Writer Jimmy McGovern initially turned down a second series of Time, he has revealed ahead of new episodes of the prison drama.
The first season, starring Sean Bean and Stephen Graham, aired in 2021 and was a hit for the BBC, winning the mini-series award last year at the Bafta TV Awards.
Liverpool-born writer McGovern told the PA news agency: “I didn’t expect it to be a success.
“What I expected, the BBC expected, was that it would be well received, it would be a well received drama that would not get a particularly large audience.
“It was a well-received drama, the critics raved about it but it got a massive audience as well.”
Following the success, he said he was asked by the BBC to do a second series but said no.
He said: “I didn’t want to do a second series because I didn’t want to pick up on the Stephen Graham character and it was impossible to pick up on the Sean Bean character so there just wasn’t anywhere to take them I felt, so I said no.
“Then a while later they said to me: ‘We’re thinking of setting it a women’s prison,’ and I’d never even thought of that, I don’t know why, so I said: ‘Oh, that’s interesting, let’s have a go at that.’
“The more reading I did up on it the more I realised I should not write it on my own, I had to get a woman in to write with me. The female body is so important in a women’s prison, what happens in and around it is so important.”
The new series, co-written with Helen Black, follows inmates including pregnant drug addict Kelsey, played by The Last Of Us star Bella Ramsey, and Abi, a prisoner who has committed a shocking crime, portrayed by Tamara Lawrance, in Carlingford Prison.
McGovern, who wrote Cracker and the Hillsborough docudrama, said his priority when writing was to tell a good story, rather than to educate the viewer or raise issues.
He added: “I just want to tell the story as effectively as possible. But hopefully in the choosing of the story you’ve sized up all those opportunities and what good it will do.
“I cannot imagine sitting down and writing something that is inconsequential. I cannot imagine that. It’s hard enough so you might as well write about something that matters.”
The 74-year-old said he thought the success of the first series of Time was because viewers cared about what happened in prisons.
He said: “British politicians think we don’t care, lock ‘em all up, throw away the key, but I think people do care.
“Particularly in a men’s prison, you are stripped down to your essence because you haven’t got authority to turn to.
“If something is happening to you in a British prison that you do not like you cannot grass on the person who is doing it to you, because you’ll be in even more trouble then.
“You’ve got to face up to it on your own. That to me is fascinating.”
McGovern said short prison sentences, such as the one served by Jodie Whittaker’s character Orla in Time, are “not effective in any way whatsoever” and “destroy lives”.
He added: “Every politician stands up and says something like ‘tough on crime’ and they think their constituents will respond to this positively, and some do, unfortunately, but it is so wrong.
“The only thing that deters offenders is the certainty or otherwise of getting caught.”
Time season two will premiere on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm.