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Today is the last day of Pride 2016 - a sixteen day long festival celebrating love and sexuality in all its myriad forms. It seemed a good time, then, to look back on Channel Four’s Banana, a television programme dedicated to much the same celebration.
In 2015 Russell T Davies was returning to the world of television after a very successful run on Doctor Who; though that was then what he was best known for, that hadn’t always been the case. Prior to Doctor Who, Davies had been most well known for his programs such as Queer as Folk or Bob and Rose, both popular, mainstream dramas about gay people. During his years on Doctor Who, he’d been planning a return to this type of drama for a while - his rather wonderful book The Writer’s Tale includes various little sketches of scenes for what was then called More Gay Men, and eventually became Cucumber.
Cucumber aired on Channel Four in 2015, and it was brilliant - I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys complex and compelling drama. Make sure you go into it spoiler free, though - it’s one of those things that are best to experience without knowing what’s coming.
However, Cucumber wasn’t the only program Davies was working on at this point; it was accompanied by sister show Banana, an anthology miniseries made up of eight half hour episodes, each focusing on new characters. Where Cucumber was about the life of one specific gay man, Banana used its anthology format to explore the youth of the wider LGBT community in Manchester.
As with any anthology series, some episodes were better than others; my own personal favourites were episode 6, a touching story about anxiety, and episode 7, a rather funny, yet poignant, short about the potential for building a relationship following a one night stand. Other highlights, however, included the second episode, which takes Davies’ longstanding theme of unrequited love and pushes it as far as it can go, and the fourth episode, which centres on a trans woman on her birthday. It’d also be remiss of me, of course, not to mention the eighth episode - a twenty minute piece of television with such bravado that you’re unlikely to forget it, even if you don’t necessarily get it. (I’m being vague on purpose, of course; it’s something you’d have to see to believe!)
One of the things that’s great about Banana (and I stress it’s far, far from the only thing, merely the one that’s most apt for today) is quite how much it is a celebration of LGBT diversity, and the experiences of LGBT people - not just on the screen, but behind it too. Davies has long been committed to diversity, and Banana was no exception; for the aforementioned episode about a trans woman, great lengths were went to to ensure a trans actress was cast. Bethany Black (the actress in question, whom you may also know from Doctor Who last year) commended Davies on this, saying she was “glad things are moving on”, to the point where trans people are cast as trans characters.
Similarly, every writer working on the series was on the LGBT spectrum - from Davies himself, to Sue Perkins (yes, the one from Great British Bake Off), to new writer Charlie Covell, who contributed two scripts to the show (including my favourite episode, about anxiety, in which she also starred). Part of the drive to get new voices to work on the series was because, as Davies said, “there are so many voices out there”. Voices that should be listened to.
And I think that’s what makes Banana so apt for discussion today - it’s a show that has inclusivity built right into its DNA, with a space for every member of the LGBT community. It is, on a fundamental level, about life, and everything that goes with it - love, loss, sex, sadness, happiness, change… and pride.
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