ENTERTAINMENT
06/03/2021 06:00 GMT

It's A Sin: 15 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Channel 4's Hit Drama

From scrapped storylines, to Easter eggs and behind-the-scenes secrets.

It’s A Sin has proved to be one of the biggest talking points of the year so far, and while it may have finished airing last month, exciting details about the show we’ve all been obsessed are still coming to light. 

Hearing all the stories and reading new interviews about the Channel 4 series has certainly helped us deal with our emotions after that ending, so with that in mind, we’ve rounded up everything we’ve learned to spread a bit of joy – just like the Pink Palace pals would have wanted. 

La!

Channel 4

1. Three major networks originally turned the show down

A number of major players turned down the chance to commission It’s A Sin when writer and creator Russell T Davies first started pitching his show to them in 2015. 

Speaking to Pink News, he revealed that even Channel 4 initially passed on it. 

He said: “It always started at Channel 4. They said no. And then it went to BBC One and they said no.

“It even went to ITV at one point, and they just said: ‘Not yet. We’re not quite that sort of channel yet’.”

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It's A Sin creator Russell T Davies

He continued: “It was a hard sell, you know... Genuinely, because it’s about people dying. It’s a tough piece of work.”

Channel 4 later reversed their decision thanks to their commissioning editor of drama, Lee Mason, who Russell says waited for “all the staff to change and all the heads of department to move on and then got the script out again” to try and get it made.

2. There were many flash-forward plots that were scrapped

The show was meant to feature a number of storylines that eventually had to be scrapped

In an interview with Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, Russell revealed that It’s A Sin would ideally have run for eight episodes, and that there would have been an extra housemate living in the Pink Palace. 

There was also supposed to be an episode that revisited the characters in the present day, which would have seen Roscoe discover he had HIV later in life and Jill confronting Ritchie’s mother about her behaviour as she visited her in her old age.

Channel 4
Jill and Roscoe would have taken centre stage in an extra episode of It's A Sin

It also would have explored “sexual abuse at the heart of the Tozer household” and uncovered more about how Keeley Hawes’ character “ended up like she did”.

“It was never written, so it doesn’t exist, but it was kind of budgeted for,” Russell lamented. 

3. Russell T Davies refused to write one proposed scene

Russell has detailed how he refused to bow to a suggestion put to him by one of the networks during the commissioning process because he thought it was “unbelievably crass”.

He told The Hollywood Reporter’s TV’s Top 5 podcast: “I was told at one channel, ’What if its start is on an AIDS ward in say, 1990 or 1992, with the machines and people dying, and then went, 10 years earlier....’.

“I thought that was unbelievably crass and literally refused to do it.”

 “My producer said, ‘I know you don’t like that scene. If you just type it out, if you just type one page of that, it might get made’. I’d rather die than type that page. It’s the wrong way to tell it. There was a lot of nonsense like that.”

4. There was also one AIDS symptom he didn’t want to feature on screen

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Russell revealed that he chose not to portray one of the devastating symptoms of the virus as he feared it may inspire young adults to harm their own bodies.

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Russell T Davies

“It’s also a wasting disease and a lot of patients get very very thin,” Russell said of the disease. “I didn’t want a lead actor with a lot of young fans [Olly Alexander] undergoing starvation because I think that’s asking them to follow, to copy.

“That’s the one thing I drew a line at, saying, ‘let’s not do thinness as a symptom because I don’t want it to look in any way glamorised or admirable,’ which things do simply by being on television.”

5. Ritchie’s involvement in Doctor Who was actually a tribute to a former sci-fi star

In episode four, we saw Ritchie make an appearance in a fictional 1988 episode of Doctor Who.

Not only was this a nod to It’s A Sin writer Russell T Davies’ role as an executive producer on the 2005 reboot of the sci-fi series, but it also served to pay tribute to late actor Dursley McLinden, who died from AIDS in 1995 at the age of 29. 

Dursely appeared as Mike Smith in the 1988 episode of Doctor Who called Remembrance Of The Daleks, while Olly Alexander’s character played Trooper Linden in a story called Regression Of The Daleks in It’s A Sin. 

Russell described the moment as “a little smile” towards Dursley, telling Doctor Who Magazine: “It’s not me going, ‘Hooray, let’s get a few pages in Doctor Who Magazine’. It, literally, felt natural. I was really desperate to do it.

“It’s a little smile towards Dursley, who I loved. I did it for Dursley.”

6. He also used his Doctor Who connections to bring together a real bunch of Daleks from different eras

Director Peter Hoare told Digital Spy: “It’s all anachronistic because – as Doctor Who fans will tell you – the Daleks all come from different periods. They were owned by individuals, some of whom were ex-Doctor Who operators – Dalek operators. They brought their own Daleks, and they’re all from different Doctor Whos.”

“We had the right cameras as well,” he revealed. “We got hold of some studio floor cameras from the period, and we stuck on little logos that said ‘BBC TV colour’. I was just in heaven. It was brilliant.” 

7. There were also some nods to Russell’s previous groundbreaking drama Queer As Folk

Channel 4
Queer As Folk aired in 1999

There was an Easter egg for Queer As Folk fans in the first episode of the series, as 80s BBC drama Juliet Bravo was seen playing on TV in the background of a scene.

In Queer As Folk, which aired on Channel 4 in 1999, one character memorably spent all night chasing after someone who had every episode of Juliet Bravo on tape. 

Some viewers also spotted that some of the incidental music featured in It’s A Sin sounded like an updated version of that used in Queer As Folk. 

8. While it was set in 1980s London, the show was filmed in Manchester

Google Street View
Paton Street in Manchester on Google Street View as it is seen today.

Paton Street, near the city’s Northern Quarter, served as the exterior location for the gang’s flat in Soho. 

Designers added period cars and completed graffiti down the street, as well as adding poster boards, a postbox and telephone box from the time. 

The houses down the far end of the street also had all their front doors changed, while the shop windows had to be regularly redressed during filming to reflect the 11-year period the show is set over. 

9. The Pink Palace set was built in an empty school

Two gymnasiums had to be knocked together to create one giant space in which to build the London residence, which was actually built in a derelict school in Manchester.  

The set was completely plastered before woodwork was added, wallpaper hung and distressed, and a bathroom and kitchen fitted, and the rooms completely dressed. 

The school was also the backdrop for the hospital where Colin and Ritchie were treated.

A team of designers recreated the Middlesex Hospital in London – which was the first dedicated HIV ward when it was opened by Princess Diana in 1987 – along a 100-metre corridor, dressing it with six private rooms, kitchen, lounge area and a fully practical lift. 

10. One woman’s house was completely turned upside down to become Richie’s parents’ home

Dressers completely redecorated all the rooms of the four bedroom house to become the Tozer household, even down to the smallest of details like the light switches.

The elderly lady who owned the property “welcomed the upheaval”, and after filming had finished, her house was given a fresh lick of paint. 

While Ritchie’s parents lived on the Isle of Wight, the house was located in Rochdale, and therefore the sea view at the bottom of the hill as seen from the windows of the house was achieved using CGI.  

11. Russell had second thoughts about one of Colin’s storylines

Prior to Colin’s death, it was revealed through flashbacks that he contracted HIV after having a sexual relationship with his former landlady’s son while they were living together. 

His friends were unable to understand how he had the virus, as they believed he hadn’t had any sexual partners. However, Russell hesitated about revealing Colin’s backstory in the way he did.

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Colin in It's A Sin

“What I worried about was making that ‘whodunnit’ in a show that’s been very sober. I literally sat here at this desk thinking, ‘you can’t do that, you can’t do that, you can’t do that’,” he told online series It’s A Sin – After Hours. 

“I did do it. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and do these things. I like it now with the end result. I think it closes Colin’s story off beautifully. But out of all the things that happen in this show, that is the one I worried about the most.”

He added: “I think there’s something very true in there – there’s a lot of closeted men who will have a sex life and not tell anyone about it.”

12. Colin actor Callum Scott Howells previously popped up on a BBC talent show

Callum auditioned for Let It Shine, which saw hopefuls trying out for a spot in a new musical based on the music of Take That, in 2017.

In the unearthed clip, a 17-year-old Callum is seen introducing himself to judges Amber Riley, Dannii Minogue, Martin Kemp and Gary Barlow before going into a rendition of You’ll Be Back from the musical Hamilton.

While he won over the judges and earned himself 16 points out of a possible 20, Callum ended up bowing out of the contest before it went to the live shows.

13. Jill actor Lydia West had previously collaborated with Russell T Davies

In her first big TV role after graduating from drama school, Lydia played Bethany Bisme-Lyons in Russell’s 2019 BBC drama Years And Years. 

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Lydia (bottom right) in Russell T Davies' Years And Years – coincidentally the name of It's A Sin co-star Olly Alexander's band

The dystopian series followed a Manchester family over the course of 15 years against a backdrop of huge societal and political change. 

“I’d take another Russell job in a heartbeat,” Lydia told Grazia about the possibility of working with the screenwriter for a third time. 

14. The real-life Jill on which the character was based also featured in the series

Russell has spoken in many interviews that the character of Jill – played by Lydia West – is based on one of his friends, also called Jill, who watched many of her close friends die from AIDS as she supported them through their illness in the 80s. 

Jill Nalder actually appeared in It’s A Sin as the fictional Jill’s mother, who is seen joining with her daughter and their friends at an AIDS march. 

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Jill Nalder (right) played the mother of her fictionalised self in It's A Sin

Russell and Jill became friends after meeting at the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre in the 70s.

Speaking about seeing the fictionalised version of herself, Jill told the BBC: “The two things I relate to the most is frantically searching for information about the virus. I became like a dictionary of AIDS-related infections.

“And the hospital visits. Walking down the corridors and looking into the rooms and in each one seeing people around my age dying with AIDS. Seeing people with the kaposi sarcoma, the black marks on the skin, for the first time.”

Of playing someone based on a real person, Lydia told Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast: “I think even knowing Jill, my character, was based on someone in Russell’s life, that was just enough for me, but knowing she was playing my mother, I was just double whammied. I couldn’t handle it.

“She was just like fictional Jill. She’s so so kind. So loving. She lived in the pink palace. Worked in the West end, in theatre growing up. She nursed people in their dying days. 

“She would be on set, and would have so many anecdotes from the time... It was just such a huge source of inspiration for me to listen to her. I was in awe of everything she said. She’s so special. She’s so important.”

15. The cast had to work hard to perfect their ‘La!’s

“La!” was a greeting the gang would say at every opportunity following Ritchie’s turn in drag in episode one, and it actually derived from something Russell and the real-life Jill used to say with their friends. 

Russell put the cast through their paces to perfect their “La!”s, with Lydia revealing on Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast: “It took some training. Russell had us doing all sorts of “La!” to get it right.

“It was their private joke between himself, Jill and some other of their friends who lived in the pink palace. It had to be right. It wasn’t just a made up fictional joke.”

She added: “We were in rehearsals that first week, trying to get it right and Peter [Hoar, the director] was like ‘I actually don’t know the difference between all your La’s’. We did it so many times.”

It’s A Sin is available as a boxset on All4.