Russell T Davies on It's A Sin: 'The 1980s AIDS crisis has been ignored, it has been set aside'

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Ray

Multi-BAFTA award-winning writer Russell T Davies had not been expecting the overwhelming reaction to his new drama It's A Sin.

"It's a gay drama about AIDS - we thought it would be niche and thought it would have a little round of applause and it would be put on a shelf at the BFI or something," he told ITV News.

Far from it, the five-part Channel 4 drama has debuted to much critical acclaim and sparked an outpouring of praise - and thanks - for its brutally honest portrayal of the 1980s AIDS crisis.

Production was finished before the Covid pandemic, and comparisons have been made between the AIDS crisis and now - but Davies says the "silence" of AIDS pandemic compared to this one is deafening.

"It has been ignored, it has been set aside. Politically it gets ignored, it wrongly gets ignored," he told ITV News.

"It took me a long time as a writer to face what had happened," says Davies, pointing to a collective trauma felt by the entire LGBT+ community.

"The need to write about it took decades to build up in me.

"I lived through the 80s and 90s with young men around me dying, but that's the only 80s and 90s I ever experienced, so in some ways that felt natural - but I think as you get older you think 'that's not normal' and if anything it's a sort of trauma.

"Trauma's at the heart of it - terrible things happened."

From 1987, a poster in Kings Cross underground station shows the government's media campaign around the crisis. Credit: AP

Davies also spoke about how a diagnosis of HIV has changed in the past 40 years: "It's a real illness, it exists, and it kills - it's important to say it's now a manageable condition - but then, it was almost practically a death sentence for many people."

But for all the heart-wrenching viewing It's A Sin makes, Davies says the show has started a positive dialogue about the 1980s AIDS crisis too.

"The joy of this past week is the stories," he says.

"People have started to talk about people they've lost and remember them - and not remembering their funerals, remembering their lives - that's the glorious thing.

"To hear that coming alive, and to see people telling their children about people they knew - it's emotional, it's a really powerful thing."

Sharing those stories, Davies says, is what makes LGBT+ History Month so important.

"I think it's vital, I think it's the untold history. Here we are talking about something that happened in recent history that is so unknown to people."

"We fought very hard to get our voices out, queer voices, all sorts of voices.

"The more diversity the better - the more voices, the richer we get, it enriches the culture, it enriches our lives to know about others."

ITV News is showcasing the lives, legacies and stories of individuals throughout LGBT+ History Month, read more in the series here.