Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
This week it’s Elliott Kerrigan, creator and writer of Boy Meets Girl. He talks about how he came to create the BBC’s first transgender sitcom, which has recently been filming in Manchester.
Life is strange and totally unpredictable. One moment, I’m sitting in The Tyneside Coffee Rooms, with my friend, Sue, talking about a competition that I’ve just entered. (I even remember what I was eating: The Tyneside’s spinach and falafel burger with chips. Delicious!)
And while eating and slurping Earl Grey tea, I give Sue all the details: that the competition is called The Trans Comedy Award, that the BBC are looking for a new sitcom, to promote a positive portrayal of transgender people in mainstream comedy, and that my script is called ‘Boy Meets Girl’.
Fast forward to another moment. I’m in a film studio, making ‘Boy Meets Girl’, chatting to Janine Duvitski, about the time she worked with Dennis Potter and Dame Helen Mirren on the classic drama, ‘Blue Remembered Hills’.
Rewind to a moment from the previous day: I sneak onto the film set to watch Denise Welch in her big scene (I normally watch everything on a monitor, but I want to be ‘up close’ for this scene). Denise’s character, Pam, finds out that her son Leo is dating a transgender woman. Denise is incredible in the scene. After the crew rehearsal I clapped!
And then, when the scene is finished, I tell Denise that she reminded me of the great Maria Callas in Pasolini’s ‘Medea’. That’s how magnificent Denise is in the role! Watching Denise in this scene is a memory that I’ll cherish forever. But if I’m being totally honest, the show almost didn’t happen…
Why? Because I almost didn’t enter the Trans Comedy Award. I wanted to. As soon as I saw the competition on the BBC Writersroom website, I wanted to enter. Who wouldn’t? “What a great opportunity,” I thought. And not just great. History-making! It’s never been done before. A transgender actor in the lead role in a sitcom. But part of me was thinking, “You can’t enter this competition. What do you know about being transgender? About the transgender experience?” And the answer was a resounding “Nothing!”
But, and this is a big but, I know nothing about being a woman, or a dad, or a mam, or a sister. And yet I’ve been able to write characters that are all these things. So I decided to have a go. And then the strangest, most magical thing happened. I imagined a transgender woman in her forties, and I began to hear her ‘voice’. The character (Judy) was telling me what to write. I would write something, try something, and I could hear the character saying, “I’m not sure I’d say that. Try this instead…” So writing Judy’s character was never difficult. She’d tell me what to write and I’d just type it up!
Once the script was typed up, I sent it into the competition, not thinking for a second that it would do well. I was very happy with it. But I was aware that it wasn’t so much a “sitcom” as a romantic comedy (Judy falls in love with Leo, a young man in his twenties).
So yes, there are lots of laughs (it is a comedy after all) but there’s also a lot of tender moments, dramatic moments, and even, I hope, moments that will really tug on the heart strings (at a screening at the BBC’s sitcom showcase, some people were actually moved to tears).
As I left that screening, I was moved. Very moved, in fact. To think that I’d written a script, entered a competition, and then saw it turned into a TV show, which made people laugh and cry, was something truly unforgettable. A moment I’ll never forget.
Elliott Kerrigan is creator and writer of Boy Meets Girl