Credited by Frank Cottrell Boyce with “saving [television drama] from extinction”, Russell T Davies returns to Channel 4 this month with a Manchester-based trilogy, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu.

The three will interlink, with Cucumber on Channel 4, Banana on E4 and Tofu an online documentary fronted by YouTuber Benjamin Cook.

“Cucumber is sort of the TV equivalent of a novel, and Banana is a series of short stories relating to some of the more peripheral characters in Cucumber. Cucumber is the story of Henry who’s got a marvellous, wilful, wild streak in him. He wants to live life and get out there and not settle down. And then Banana tells some one-off stories about the people around Henry’s life,” explained Davies.

Russell T Davies

Russell T Davies

“People he meets, people he bumps into, even people his sister bumps into in one episode. They’re one-off stories exploring all sorts of different sexualities. Cucumber is very much about the gay middle-aged male experience, in Banana we’ve got younger men, we’ve got women, we’ve got lesbians, we’ve got transsexual stories, we cover the whole gamut, really.”

While groundbreaking in terms of the cross-channel nature of the programmes, there is some familiar ground as Davies will be working with Nicola Shindler and Red Production Company, which was also behind Queer as Folk.

“Going back to Queer as Folk in 1999, working with Nicola Shindler, she’s always encouraged her writers to become part of the production. I do stay, I get involved in choosing the directors and talking to the directors, and the whole team. And I get involved in casting. I don’t have a dictatorial say in it at all, it’s all between me and the director, and Nicola Shindler, and the producer, there’s four of us pitching in on every decision. But that works, there’s room for four opinions. And then every day I watch the rushes, and there are read-throughs and stuff like that. You are across all the casting, even the people with three lines, working in a coffee shop. Because that’s where dramas go wrong, when those little parts are out of sync with the rest of it,” he stated.

Nicola Shindler

Nicola Shindler

“But at the same time I like to think I give them an enormous amount of freedom because really, I’ve done my work on the script. You hand over the script and you say “That’s it! That’s the text! That’s what you work from. Good luck.” But you do need to be there to co-ordinate things. If a script says that a room is red, what sort of red is it? Is it like a brothel red, or a sunset red, or a primary red? What does red mean? And everyone reads the script and has a different opinion on it, so you have to be there to explain that you meant sunset red. Otherwise you can get a very different message. When you see a bad drama on telly, it kind of feels like everything hasn’t been co-ordinated. I think I’m there to help, in the end. You appoint brilliant directors –I’m very lucky to be at the high end of drama, where it’s nicely budgeted, it’s being supported by Channel 4 infinitely, you’ve got great directors, great costume people, great designers, so actually a lot of the time you’re just sitting back and enjoying their work.”

Davies admitted that given the history, this could be seen as the “follow-up” to Queer as Folk:

“It’s kind of inevitable, and I’m really happy about that. It’s me, writing about gay men in Manchester, so it’s unashamedly connected. It’s a really different show, but then I’m a completely different person now, and a completely different writer. But of course there are similarities, and I’m happy about that. If you’re going to have a legacy, Queer as Folk is a lovely one. I still love that show, I’m still immensely proud of it and still pleased if anyone’s ever seen it and comments on it. I’m happy to embrace that, I just don’t want people to think that they need to remember what happened in a show 16 years ago in order to watch this. In that respect, the two are totally different shows. This is completely freestanding and starts from scratch in episode one. That’s the only thing I want to make clear. But if you remember it, hooray, I hope you remember it with a big smile on your face.”

The cast list includes the likes of Julie Hesmondhalgh, Cyril Nri, Rufus Hound and Ardal O’Hanlon. The main character, Henry is played by Vincent Franklin.

Cucumber is produced by Matt Strevens, Banana by Emily Feller and Tofu, Michaela Eccleston.

Cucumber launches on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday 22nd January with Banana following at 10pm on E4, and a serving of Tofu at 10.30pm on 4oD.