Love them and let them go

Amy Jenkins, creator of 'This Life', watched her characters stagger off into the ether with Emma Cook
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The Independent Online
As the nation's 4.23 million This Life junkies feverishly tuned in to savour their final fix of the BBC2 drama series on Thursday, perhaps no one was more surprised during the denouement than the series' creator herself, Amy Jenkins.

Sitting in her Chelsea flat, staring at the screen as her five characters hurtle towards an uncertain future, never to be seen - maybe - on our screens again, Jenkins can't quite believe what she's witnessing. "Oh my God," she exclaims at one point during the wedding scene when bisexual motorcycle courier Ferdy and his lover Lenny, kilt hitched, get to grips with each other in the loo. "Are they actually meant to be doing it or what?"

"I was quite surprised," she says afterwards. "Although my only worry is that it was done to push the boundaries once again. But I do like the idea of him wearing a kilt."

It is perhaps a testament to the programme's success that such explicit Ecstasy-induced lust can pass without so much as a ripple of dissent or outrage - and on the BBC. Somehow the Thursday evening diet of sex, drugs and swearing was presented in such a seamless and persuasively realistic manner, we barely raised a moralistic eyelid when characters routinely submitted to their various proclivities.

In fact, it all seemed crushingly normal. This is partly down to Jenkins' original vision. "We decided right at the beginning we were just going to do drugs, sex and swearing in passing. That's the way to do it - have it all in there. But don't dwell on it."

Quite how successful such a format would prove amazes Jenkins even now. "At first I never thought the lives of twentysomethings hating work and f---ing up relationships would be interesting," she muses. "But now people have realised there is something for them out there that they can recognise." All the more so because it's homegrown rather than imported.

After devising the show, writing for the first series and contributing story lines to the current run, Jenkins is no longer involved. But she still takes a close interest. "I always have lots of feelings when I watch it," she says. "There are bits where I think, 'Oh my God. That's better than I could have written' and other bits where I think, 'They would never have said that.'"

Since it has entered the popular consciousness to such an extent, it must be quite hard to let go. "In a way they are my babies. They came out of a private place inside me and now they're strutting around on TV with words coming out of their mouths written by someone else - I don't own them any more." She finds watching the programme unsettling. "If I want to relax I prefer to see Friends."

But like a proudly protective mother, Jenkins still cares about her fictional progeny's welfare. "At one point I got obsessed by Anna's leopardskin coat. I knew she'd never wear anything like that to work." Jenkins seems to fret over Anna the most - probably because she's her favourite. "She was close to my heart when I created her. She's a bit of what I'd like to be - witty, brash and with great legs." She's shocked, though, at claims that the dissolute Glaswegian could be a post-feminist icon. "No, she takes too many drugs and drinks too much. And she's a comittaphobe. I wouldn't want anyone to aspire to be like that. But I like the way she's not ashamed of her defects and carries on bravely."

She has less sympathy for the self-satisfied young barrister Miles whom she discusses with the air of disapproving ex-girlfriend. "I intended him to be the kind of person I'd really fancy even though he'd annoy me," she says. "Now I think he's become less sympathetic and less sophisticated. He has these laddish conversations which are too Loaded."

Along with the rest of us, Jenkins would love to see the original cast inthe next series, although she suspects that they would like to move on. "I think it's understandable - in the same way that I wanted to move on. I wouldn't be interested in writing for them again. I don't think I need to. I think it's being written really well and it would just seem a bit pointless."

Meanwhile the 30-year-old, who's done for lawyers what Friends did for yuppies, is busy juggling film projects. There's a big-screen adaptation of a novel by Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmatians, with Mike Newell (Four Weddings And A Funeral) directing, and another film she's written which she hopes to produce next year.

Surprisingly, the step-daughter of Independent commentator Polly Toynbee and daughter of the late political columnist Peter Jenkins never rated herself as a good writer - she originally trained as a lawyer. "To me my writing never seemed particularly special. It's very prosaic, which is why it's so suited to film and television; structure, dialogue and character. It's a particular skill that's suited to me."

Certainly, Jenkins never seems so definite and focused as when she's discussing her character's motivations. And where Anna's concerned, the focus shifts to conviction. So tell us what we really want to know - were Miles and Anna ever meant to be? "Nope. You can't have them getting together except in spirit and desire," she laughs. "I think that's much more true to life." With that she flicks off the television and walks off to feed the dog.

David Aaronovitch, The Critics

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