Multi-BAFTA-winning writer Graham Linehan can barely hold himself together. He tells me he hardly slept last night.
There are times he has ‘howled in pain’ and times he has ‘raged’.
Mostly, though, the genius behind the comedy series Father Ted and The IT Crowd is, he says, ‘befuddled’.
For Graham, a vocal defender of women’s rights, has lost everything he holds dear in life because he dared to challenge a ‘subculture’ of trans activists over the ‘insane’ (his word) belief that a person with a penis can be a woman.
He began to share his views with his 800,000 Twitter followers five years ago and the fury of the Left rained down on him.
Today his marriage is over, his once glittering career has been laid low and he is, as he says, ‘thoroughly cancelled’.
Graham Linehan (above), a vocal defender of women’s rights, has lost everything he holds dear in life because he dared to challenge a ‘subculture’ of trans activists over the ‘insane’ (his word) belief that a person with a penis can be a woman
Graham is giving his first interview about what he has endured in the same week a brave group of women’s rights campaigners launched what they call ‘the most significant female movement since the Suffragettes’.
In mobilising voters to quiz politicians about their stance on women’s rights with the slogan ‘Respect My Sex if you want my X’, they are determined to put a simple and very direct question to our elected representatives: ‘Can a woman have a penis?’
Indeed, such is the toxic nature of this febrile transgender debate, few want to be drawn into it, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who this week refused to say if a woman can have a penis as he floundered during a trans rights debate on LBC radio.
‘It’s mad,’ says Graham. ‘Politicians can’t answer simple questions because these people [trans activists] have persuaded them it’s complicated and difficult. It’s not. All you have to do is stick to the principles we all know: the birds and the bees.
‘People are terrified of getting into the debate, terrified of saying something wrong. If you disagree with them — if you say it denies biology or that it [the right to self-identify] is a gift to sex offenders and conmen who are able to completely erase any mention of who they previously were — they will try to destroy you.
‘I’m not talking about trans people. I’m talking about trans rights activists. They tried to destroy me. They have taken everything from me.
‘They took my family, my ability to earn a living. I haven’t considered suicide but that’s what I believe they want me to do.
Officers have turned up at his home twice. Family members have been attacked by trolls. His wife of 18 years, Helen (above), with whom he created the hugely popular comedy series Motherland, was threatened and her address released online. They separated during lockdown
‘You know, I’m so cancelled that there were two shows called Cancelled and I wasn’t asked to appear on either of them.’
Graham attempts humour but there is nothing funny about what has happened to this decent man.
During the five-year campaign waged against him, Graham, 54, has been condemned as a bigot, accused of harassment and Twitter has shut down his account. He has been reported to the police on three occasions.
Officers have turned up at his home twice. Family members have been attacked by trolls. His wife of 18 years, Helen, with whom he created the hugely popular comedy series Motherland, was threatened and her address released online. They separated during lockdown.
‘It puts you under so much stress that you don’t have room for anything else in your life. You don’t have room for love or anything like that.
‘You’re just under attack all the time. I was f*****g bullied and beaten for years. I’ve been smeared by Pink News, The Independent and The Guardian — none of whom have ever asked for an interview, by the way.’
On one occasion, two years ago, after trans activist Dr Adrian Harrop accused Graham of transphobia, Graham and Helen awoke to find police at the door.
Dr Harrop has recently been suspended by the General Medical Council for sending offensive tweets to some of those who challenge transgender ideology online.
‘We were lying in bed on a Sunday morning. I opened the door and let the policeman in. I said, “This is the guy who abuses women online. He threatens them and he’s using you to intimidate me.” The policeman shook hands and went off.
‘My wife and kids were still in the bedroom. I just shook it off but my wife was incredibly upset. She was horrified the police had come to her house. It was confusing for her — and is for anyone close to victims — because she just didn’t know if I was doing anything wrong.’
A week ago, Graham moved from a rented ‘box’ into the modest two-bedroom flat in Norwich where we meet after finally accepting that his 18-year marriage is over. There are photographs of his children on the wall but little else.
He used to live in a house filled with the stuff of family life, in the days when his comedies earned him a small fortune each year and he thought the good times ‘were going to last for ever’.
Earlier this year, Graham was offered £200,000 to ‘walk away’ from Father Ted The Musical by Hat Trick Productions, which produced the comedy series. (Above, the cast of the Father Ted TV show)
‘Basically what happened with my wife is I wouldn’t shut up,’ he says. ‘They couldn’t shut me up. I refused. I thought ‘this is too important’. We’re talking about women’s rights.
‘So they started going for her. They released her address online. They tried to get her animated children’s series taken out of an animation festival in Ireland.
‘They just turned their attention to her and, you know, it’s frightening. The stress has its effect. You’re losing opportunities, losing work, losing commissions, losing friends.’
He was once firm showbusiness friends with Matt Lucas and David Walliams — but not any more. Executives at leading production companies who used to fall over themselves to wine and dine him in London’s swankiest restaurants won’t so much as take his calls.
Then, earlier this year, he was offered £200,000 to ‘walk away’ from Father Ted The Musical by Hat Trick Productions, which produced the comedy series.
‘It was going great. Neil Hannon [the Irish singer songwriter] has written some brilliant songs. We’d rehearsed it twice. Then they’re saying I have to walk away from it and offering me £200,000.
‘I was really close to taking it because I could use the money, but they’re saying I can’t even have any creative involvement. I can’t even go to rehearsals. What the **** is going on?
‘These people, I thought, were my friends. They were saying they won’t be able to get financiers for it unless I step away. I don’t think that’s true. I think the truth is that, like every other company, they are being ordered about by their under-35s who all seem to believe this s**t.
‘I’ve been called a bigot for years and no one stood up for me. Not Matt Lucas or David Walliams, who I made very famous. I directed the Little Britain pilot and they only got the meeting at the BBC because of me. Neither of them has had the guts to say “I know Graham Linehan and he’s not a bigot”.’
A few weeks ago, Graham heard the mother of one of the swimmers competing against Lia Thomas — who identifies as a woman but is a biological male — talking about how her daughter had said she didn’t know what she was allowed to do if Lia came into the dressing room.
‘She was in tears, saying she had to explain to her that she didn’t have to put up with anything like that. She couldn’t believe she had to have that conversation with her daughter in 2022.
‘I heard that and thought, ‘**** it. I’m not walking away. This has nothing to do with my toxicity and getting people to fund the show, it’s about women’s rights. There’s a huge failure of the celebrity class. If only one or two big names said something, it would change the whole debate. They’re cowards. Despicable cowards.’
Graham is a passionate feminist who campaigned for years with Helen to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland which prohibited abortion.
They loved each other deeply then and made a hugely powerful video about having had to abort a child of their own on medical grounds. The country voted to repeal the Act in 2018 by an overwhelming majority.
His battle with trans activists began during this campaign, when he liked a tweet ‘no one could have a problem with, that said trans people should be respected but women need single spaces’.
A Twitter user responded calling him a TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist].
‘I responded saying, ‘Please don’t use the word TERF.’ It’s a misogynist hate slur that’s used to tag women as acceptable targets for violence — rape threats, death threats. That was what started the ball rolling. It was my first crime.
‘I read the tweet I’d liked again and thought, ‘There’s nothing hateful in this. Nothing bad. It’s just common sense.’ So I kept going.’
Graham says he hates bullies: ‘I was bullied as a kid. I was tall and my mum and dad told me never to get into fights, so I was kind of an easy target,’ he explains. ‘I particularly hate to see women being bullied. I fought back. At one point, if you fought back, the trans activists would reply, ‘OK Boomer’, meaning, ‘OK old person’.
Graham says he, in turn, would reply, ‘OK Groomer’, as he feels strongly that children — and society as a whole — is being groomed into this line of thinking: ‘Kids are walking down a really dangerous road. They’re going to be medicalised for life, but no one was picking up on it.’
Within a year, Graham had attracted the fury of trans activist Stephanie Hayden, who was born male and holds a female gender recognition certificate.
As well as identifying as a woman, Stephanie identifies as a lawyer and has a law degree, although she is not listed as a member of any professional legal body and has issued multiple lawsuits against those who have challenged gender identity ideology.
Hayden and Graham became embroiled in a civil legal action. ‘Around that time [of the civil suit] I got cancer of the testicle. It’s fine. It’s the best type for a man. They just took it away,’ he says.
A few weeks ago, Graham heard the mother of one of the swimmers competing against Lia Thomas (pictured) – who identifies as a woman but is a biological male – talking about how her daughter had said she didn’t know what she was allowed to do if Lia came into the dressing room
‘I got £250,000 [critical illness insurance] and said to my wife, “Look, I’m going to start talking about this stuff because it’s important. I know they’re going to come after my livelihood but now I’ve got this money. Let me use £30,000 to fight [Hayden] because if we can expose this I’ll show that I’m really about people using transgenderism to harass others. The rest of the money will keep me going until Ted The Musical happens.”
‘I genuinely thought it was so mad it wouldn’t last. I never thought we’d have Labour politicians unable to say what a woman was. I thought, “This will clear up soon. People will realise how crazy this is.”
‘So I started explaining to my 800,000 followers that there was a group called TERFS who are not bigoted and not hateful, but are being driven offline by a group of trans activists.’
Within a year, he had lost 300,000 followers. ‘The activists wrote to friends of mine who followed me, saying, ‘why are you following Graham Linehan, he’s a bigot.’
As the campaign against him became increasingly venomous, friends told him to ‘shut up’ for his own good. When he wouldn’t listen, the showbusiness world began to freeze him out.
‘It started gradually with people not answering me publicly or privately on Twitter. I don’t think there was one particular point that I noticed, I was just very befuddled by the coldness I was experiencing.
‘I was asking people to sign a petition stating that they oppose the death and rape threats sent to JK Rowling. Everyone had an excuse not to. I realised too late that it wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t agree with me, but they were terrified and they certainly weren’t going to defend me.
‘I had a thing cancelled in Australia where I was supposed to talk about comedy writing. I was asked to write a companion piece to the play Black Comedy, one of my favourite pieces, and a couple of weeks after asking me they took it away.
‘Then one day in June 2020, I checked into Twitter. I got a load of weird flurries and then it disappeared.’ Twitter had banned him, accusing him of ‘misusing the platform’.
‘They banned me simply because there was a mass reporting campaign against me. They went back and found tweets that weren’t illegal or against their terms and conditions when I wrote them.’
Graham stops. He looks truly weary. Throughout this lengthy interview, his knee has been going up and down and his hands tremble. You realise it is not only his career and marriage that have been deeply affected by this nastiness.
In the two years since Twitter closed him down, he has written regularly on the online platform Substack, in the newsletter The Glinner Update, where he has thousands of paid subscribers who help him pay his bills.
‘I just keep thinking people will realise what’s going on and I’ll be vindicated. Sometimes you just have to say, “that’s a bloke”. You have to protect women. That’s what keeps me going.
‘And every time I get people like rape victims writing to me saying, “thank you for doing what you’re doing”, I know I’m on the right track and I’m not going to stop.
‘But when is someone in authority going to say, “Hang on a second. This is insane. When will the adults finally enter the room?” ‘