My TV hero: Russell T Davies on Paul Abbott

Screenwriter Paul Abbott injects real life into everything he touches, from Coronation Street to Shameless

I noticed his name before I knew him. Because if you watched a Coronation Street that was really good, where Deidre suddenly had a sex life or Liz had a party at the back of the Rovers, that was Paul Abbott. He put that salt into Coronation Street. Something real comes out of his characters.

I met him on my first day at Granada, on a show called Children's Ward that was created by him and Kay Mellor. I was the luckiest man on earth. You'd pay about £1,000 an hour now to walk into a room with them and have that kind of tutelage.

So I sat at the great man's knee. He's got an absolute selflessness and dedication to other people's scripts, and he believes anyone can be a writer; that everyone's got a script, a story, in them. And he proves that. There are so many people writing for television now whom he's taken under his wing and cultivated and made prosper.

I think he's simply the best writer in the world. He never sat down and taught me formally – he doesn't do that with anyone; you learn by reading and watching. If Paul writes a scene in an office and if a secretary walks in, or someone with two lines, he makes that person cross, or angry and you realise that even the smallest character has so much going on.

The last few years have been glorious because I've seen a lot of him. He kind of inspires you personally because his standards are so high, and he has such a massive work ethos. You have a cup of tea with him and come out with five insights into people. You will find yourself writing at 2am and remember something he said to you.

If you were starting out as a writer today, I'd say just get his entire body of work. I've read his scripts and I've watched his shows and I do hope to emulate it – but, really, it's beyond emulation.

Something happens when he's typing that means whatever gets put on the page is so real, so that even if it's utterly fantastical, the stark reality just sizzles out of him.

Russell T Davies's Torchwood returns to BBC1 next month.


As told to Vicky Frost

The GuardianTramp

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