Lucy Montgomery as April in The IT Crowd

Graham Linehan Twisted a Trans Woman’s Real Story for ‘The IT Crowd,’ and Other Revelations From Unearthed Commentary

Back in 2009, or thereabouts, I was gifted the DVD boxset of Graham Linehan’s The IT Crowd. In those days, I absolutely loved the show and was thrilled to have it on physical media.

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Those days have changed. Now, creator and writer Graham Linehan is known primarily for transphobia, misogyny, and all-around disgusting behavior. Oh, and DVDs fell out of use, which is why I forgot for ages that I still owned The IT Crowd. The boxset remained tucked away in a dusty corner until I finally remembered it this weekend and went to collect it for a charity donation bag.

When I picked it up, I glanced at the back of the box and saw that one of the special features advertised was audio commentary from Linehan himself. It occurred to me that although I’d followed Linehan’s descent into deplorability quite extensively over the years, I didn’t actually know what was included on the commentary tracks. Maybe they could provide some insight into why he ended up the way he did.

So I dug out my DVD player and put on the commentary track for “The Speech,” one of the most controversial TV sitcom episodes of the past 20 years. If you haven’t heard of it, let me explain to you why it’s infamous.

Linehan’s “The Speech”

The B-plot of “The Speech” is all about Matt Berry’s character in the show, Douglas, and his relationship with a woman he doesn’t initially know is trans. This is April, played by cisgender actress Lucy Montgomery.

Douglas goes on a first date with April, and she informs him that she “used to be a man.” Douglas tells her he doesn’t care, and April is surprised but delighted. The punchline is revealed later: he thought she said she was “from Iran,” and as soon as he knows the truth, he’s horrified. “You used to be a man?!” he yells dramatically. Later, they end up having a physical fight, filmed as a spoof of similar sequences in action movies, and it ends with Douglas throwing April through a window. This scene, in particular, got a lot of pushback, even in the ’00s.

The story behind “The Speech”

At around the 11-minute mark on the audio commentary, during the scene where Douglas and April have their dinner date, Linehan says something very surprising.

This is based on a biography that someone—that a woman who was—who used to be a man wrote … she went to dinner with a famous sports presenter, who I probably shouldn’t name just in case there’s any legal problems with it, but she—during the dinner she said, “Listen, you should know, I used to be a man” and the sports presenter said, “Oh, I don’t care” and that always—Arthur told me that story—and I always found it very funny and thought “Oh, it’d be great to use that somehow.” And so it ended up here.

The Arthur mentioned there is Arthur Mathews, Linehan’s co-writer on the sitcom Father Ted. The sports presenter is Des Lynam, who was big in the UK during the era The IT Crowd was written. And the trans woman in question? That’s Caroline Cossey, former Bond girl.

Graham confirms he used Cossey’s story in his recently released autobiography, Tough Crowd, of which there are previews available on Google Books. He said:

“The Speech,” an episode in the show’s third series—one of the best, in fact—featured a transsexual character and was based on a really rather admirable story about Des Lynam. While on a date, the transsexual model and actor Caroline Cossey supposedly told Lynam what he was bound to find out sooner or later, namely that Cossey was trans and, despite what outward appearances might suggest, male. Apparently, Lynam just shrugged and continued eating, completely unbothered.

Arthur and I were always impressed by his insouciance. The story stayed with me until I gave it to Matt Berry’s character, couldn’t figure a way out of it, and rested a very important story point on the balsa-wood foundation that Berry had actually misheard his new sweetheart, April, saying that she/he was a man; he thought she was saying she was from Iran.

(The correct pronouns are gone by this point, you’ll note.)

As with most things, though, Linehan is wrong about the Cossey/Lynam story. Cossey herself wrote about what happened in her 1992 autobiography My Story. According to her, she struck up a friendship—not a sexual relationship—with Lynam, but one day, over dinner, he told her, “I know all about you. So don’t think you’ve had the last laugh.” A “profoundly shocked” Cossey straight away told Lynam:

It’s not easy confiding in people. But I can tell you one thing. I get no pleasure from deception. Knowing that I’m a sex change doesn’t belittle you in any way, but it will change your attitude to me. I don’t want to be an object of sexual curiosity. I want to be with a man who desires me as a woman.

According to Cossey, Lynam “apologized for being insensitive,” and “a few months later he asked me to marry him.”

Lynam for his part claimed in his own autobiography, 2005’s I Should Have Been At Work, the following:

After the friendship and understanding I had offered [Cossey], she implied that there was rather more to the friendship than there actually was. Of course the Sun newspaper put it on the front page. All I had been was an occasional confidant and friend, but of course my name helped her sell the book.

He concluded that part of his autobiography with: “I hope that, wherever she is, she is content at last. She may have been born into the male gender but in terms of her female looks, she was a definite 10.”

A serious kind of thing

If Linehan ever truly considered Lynam’s reported acceptance of Cossey’s gender transition “really rather admirable,” he had a funny way of showing it. Obviously, writers borrow from real life and from overheard celebrity stories all the time. But “The Speech” plays out like a cruelly warped interpretation of Cossey’s version of events; what if her coming out to her friend had gone much, much worse?

Which brings us back to the fight scene. Linehan had some rather predictable thoughts on it in the DVD commentary:

I got a complaint on my website, actually, about the fight. Someone decided to—wrote a list of all the transgendered people who’d been beaten or murdered in the last year, it was quite—it was from America of course, where there’s a pressure group for every joke, and it was just like, how can you look at this episode and think that this is a, uh, serious kind of thing about transgendered people? [laughs] Lucy has so obviously [laughs] never been a man that it just seems like an incredibly strange thing to waste your time doing.

Well, recent history tells us that it soon became “a serious kind of thing about transgendered people.” Matt Berry disowned the episode in 2021, telling Vulture, “I don’t condone anything that that comedy portrayed, you know? I don’t share any views that the writer has.” Meanwhile, Linehan also continues to say deadly serious things about transgender people every day, using the kind of rhetoric that can and does lead to hate crimes.

All quite sad

Perhaps the most bewildering thing of all is that throughout the DVD commentary, Linehan seems convinced that he’s written a piece sympathetic to trans women. Yep, 2023 Linehan would probably call 2009 Linehan a “groomer.” He’s that far gone now.

“I find all this quite sad actually,” he says over a scene of Douglas rejecting April. “The way I feel about Douglas and April is that she is … she is … the only woman that he’ll ever love, and he’s not man enough to accept her for what she is, and it’s Douglas’s tragedy.”

A tragedy indeed.

(featured image: Channel 4)

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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.