This September a new sit-com created by a Geordie, set in the North East and filled with Northern actors will be aired on BBC Two: Boy Meets Girl. It’s significant for one big reason – it’s the first sit-com to feature a transgender actor in a starring role.
It’s been a long road for Boy Meets Girl and its writer Elliott Kerrigan. The journey began in his native Cramlington in 2013 when Elliott, a graduate of Northumbria University, decided to enter a BBC scriptwriting competition. The Trans Comedy Award was a talent search through the BBC Writers Room that offered aspiring writers up to £5,000 for the best script that promoted a positive portrayal of transgender issues.
‘As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to enter,’ Elliott tells us, ‘I thought it was a great challenge to do something brand new that hadn’t been done before.’
But he almost failed at the first hurdle – coming up with an idea. ‘I’d had an idea for a sit-com before about a new relationship but it just didn’t work,’ he explains. ‘I tried it with a young man and an older woman and it wasn’t right. I tried it with two men and it still didn’t work and then I recalled the competition and thought what if one of the characters was trans. It was like a key had unlocked something and suddenly the whole script worked.’
The BBC were equally excited by Elliott’s script and commissioned a pilot which was shown at the BBC Salford Sitcom Showcase in 2014. Now the full-length series starring actor and stand-up comedian Rebecca Root (who underwent transition surgery in 2005) and Harry Hepple (who you might recognise from Misfits or Hustle) has been aired.
‘Elliott presented a script that not only won the competition but won a series commission, which is very rare for a new writer,’ Margot Gavan Duffy (the show’s producer) suggests, ‘But he’s created something very special.’ Having worked on shows like The Vicar of Dibley, Joanna Lumley’s Little Cracker and This Is Jintzy, she should know.
Boy Meets Girl has been hailed for its progressive attitude, but when we spoke to Rebecca Root (who plays the lead female character, Judy) she was keen to explain that although Judy is transgender this isn’t what defines her. ‘She’s hilarious, warm, sincere, compassionate, sensitive, she has wit and some moments of great tenderness,’ Rebecca beams as she reels off a list of her character’s qualities.
Then there’s the show’s setting – move over London, this one’s set in the North East. ‘I’ve always lived in the North East and I couldn’t live anywhere else,’ Elliott declares. ‘If I have to go to London for a meeting or anything like that I enjoy it but when I cross the Tyne Bridge my whole body just changes and I relax.’ Elliott’s love for the region fed into the script which wasn’t only set in the North East but partially filmed here too. From the BALTIC and the Quayside to the Tyne Bridge and the Angel of the North, this comedy is Northern through and through.
The show also features a host of famous Northern faces. Harry Hepple is from Sunderland (some of us will remember him treading the boards at the Live Theatre), his brother is played by Johnny Dixon (best known for his roles as Matthew Humphries in Grange Hill and Darryl Morton in Coronation Street), his mother is iconic Geordie actress Denise Welch and there are also performances by Lancashire legend Janine Duvitski (Benidorm and One Foot In The Grave).
‘I feel really lucky to be involved in a TV show that’s set in the North East,’ Harry told us. ‘There’s not a lot that’s set up here – Vera, George Gently and that’s about it – so it’s really nice to be part of something that’s so current and such a hot topic.’
Audiences across the country are preparing themselves for Boy Meets Girl. Hotly anticipated, it’s bound to be one of the most controversial and innovative shows of the year and thanks to Elliott this time it’s the North East leading the way.
Boy Meets Girl will be shown on BBC Two in September.