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Ralph and Katie: Meet the creator of the new drama

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The last time we saw Ralph and Katie, they’d just had the wedding of the year. So what happened next?

In this new 6×30 comedy drama for BBC One and iPlayer, return to the beauty and splendour of the Lake District, and journey with the couple as they embark on their first year of marriage.

Navigating their own way through life, love and independence, Ralph and Katie will face many of the challenges faced by all newlyweds… but with the added blessing or complication that they both have Down’s syndrome.

Returning to screens, Leon Harrop (Brassic, No Offence, The Street) and Sarah Gordy (The Long Call, Strike, Call the Midwife) will take Ralph and Katie on an emotional rollercoaster, supported by some new faces and the odd familiar overbearing parent…

Joining showrunner Peter Bowker are five of the UK’s best emerging d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent writers – Genevieve Barr, Annalisa Dinnella, Amy Trigg, Lizzie Watson and Tom Wentworth.

Jordan Hogg (Screw, Death in Paradise, Ackley Bridge) – a director with cerebral palsy – completes the team to bring this groundbreaking, heartwarming and perception- challenging series to a primetime, mainstream audience.

Developing Ralph & Katie

An insight into the process from Peter Bowker
The A Word series three was broadcast during the first lockdown and the episode featuring Ralph and Katie’s wedding felt like the celebration of love and diversity that we all needed at the time. Inspired by the brilliance of Leon and Sarah’s performances, I thought we could build a drama around the first year of Ralph and Katie’s marriage. Such a show also struck me as the perfect opportunity to showcase emerging d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent writing talent. Within days, the BBC had commissioned six half hours of Ralph & Katie.

Kat Pugsley and I then set about recruiting five writers to form the core writing team. With the help of BBC Writersroom, we invited over 30 writers to submit story pitches inspired by what they’d seen of Ralph and Katie in The A Word and where they were interested in taking them. We met a shortlist of writers on Zoom and then, with great difficulty, narrowed the list down to our wonderful team of five. It was at this stage that I realised I had landed myself a job I’d never done before: that of Showrunner.

The only showrunners I had met so far were during my short-lived and disastrous time in LA. They invariably had perfect teeth and spent a lot of time in the gym. They were painfully enthusiastic and threw around terms like ‘story arc’, ‘inciting incident’ and ‘cooking with gas’ without any sense of shame or irony. Clearly my style was, let us say, less American and in our first writers room session I opened with a tried and tested confidence builder: an apology for what was about to follow . . .

Fortunately the writing team were patient, creative and funny – and they rapidly adjusted to my incompetence as we went forward together, planning Ralph and Katie’s journey over their first year, inventing other younger characters that would form part of their friendship and support network, and working with the stories of the week to build a series. The team collectively developed the younger characters of Danny (Ralph and Katie’s PA) and Emma (Katie’s mate and work colleague), but for some reason it was felt that I had a better grip on the character of Brian – an annoying neighbour in his 60s who considers himself “good with the disabled” and is blissfully unaware of his own lack of tact…

Meetings took place by Zoom because of Covid but this unavoidable precaution turned out to be a positive in terms of giving disabled writers equal access to the writers room. Zoom has its drawbacks, but I think it creates a focus and intensity and somehow makes it more difficult for one voice to dominate. From my point of view, I felt less distracted than I normally feel in script meetings, but perhaps that was because I realised we had recruited a very clever and funny set of writers and I had to be on my ‘A’ game.

An unexpected bonus of the writing process was the extent to which the writers’ experiences organically fed in to the story, but also how we had created a space where we could comfortably and honestly open up these conversations. It was important also to involve Leon and Sarah in sharing their take on Ralph and Katie’s relationship and the kind of emotional challenges they felt they may face. Hopefully we have honoured some of their lived experience too.

Most gratifying was that as the scripts developed, Ralph & Katie became its own show, grown from The A Word but now distinctive in tone and content. As the process unfolded we started to reference The A Word less and Ralph & Katie more. Our main task, in the end, was to create a compelling show telling new stories – or more accurately, age-old, universal stories – about characters who have not featured in such stories before. Each writer has crafted an episode of the drama that is distinctly their own yet fits seamlessly in to the series. And I have managed to run a writers room without any desire to renew my gym membership or get my teeth whitened.