentary series about kind of covering almost every category not covered in "Cucumber" and "Banana," but using the cast, talking as themselves, using stars, using some porn stars, using members of the public, using truly fascinating people to explain their lives and areas of sexuality that might not normally be covered. So between the three shows, we cover the world.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Russell Davies, who is the creator of "Cucumber," "Banana" and the show "Tofu." "Cucumber" and "Banana" are coming to the American cable channel Logo starting on April 13. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Russell Davies. He created the British TV series "Queer As Folk" which was adapted into an American TV series of the same name in the 1990s, and now he's created a whole bunch of series. He recreated "Doctor Who" in 2005. Now he has two series that are coming to American television - "Cucumber" and "Banana." And "Cucumber" is about a middle-aged gay man. "Banana" is about some of the other characters in Henry's story, but it builds out these characters into their own stories. So those are the two companion shows - "Cucumber" and "Banana" - that start in America on April 13 on the Logo channel.
So before the next question, I want to mention to parents of young children who might be listening that this question will be more sexual in nature. So as we were discussing earlier, the main character of this series is Henry, a white middle-aged man, and his partner of nine years is Lance, a black man who works at an aquarium. And their sex life is not very good right now. And this is because Lance wants to have a more sexually active life, but Henry has declined to ever engage in penetrative sex. So this is very frustrating to his partner, Lance.
GROSS: So is Henry uncomfortable about being more sexual because he was brought up to be closeted and was uncomfortable, perhaps, with being gay himself so still has kind of appropriated homophobia even though he's gay? Is it because he's afraid of AIDS? Is it because he just doesn't like it? I've been trying to figure that out. And I'm wondering about why you brought this question into the series and if there are any insights about Henry you want to share.
DAVIES: Absolutely - I love that question because I can say yes to all of that. And actually, the whole eight hours keep considering Henry and considering his attitudes towards sex and examining why without there ever being a magical answer. And there isn't a revelation. There's not a plot twist. But it's what the whole show is about. It's about - see, gay men are seen, both within fiction and both within our culture, as sexual beings. And there's very few people on Earth who can actually hold up their heads and say, I am a sexual being, apart from me, obviously. I'm a tiger.
DAVIES: But it's very rare to find that, and it's more difficult to explore different forms of sex and sexuality and the physical act of sex in a culture that insists that you do one thing and you do it well and you do it constantly and vigorously. And I kept on reading surveys about gay men and sex. And always talked about in these surveys - there was always a fascinating little statistic that was never questioned. And it would ask, do you and your partners have penetrative sex? And this fascinating number that would vary between 20 percent and 40 percent would say, no.
Now - and let me say now, I'm saying, and the drama itself is saying, that's fine if you don't do it. That's fine. But why is this such a secret? Why are we only seen as people who do that? And is it right that we're seen as so monolithically one thing? And why aren't we talking about this? As I discovered, there are very, very, many couples who don't want to have that particular form of sex. But that's a bit of a secret, isn't it? And if it's a secret, then there's something going on.
And there's - you start to touch on questions of gay shame, growing up in the '80s with AIDS. Although, I don't actually think that's what drives Henry's shame because I think this has been a problem for thousands of years, actually. So all of this is happening within Henry. That's what Henry is created for, to explore that. It is never so pat as to come up with a simple answer.
GROSS: And in your drama "Cucumber," which is also part comedy, Henry's partner, Lance, is having a kind of odd flirtation with a swimmer in the aquarium where he works.
GROSS: And this is in Manchester. And this swimmer is, like, very attractive - very attractive face, very attractive body. And he's very flirtatious with Lance. But at the same time, anytime Lance picks up on the flirtation, this guy gets very offended that Lance might possibly think he's gay. So I want to play this scene where they meet. And this is at the aquarium. And Lance introduces himself to Daniel, the attractive new swimmer.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CUCUMBER")
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Don't mind me, just wanted to say hello - Lance Sullivan, head of corporate and education.
JAMES MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) A little careful. Sorry.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It's Daniel, yeah? They said you'd come from London.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Yeah, I was at Sea Life for about six years. You know, it's weird. I was part of the white shark project right from the start, so this is like coming home. What about you? Are you a Manchester man?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Not originally - been over 18 years. My boyfriend is the - is native born and bred.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Does he work here?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) No, insurance - boring.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Don't say that. We all need insurance. Those men keep us safe.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Yeah, I suppose. I'll tell him you said that. Anyway, mustn't keep you - was just saying hello.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) We should go for a drink.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Yeah.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) With your boyfriend too, not just you and me. That might freak him out. Though, don't get me wrong, I mean to a normal bar, not your sort of place - don't want you leading me to the dark side. Well, not on the first night. Yeah, so I'm still kind of exploring the sea, really. I want to know where is good for a drink or...
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) We could show you.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) OK. But not Canal Street, OK? We've all heard about Canal Street.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Well, it's not what it was, but - why? What's wrong with it?
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) To be fair, they'd all buzz around me like insects.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Yeah. Well, anyway, work to be done.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) What about Friday night?
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) Maybe. I'd have to check.
MURRAY: (As Daniel Coltrane) Don't raise my hopes, now. I know men like you. See you around.
NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) And you.
GROSS: OK. That's a scene from "Cucumber," which begins on the American cable channel Logo April 13. And we heard Cyril Nri as Lance and James Murray as Daniel. So that's a kind of funny scene with this flirtatious character who - kind of flipping back and forth between flirtation and kind of homophobia. It's also a potentially dangerous situation 'cause...
GROSS: ...Yeah - you don't know - how homophobic is this guy? How conflicted is he about his own homosexual feelings?
GROSS: And do you think that's something that a lot of gay men go through and not knowing how to read somebody and not knowing whether they're being friendly or if this is a potentially volatile situation?
DAVIES: I think - I'm so glad you picked that up. It's dangerous actually because actually, I've sat with people through that scene, and they've laughed (laughter). They've kind of chuckled away at the funny, half-camped over. And actually, I think that scene is sending out warning signals. And what I'm trying to show there is partly Lance's innocence at work. When you see this scene, the man, the diver, is stripped to the waist and looking absolutely gorgeous. And I love the fact that Lance goes into flirt with this man but instantly mentions the fact that he's got a boyfriend. He's rubbish at flirting. He can't even flirt. He has to give himself away too honestly straight away, which I think is very sweet.
But when you're outside the scene, you can see the warning signs. You've picked up on them. You've picked up there's something strange about that man. I think when you fancy someone, you can be so blind to those signs. And as the relationship with Daniel progresses throughout the series, it's like - I certainly know a lot of friends, and a lot of people kind of approach me in the streets and talk to me about this plot. I've had people sort of saying that they've been in that situation like Lance. And when you fancy someone, you forgive them. And we all do this. We all do this. You forgive bad behavior. You can forgive abuse. You can forgive nonsense that they give you because you fancy them and because you always think you can make them better and because you think you can help. So actually, that's Lance's blinder.
So it's - as a viewer, when you watch the show, you're very critical of Henry 'cause Henry fancies younger men. He's lost to it. He can't help it. That's who he is, and he's not alone in that. Lance, in comparison, looks more mature, looks more sensible but isn't. He's got exactly the same faults and is blind to problems in the way that we all are.
GROSS: My guest is Russell Davies, the creator of the British TV series "Cucumber" and its companion series "Banana." Both premiere in the U.S. April 13 on Logo TV. After break, we'll talk about what it was like for Davies coming out in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Russell Davies, the creator of two British TV series that premiere in the U.S. April 13 on the American cable channel Logo TV. The show "Cucumber" is about two middle-aged gay men who have been together for nine years when the series begins. The companion show, "Banana," is about their younger LGBT friends and colleagues. Davies also created the 1999 British series "Queer As Folk," and he did the 2005 reboot of "Doctor Who."
One of the young men in the series in his story is depicted in the companion show to "Cucumber." The companion show is called "Banana." He tells people that his parents are so homophobic, he can't ask them for money. He can hardly even go home again. They're so angry, and they hate him for it. Then we see a scene with him at home and he has these, like, lovely parents.
GROSS: They're perfectly fine with him being gay. They just want him to make sure, you know - make sure you're engaging in safe sex. That's all they want to know. And so, like, why does he need the drama of saying, like, oh, you know, the homophobia in my family...
DAVIES: I know. Imagine saying to a 19-year-old, why do you need the drama?
DAVIES: That's how they live. That's what it's there for. That's, like, food and drink and air. And that's not all. I have to follow that quickly by saying that's not all young gay men. But I used to meet -when I wrote "Queer As Folk," which had a 15-year-old young gay character coming out of the closet. In the American version of "Queer As Folk," he was 17. In Britain, he was 15. And he was out, and he was sexually active, and his parents knew, and his school found out. And that was a very big, bold move back in 1999, if I do say so myself. And as a result, whenever I'd go out - if I'd go out socially or if I'd be out in gay events or something like that, I became a magnet for young boys who had left home - a magnet - who'd come up to me and say I'm Nathan. The character was called Nathan. And literally, they would queue up (laughter) and run to me and sort of say I'm Nathan. I've left home. My parents hate me. And while I'm very aware that genuinely, terribly, dramatically people can be thrown out of their homes, it's actually very rare, I think. And I kept meeting these young, gay men who were simply teenagers who's simply thrown a teenage strop and stormed out of home. You don't - every teenager understands their - you don't understand me. I'm leaving home. That's kind of in the DNA of a teenager. When it's a gay teenager, it becomes all about the gayness, but actually what it is about being teenage and simply saying Mom, Dad, you don't understand me. And I used to sit there - in the end, I could've set up, like, Lucy van Pelt's psychiatrist booth and sat there saying the psychiatrist is in. And I literally had to sit there dispensing advice to these kids. They were older, about 18, 19 years old, I'd say. And my advice was always the same, which was - go home. Go home. It's your fault. I bet your mom and dad are lovely. I think you've just thrown a queeny (ph) strop. Go home and talk to them. And I met some of those men afterwards and genuinely - and they were grateful. They'd say yes, I went home. I went back home to Scotland. And they were completely fine - and my mom's my best friend now - because they were just being kids. I do know that boys really - and girls - are really thrown out of home by terrible parents, but also - this is what I mean about being in 2015 now. There's difference shades of stories now. There's different gradations of gayness. There's stuff that isn't being told. And I wanted to have a laugh with that simple, young, gay liar - oh, my God, the lies I told when I was young - completely follow them. That's probably one of them...
GROSS: Tell us one of the lies.
DAVIES: Oh, just the nonsense about - I would lie about having kissed people. I would lie about having slept with people. There's a lot of stories going around about you and me, Terry, still.
DAVIES: But I would - you know, just in your 20s. I look back and I cringe. And now I'm 52 now, and I go, oh, dear. And I put that into scripts 'cause I think it's fun. And again, there's plenty of straight, young characters like this in dramas, and it's about time to get the gay ones on a level footing.
GROSS: You're working on a new TV series now set during the AIDS epidemic. Is that the period when you came out and started to be a sexual person?
DAVIES: It is. It's - I haven't even written a word yet. I'm still talking and thinking and reading about it, but it's probably the drama that I was always heading towards, actually. I came out - well, kind of - I was 18 in 1981, so actually my growing up and my coming out coincides ridiculously accurately with the emergence of AIDS. I can remember I found the very first British magazine that shocked me and scared me, which was published in July in 1983, when a copy of HIM magazine in Great Britain put out this cover of gay men trapped in a test tube - naked men writhing, boiling in a test tube with headlines saying Gay AIDS Death Panic. That literally stopped me in the street. Now, I bought this in a news agency in Britain, walked out in the street, and I stopped dead in the street when AIDS as an actual real thing - instead of just this distant echo from across the Atlantic - struck into my heart as something that was actually happening. I've got the copy of this magazine. I've gone and found it. And inside it says we suspect that by the end of this year, there may have been at least 10 deaths from this. I thought, oh, my God, what a different world that was. What an astonishing thing we went through - the epidemic, the deaths that happened.
GROSS: There were so many people - there still are a lot of people but this is more so true in the '80s and '90s - who had a public platform, whether it was in a church or in politics, to say homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality is sick. Homosexuality is - it's a diseased way of behaving. Then you have the AIDS epidemic, and it really - you know, there are certain acts of gay sex that actually become life-threatening unless you use protection. And I'm wondering - I don't know what your coming out was like, your coming out to yourself and your coming out to other people - but if the AIDS epidemic made that emotionally harder to deal with being gay.
DAVIES: Yeah - I mean, you've beautifully described that - how monstrous it was. And it was almost fulfilling a bigot's prophecy of what life was like to be gay - how extraordinary. That's why the cover of that magazine - the first magazine to really burst into the British consciousness with AIDS - actually says death plot. It actually includes the word plot on the cover. There wasn't a plot, but that's the - it was the only terms in which we conceive of it. It looked so planned. It would look so ridiculous. I can remember being sort of, like, 21 years old and being told that this disease affects Haitians, hemophiliacs and homosexuals. And I remember sitting there thinking, it can't just be attracted to the letter H.
DAVIES: I genuinely wrestled with that. And I genuinely disbelieved in the existence of AIDS because I was thinking, well, this is just silly. This is just silly, paranoid thinking.
GROSS: You're 52 now, and one of the issues you're facing now is that your partner was diagnosed with a brain tumor. You'd both been living in LA at the time he was diagnosed, but you moved back to Manchester to be near your families while he's being treated. How is he doing and what is the prognosis?
DAVIES: Thank you for asking. He's doing amazingly well. He was actually diagnosed with the Grade IV brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. And if anyone's listening to this out there then - have experienced this, they'll kind of know how bad that is. And actually let me say - if anyone's listening to this out there who knows how bad this is - you can survive it. He's doing very well. He's kind of - he's been very damaged by like seven operations on his brain, so there's - it's almost like the equivalence of a stroke. He's kind of, like, recovering from all that and, it's never going to be a complete recovery, but, nonetheless, that's a brilliant recovery compared to the options. So, you know, who knows what the long-term prognosis is? It's a nasty little cancer that persists. But when it first happened, you would've thought that he was doomed, and the fact that he's still alive is a miracle. It's actually quite astonishing. So life is strange, but continues to be good. Andrew Smith, his name is. He's a lovely man.
GROSS: Since you say he'll never quite be the same because of the tumor and because of the brain surgeries, do you feel like you're married to a different person now? You're not married, but that your partner's a different person now?
DAVIES: Yeah. Oh. Well, he might as well be - no, to be honest. I kind of think it's been a fascinating process for the two of us. And, you know, much to my - you know, I find myself as a carer now as well. Not completely full-time, 100 percent carer. Those who genuinely spend their lives caring would laugh at my light workload I think. Nonetheless, I do have to act as his carer. He has a certain amount of problems with mobility and stuff like that. And actually, I'm kind of - you know what? It's one of those times in life where I'm kind of surprised how good I am. I never thought I was particularly nice. I always thought I was quite selfish, and it was all about me in this relationship. And actually, we're doing fine. Actually, I like caring for him. It's kind of - it's not like being with a different person. It's like being with - do you know what it's like? It's like being with a purer version of that person. It's kind of like - you know 'cause you stripped away whatever worries you might have about jobs and nonsense and day-to-day - what's for tea? Where are we living? You know, all the nonsense is kind of gone and you're left with a very pure relationship, which is just me and him. I have to say we're - and goodness, I do know this - we're very, very lucky that financially we're fine 'cause my job is lovely and pays me very well. And even if I just survive off "Doctor Who" repeat fees for the rest of my life, I'll be fine - and how lucky we are.
GROSS: I want to end on our interview on a note pertaining directly to your series "Cucumber," which is about to start in the states. Your main character, Henry, who's a middle-aged gay man, introduces something in the second episode called Henry's rule.
GROSS: Henry's rule is that every happy couple is in danger because every happy couple has a mobile phone. And if you think you're happy, take your partner's phone and read the last twenty texts. I will tell you that I am so boring that if you read my last 20 texts, you would find things like, what time are meeting at the restaurant? And what's the landmark at the red light so I know that's where I'm supposed to turn? You know, like, that's what you'd find.
DAVIES: You say that, Terry. Let me see.
GROSS: So what would I - would I find secrets on your phone? It strikes me as a terrible place to keep secrets.
DAVIES: It's not quite as simple as like I'm having an affair and stuff like that. It's also that I think every single one of us has a mild-level flirtation with someone. It's those people you know that you give two Xs to instead of one or just an extra little thanks. It's like even in the happiest of couples there's a low-level murmur, I think, of just an appreciation of other people. I do like that it's going to be said in "Cucumber" that when this test is applied in the very first scene of episode two, it's applied in a supermarket watching lots of different couples. And the lesbian couple are fine, and the gay couple are fine, and it's the straight couple who end up hating each other and being mortified by the texts. So that's my take on the world, thank you. Hurray for the gays.
GROSS: Russell Davies, thank you so much for doing this interview.
DAVIES: Thank you. I've loved it. Thank you very much.
GROSS: Russell Davies created the British TV series "Cucumber" and its companion series "Banana." Both premiere in the U.S. April 13 on the cable channel Logo TV. Coming up, David Bianculli reviews a new HBO documentary about Frank Sinatra that's part concert-film. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra, HBO is presenting a two-night, four-hour documentary on Sunday and Monday, April 5 and 6. It's directed by Alex Gibney, who examined another musical icon in his film "Mr. Dynamite: The Rise Of James Brown" and whose film "Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief" just premiered on HBO. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, says Gibney's new project, "Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All," is part concert movie, part biography and completely entertaining.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, N.J., on December 12, 1915. Twenty years later in 1935, he made his first appearance on national radio as a member of The Hoboken Four, showcased by Major Bowes on the original "Amateur Hour." He sang with the Harry James Orchestra in 1939, moved within a year to Tommy Dorsey's band, then became a solo headliner. Stardom on several fronts followed in the '40s, but Sinatra was on the wane by the early '50s until his career rebounded with his Oscar-winning 1952 roll in "From Here To Eternity." Then came Elvis Presley and rock 'n' roll, then another wave of changing times. And by 1971, Sinatra decided to retire. The man who basically invented the concept album, selecting a collection of songs reflecting a single theme, decided to go out with a farewell concert reflecting the stages of his life up to that point. He chose an 11-song set list. And the film of that concert and the songs performed form the spine of Alex Gibney's new four-hour documentary, "Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All."
Gibney intersperses the recently unearthed concert footage with vintage and newly recorded interviews - so many and so thoroughly that by the time we see and hear Sinatra singing each chosen song, we get not only the context, but the subtext. And though this musical TV biography is produced with the participation of the Frank Sinatra estate and includes new interviews with family members, it's by no means a puff piece or whitewash. Instead, it's fascinating and illuminating, and it reaches far past its central thesis to include other key performances as well.
After Sinatra had left the big bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, he gratefully accepted a gig as a solo artist, appearing as part of a larger 1942 New Year's Eve bill at the Paramount Theater in New York. He was following a tough act - Benny Goodman and his band. But as Sinatra remembers it, the audience reception made him a star.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL")
FRANK SINATRA: I got into New York, and I look at the marquee - holy Christ. So we get ready to go, and I'm excited. And it's the opening day, and this is the moment that's going to make me or break me. This - if I'm not good in the Paramount Theater under these circumstances, I'm dead. Jesus, I was nervous.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SINATRA: Benny did a whole section of music, and then he would finish that section with "Sing, Sing, Sing." And it would get - was rowdy. It would tear the joint, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.
SINATRA: Well, it ran about eight minutes. He finished "Sing, Sing, Sing," and he took a bow. And he went over to the microphone, and he said, now, Frank Sinatra. And they screamed like a banshee. He turned around, and he looked at the audience. And he said to nobody - what the [expletive] was that, he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL WALK ALONE")
SINATRA: (Singing) I'll walk alone. They'll ask me why, and I'll tell them, I'd rather.
BIANCULLI: In another vintage interview, Sinatra speaks boldly, almost defiantly, about his disdain for segregation even though at the time, few other celebrities dared even acknowledge the injustice.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL")
SINATRA: I really became conscious of segregation when I got involved in the entertainment business. I found that going through parts of the United States, traveling constantly and doing one-nighters with orchestras that were comprised of Negro musicians, there were a lot of problems - and not only in the South, but in some quarters in the border states. And I began to resent it. I think it's vile. I think it's the most indecent way to believe. I think that we're all created equal. It's just - it's wrong. It's basically wrong.
BIANCULLI: The documentary charts all of Sinatra's professional ups and downs, sometimes with very smartly selected film or TV clips. A segment from a Frank Sinatra TV show, marking Elvis's return from the Army, reflects all too well the changing of the guard. They appear amiably in a duet, singing each other's songs, but it's Elvis, and only Elvis, who makes the girls in the audience scream the way a younger Frank used to. Sinatra must have hated it.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL")
SINATRA: (Singing) Love me tender. Love me sweet. Never let me go. You have made my life complete. And I love you so.
ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Those fingers in my hair, that sly come hither stare that strips my conscience bare - it's witchcraft.
SINATRA: (Singing) Love me tender. Love me true.
BIANCULLI: Gibney's film doesn't avoid anything - not Sinatra's relationships with the Kennedys or the Mafia and not his often-troubled relationships with his own children and his often very quotable ex-wives. Ava Gardner refers to Sinatra as being good in the feathers while Mia Farrow, who married Sinatra when she was 21 and he was 50, remembers what it was like dating him.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL")
MIA FARROW: In LA, there was the older crowd - you know, Rosalind Russell. And it was Claudette Colbert, and it was very respected members of the LA artistic community. In Las Vegas, these people who would show up - I didn't know them from anywhere else. And they came, and they called women broads. They only related to each other, the men. They told jokes. And they drank, and they gambled. And I did meet Mafia people. If the evening went on late enough, he might just say, let's go to London. And he would call his pilot, and next thing, we'd be in an airplane. I learned to bring my passport to dinner.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RING-A-DING DING")
SINATRA: (Singing) Ring-a-ding ding.
BIANCULLI: By the end of the documentary and the end of Sinatra's 1971 retirement concert, the weight of a lifetime is carried in the songs Frank Sinatra sings. His retirement lasted only a couple of years, but Sinatra meant it at the time. You can hear his depth of emotion in every song, and thanks to this excellent documentary, you won't soon forget it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY WAY")
SINATRA: (Singing) I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way. For what is a man...
GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. The HBO documentary "Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All" airs Sunday and Monday. Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a new anthology of Latin music. This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. There's a new entry in the ongoing series of Rough Guide music anthologies called "Latin Rare Groove Volume 2." The mostly intrumental cuts draw on salsa, funk, soul and rock from the past few decades. Music critic Milo Miles has a survey of the terrain and wonders what exactly to call this combination.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MILO MILES, BYLINE: "Latin Rare Grooves Volume 2" includes releases from the 1960s and '70s, but also currents tracks from performers who continued the tradition of Latin fusion music, but I feel that the collection is misnamed. The term rare groove originally applied to R&B and rock oldies that had been overlooked when they came out and are worth a second life. The deluxe obscurities were used up quick, and rare groove became code for, by this because you haven't heard it - we didn't say it was any good. Besides, some of the performers on "Latin Rare Grooves" are neither oldies nor little-known. The group Quantic, for instance, are at least mid-level stars.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESCARGA CUANTICA")
MILES: The name retro grooves is a possibility, I suppose, though Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz were right up to the minute when their contribution came out in 1966. And there's a further problem that retro can't mean the same thing to groups from countries as diverse as Peru, Venezuela and the Netherlands. Nope. Seems to me that what we have with "Latin Rare Grooves Volume 2" is that modern term that solves all contradictions, the mixtape. Best of all, the only criteria for a successful mixtape, like "Latin Rare Grooves," is that you keep having fun as you keep dancing all the way through. But, well, it is extra fun when a standout track is taken from a 1970 album that was never finished and released, like this from Conjunto Alayon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HA LLEGADO LA HORA")
CONJUNTO ALAYON: (Singing in Spanish).
MILES: The program on "Latin Rare Grooves" divides songs into clusters by vintage performers, international bands and current outfits. But what unites them all is an appreciation of a kind of handmade urban boogie. There's only judicious passages of folkloric or hip-hop here.
The one misfire is Rene Lopez's "Steal Your Love," which has a comely melody and beats, but its sexual politics are the most retro part, stuck in the midnight rambler era. Since it's the final track, you can always leave the party a bit early.
Fusion has gone out of fashion for modes like rock and jazz. The best music news delivered by this collection is that in Latin music, the flair for eclecticism, the desire to intertwine with other styles of pop and dance music remains as vital and attractive today as it did 40 years ago. "Rare Grooves" stays in the heart.
GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "The Rough Guide To Latin Rare Groove Volume 2."
Tomorrow on the show I'll talk with Bruce Eric Kaplan, a New Yorker cartoonist whose signature is BEK. He's also a producer and writer on HBO's "Girls" and worked on "Seinfeld" and "Six Feet Under." He has a new memoir. Also, we listen back to 1985 interview with Cynthia Lennon who has died at the age of 75. She was married to John Lennon from 1962 to '68. Join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
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