Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn
Cucumber is a 2015 British television series created by Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Banana) and aired on Channel 4. The series focuses on middle-aged Henry Best (Vincent Franklin, The Office, Being Human, Happy Valley), following a disastrous date night with his boyfriend of nine years, Lance Sullivan (Cyril Nri, The Bill). Henry’s old life shatters, and he embarks on a new life with unfamiliar rules.
In development since 2006, Cucumber was announced along with E4’s companion series Banana, and 4oD’s web series Tofu in November 2013. The titles of all three shows come from a scientific study into the male erection which divided the erection into a hardness scale consisting of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber; upon reading the study, Davies remarked that “right there and then, I knew I had my drama”.
Cucumber was initially conceived during Davies’ tenure as showrunner of Doctor Who. Envisioned as a spiritual sequel to the seminal 1999–2000 Channel 4 series Queer as Folk, More Gay Men, as it was then called, was to focus on middle-aged gay men, and had its genesis from the question “why are so many gay men glad when we split up?” that his friend Carl Austin had asked him in 2001. The show was initially due to enter production in 2006, but the success of the revival of Doctor Who indefinitely delayed the series. By March 2007, Davies had fleshed out the initial episode, and explained a pivotal scene in correspondence with journalist Benjamin Cook:
I can imagine a man who is so enraged by something tiny—the fact that his boyfriend won’t learn to swim—that he goes into a rage so great that, in one night, his entire life falls apart. It’s not about the learning to swim at all, of course, it’s about the way that your mind can fix on something small and use it as a gateway to a whole world of anger and pain… If I write the Learn To Swim scene well—and it could be the spine of the whole drama—then I will be saying something about gay men, about couples, about communications, about anger.”— Russell T Davies to Benjamin Cook, 6 March 2007, The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter
By 2008, More Gay Men was among the list of series that Davies wanted to produce after moving to Los Angeles, California, along with an American adaptation of Bob & Rose. Cucumber had been picked up by the American cable network Showtime and BBC Worldwide and entered into pre-production in July 2011, although pre-production was suspended a month later after his boyfriend Andrew Smith was diagnosed with a brain tumour, prompting Davies to return to Manchester so Smith could undergo chemotherapy nearer to their families.
Cucumber was later picked up by Channel 4 to be produced by Davies’ former colleague Nicola Shindler and the Red Production Company. The show was Davies’ first Channel 4 series in over a decade; Davies had an acrimonious dispute with the channel after a decision to green light production on a Queer as Folk spinoff and The Second Coming was reversed by new executive personnel. Former Doctor Who producer Piers Wenger convinced Davies to return to the channel due to the political nature of the show, which had by then expanded to include its sister shows Banana and Tofu. The three series refer to a urological scale of erection hardness, which consists of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber, which is alluded to in the show’s opening narration.