Russell T Davies, the writer of It’s a Sin, the Channel 4 drama about the HIV/Aids epidemic in the late 1980s, has revealed that the death of Colin, one of show’s characters, was partly based on the death of his partner.
Speaking to the food writer Grace Dent on a new Guardian podcast, Comfort Eating, which launches on Tuesday, Davies said he had drawn on the experience of watching his husband, Andrew Smith, die from brain cancer in 2018 to write the scenes featuring Colin’s death.
“Sometimes I think I’m a monster, but that is Andrew’s death. That was the staring into space – just gone. He said a few last sentences and then there were 10 days after that when his eyes stayed open and he was just staring,” Davies said.
“I love Colin, I created Colin, I wanted to write his death to be as powerful … in order to do them justice you have to use that stuff. You have to dig it up and be raw.”
He told Dent he had wrestled with whether it was appropriate to put such a private moment on a public show, and what the response from Smith’s family might be. He has not previously disclosed the inspiration for the scenes, including to Callum Scott Howells, the actor who played Colin.
It’s a Sin follows a group of young gay men who move to London in the 1980s. Colin dies after contracting the AIDs virus. The scenes in which his health deteriorates and he is cared for by his mother and friends have been described as some of the most moving in the drama, which has been viewed more than 6.5m times on Channel 4’s streaming platform.
Dent, who described Davies as a “national treasure” following the success of the show, found the depiction “so moving”. She said: “That scene of him, when he’d lost dignity, it really cut me. I thought, to write this you have to have seen it.”
Speaking from his home in Swansea Bay, Davies shared how food had shaped his relationship with Smith. He gave up his job for several years to care for him and cook “incredibly healthy” meals of fish and vegetables every night. “It’s the greatest act of love I’ll ever go through,” he said.
Each week, Dent will ask guests to select their favourite comfort food. Davies chose plain white rice with “a wodge” of butter, seasoned with black pepper. “It’s surprisingly lovely,” he said.
But most importantly, he recalled: “It made my husband laugh so much, it became one of our running jokes.”
Comfort Eating with Grace Dent launches on Tuesday 15 June. You can subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts.