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The A Word

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The A Word
Based onYellow Peppers
by Keren Margalit
Developed byPeter Bowker
Written byPeter Bowker
Directed by
ComposerRob Lane
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series3
No. of episodes18 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Lucy Ritcher (BBC)
  • Patrick Spence (Fifty Fathoms)
  • Peter Bowker (Fifty Fathoms)
  • Marcus Wilson (Fifty Fathoms)
  • Howard Burch (Keshett)
  • Avi Nir (Keshet)
  • Keren Margalit (Keshet)
  • Sara Johnson (Keshet)
  • Marcus Wilson (Series 1)
  • Jenny Frayn (Series 2)
  • Clare Shepherd (Series 3)
Production locations
EditorJamie Pearson
Running time60 minutes
Production companies
Original release
NetworkBBC One
Release22 March 2016 (2016-03-22) –
9 June 2020 (2020-06-09)

The A Word is a British television drama series, based on the Israeli series Yellow Peppers. The series follows a young boy and how his family cope with the revelation that he has autism spectrum disorder. Following filming in the Lake District from October 2015, a six-part series began airing on 22 March 2016. On 26 May 2016, the BBC announced that a second series of The A Word had been commissioned.[1] It premiered in the UK on 7 November 2017. The third series began airing on 5 May 2020.[2]


Five-year-old Joe Hughes displays clear signs of communication problems and consistently isolates himself by listening to pop music through large blue and black headphones. He has encyclopaedic knowledge of the songs he listens to and accurately sings along with the lyrics. His parents, Alison and Paul, seem oblivious to the disorder and wonder why Joe is ostracised by other children of the same age. However, it is later discovered by Joe's grandfather, Maurice, that Alison and Paul have been taking him to hospital for his communication problems. Other family members know there is a problem, however, their attempts to intervene are met with obstruction from Joe's parents. After originally believing Joe had hearing problems, their Ear, Nose and Throat consultant refers Joe to a specialist who diagnoses him as autistic.

The story then follows how the dysfunctional family, including Rebecca (who feels invisible), Eddie and Nicola (who are coping with their own relationship problems) and tactless grandad Maurice cope with Joe's situation and their own apparent social disorders.


Actor Character Role Episode
Max Vento Joe Hughes a child on the autism spectrum 1–current
Lee Ingleby Paul Hughes Joe's father 1–current
Morven Christie Alison Hughes Joe's mother 1–current
Molly Wright Rebecca Hughes Joe's half-sister 1–current
Greg McHugh Eddie Scott Alison's brother 1–current
Vinette Robinson Nicola Daniels Eddie's wife 1–12
Christopher Eccleston Maurice Scott Joe's grandfather, Alison's and Eddie's father 1–current
Pooky Quesnel Louise Wilson Maurice's music teacher and lover 1–current
Leon Harrop Ralph Wilson Louise's son 1–current
Matt Greenwood Tom Clarke Rebecca's best friend 2–current
Thomas Gregory Luke Taylor Rebecca's boyfriend 2–6
Daniel Cerqueira Dr Graves Family doctor 1–current
George Bukhari Terry Norris Worker at Paul and Alison's cafe 1–current
Adam Wittek David Nowak Worker at the Scott's brewery 1–current
Tommie Grabiec Pavel Kaminski Worker at the Scott's brewery 1–current
Abby Ford Sally Worker at the Scott's brewery 4
Julia Krynke Maya Petrenko Joe's babysitter 2–5
Lisa Millett Maggie White Joe's speech therapist 3
Ralf Little Stuart Rebecca's biological father 5–6, 11, 14
Jude Akuwudike Vincent Daniels Nicola's father 7–current
Clare Holman Grace Daniels Nicola's mother 7–current
Aaron Pierre James Thorne Rebecca's boyfriend 7–8
Julie Hesmondhalgh Heather Joe's teacher 13–current
Krissi Bohn Jean Ralfs Social Worker 13, 16
Lucy Gaskell Sophie Berwick Worker at Paul's Gastropub 7–11
Travis Smith Mark Berwick Sophie's autistic teenage son 7–current
Sarah Gordy Katie Thorne Ralph's wife 13–current
Nigel Betts Steve Thorne Katie's father 13–current
Sherry Baines Clare Thorne Katie's mother 13–current
Austin Haynes Olly Chapman Joe's friend 7, 12


Bowker drew on his own experiences and observations as a teacher and with his family to write The A Word.[3] Autism advocate Deborah Brownson served as an advisor on the production.[4]

Filming took place from October 2015 at locations in the Lake District, including Keswick, Broughton-in-Furness, Coniston, Thirlmere Reservoir, and at The Space Project studios in Manchester.[5][6][7]

On 24 May 2019, it was announced by the BBC, and then subsequently via press and social media publications, that a third series was in production. Returning cast members included Christopher Eccleston, Morven Christie, Lee Ingleby, Max Vento, Molly Wright, Greg McHugh, Pooky Quesnel, Matt Greenwood and Leon Harrop. Joining the cast as newcomers were Julie Hesmondhalgh, Sarah Gordy and David Gyasi.[8]


Series overview[edit]

SeriesEpisodesOriginally airedAverage UK viewers
First airedLast aired
1622 March 2016 (2016-03-22)26 April 2016 (2016-04-26)6.02
267 November 2017 (2017-11-07)12 December 2017 (2017-12-12)4.54
365 May 2020 (2020-05-05)9 June 2020 (2020-06-09)3.95

Series 1 (2016)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [9]
11"Episode 1"Peter CattaneoPeter Bowker22 March 2016 (2016-03-22)6.65
Alison and Paul continually make excuses for their five-year-old boy's uncooperative behaviour but will they listen to other family members who suspect something more serious? Meanwhile Nicola and Eddie move in next to Alison and Paul, hoping to make a new start in the Lakes, but will Eddie be able to forget Nicola's infidelity, especially as it has become public knowledge?
22"Episode 2"Peter CattaneoPeter Bowker29 March 2016 (2016-03-29)6.13
Alison pulls Joe out of school and emotionally blackmails the rest of the family into home schooling. She also became dismissive of alternative ideas from Paul putting a strain on their marriage. Nicola and Eddie's relationship is also put to the test when Alison asks Nicola to seek a second opinion from her former fling Michael. All the while Rebecca is left to fend for herself and the only one who seems to care is her uncle Eddie.
33"Episode 3"Peter CattaneoPeter Bowker5 April 2016 (2016-04-05)5.94
Speech therapist Maggie arrives and manages to make some progress with Joe whilst telling the family some home truths. She avoids speaking about her school history with Alison and abruptly halts her visits, ignoring Alison's pleas for her to stay. Does Maggie have a grudge to bear? Meanwhile Maurice reconsiders Louise's proposal, Nicola settles into her new job while Eddie struggles with his and Rebecca is feeling more and more ignored by her mother.
44"Episode 4"Dominic LeclercPeter Bowker12 April 2016 (2016-04-12)5.85
Alison observes Joe playing with two other children and invites them for a sleepover during which Joe falls ill. While recovering Joe demonstrates empathy for his mother while they look at photos of his late grandmother, misleading Alison to believe he's cured of autism. Luke is ignoring Rebecca and she turns to Eddie and Nicola while Maurice realises he too misses his late wife more than he thought and perhaps his friends-with-benefits relationship with his music teacher wasn't such a good idea. Meanwhile, is Paul carrying a torch for an old flame?
55"Episode 5"Dominic LeclercPeter Bowker19 April 2016 (2016-04-19)5.61
The police investigate Maya and discover she is an illegal immigrant. Despite Alison's desperate attempts to persuade family friend and police officer Bob to turn a blind eye, Maya is deported and Alison is worried for the effect it would have on Joe. Meanwhile Rebecca's relationship with Luke turns sour and Eddie's plans to move to Manchester are not popular with Nicola or Maurice.
66"Episode 6"Susan TullyPeter Bowker26 April 2016 (2016-04-26)5.94
After their fall out over differences of wanting more children Alison and Paul reconcile in time for the opening of their new restaurant. Maurice leaves Joe with Louise's son Ralph and Joe goes missing. As a mass search ensues, some uncomfortable truths are revealed.

Series 2 (2017)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [9]
71"Episode 1"Susan TullyPeter Bowker7 November 2017 (2017-11-07)5.01
Alison and Paul worry over Joe when it becomes clear he is unhappy at school and he uses the word 'autistic' for the first time. Nicola and Eddie pretend to Nicola's parents that they are still together, but her parents have their own marital problems. Rebecca introduces the family to her new boyfriend James and Maurice gets the cold shoulder from Louise.
82"Episode 2"Susan TullyPeter Bowker14 November 2017 (2017-11-14)4.83
Joe starts his first day at the Pear Tree school, and Maurice employs Ralph at the brewery, much against the protests of Louise.
93"Episode 3"Susan TullyPeter Bowker21 November 2017 (2017-11-21)4.51
Paul takes Mark and Sophie to a gig. After the gig, he finds himself growing closer to Sophie. Meanwhile, Rebecca is heartbroken after James dumps her by text message. Alison meets Eddie's new girlfriend, Holly, who Alison thinks is almost exactly like Nicola. Maurice cares for Louise while she undergoes chemotherapy but she feels it is born out of his desire to "save" his late wife.
104"Episode 4"Luke SnellinPeter Bowker28 November 2017 (2017-11-28)4.30
In an attempt to patch up their relationship following the events of the previous episode, Rebecca arranges for Paul and Alison to spend the weekend at Eddie's flat in Manchester. Meanwhile, Maurice realises his feelings for Louise are stronger than he had previously thought.
115"Episode 5"Luke SnellinPeter Bowker5 December 2017 (2017-12-05)4.28
Paul is angered when Nicola uses a video of Joe in a speech about autism, and reveals to Alison he is less accepting of Joe's autism than he previously let on. Holly dumps Eddie, and Maurice proposes to Louise.
126"Episode 6"Luke SnellinPeter Bowker12 December 2017 (2017-12-12)4.30
Preparations begin for the end of year show at Joe's old primary school. Paul plans to leave Alison as he feels they are living "separate lives". Louise rejects Maurice's proposal and suggests they start a "clean slate". Maurice offers to step aside from the brewery and have Eddie run it without any interference. Eddie tells Nicola he is considering moving back home to run the brewery, but tells her that he only wants to be her "best friend" rather than her lover. During Joe's performance at the end of year show, he brings the family together on stage, but as he finishes, Maurice collapses.

Series 3 (2020)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [9]
131"Episode 1"Fergus O'BrienPeter Bowker5 May 2020 (2020-05-05)4.23
142"Episode 2"Fergus O'BrienPeter Bowker12 May 2020 (2020-05-12)3.59
153"Episode 3"Fergus O'BrienPeter Bowker19 May 2020 (2020-05-19)3.32
164"Episode 4"John HardwickPeter Bowker26 May 2020 (2020-05-26)3.79
175"Episode 5"Sasha RansomePeter Bowker2 June 2020 (2020-06-02)4.08
186"Episode 6"John HardwickPeter Bowker9 June 2020 (2020-06-09)4.73


BBC One began airing the first six-part series in a Tuesday 9pm slot, replacing Happy Valley, on 22 March 2016. SundanceTV acquired rights for broadcasting the show in America, and it premiered there on 13 July 2016.[10] A second series began in the UK on 7 November 2017 remaining in its Tuesday 9pm slot. A third series was filmed in May 2019 and the entire series was released on BBC iPlayer on 5 May 2020. On the same day it also began broadcasting in its usual weekly slot on BBC One.[8][11] BBC First airs the series in Australia. Disney+ picked up the programme for all three series across all of Europe, except the UK.[12]


Audience viewership[edit]

Overnight figures revealed the first episode was watched by 4.7 million viewers and had a 23% share of the audience.[13] BARB later reported a consolidated figure of 5.91 million.[9] Reaction to the first episode was mostly positive among viewers. Many people have praised the show on social media, partly for the quality of the acting but also for the way it dealt with the subject of autism.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the first season holds a 75% "Certified Fresh" score, based on 20 critics with an average rating of 5.9/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "The A Word overcomes an uneven start to offer a thoughtful, warm-hearted look at the engagingly messy lives of its protagonists -- and a glimpse of challenges too rarely seen or discussed on television."[15] On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the first season holds a score of 76/100 based on 12 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[16]

The second season holds a 93% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 14 critics with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "The A Word's second season expands its scope beyond the series' inciting diagnosis and blossoms into a thoughtful and warm view on the dynamics of family, while also candidly addressing the realities of raising a child with autism."[17]

For the third season, 100% of nine critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 8.2/10.[18]

Home media[edit]

Series 1 was released on DVD in September 2016, and series 2 in December 2017. The third series was released on DVD in July 2020. [citation needed]

Spin-off series[edit]

In August 2020 it was announced that a spin-off series Ralph & Katie, following the married life of the protagonists, had been commissioned by the BBC.[19] The six-part series, which included a writing team made up predominantly of people with disabilities,[20] was broadcast in October and November 2022, with all episodes available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer.[21] The series will also be available on Disney+ in some regions.


  1. ^ "BBC Drama announces three new commissions for BBC One and BBC Two" (Press release). BBC Media Centre. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  2. ^ Tatum, Kris (24 May 2019). "Filming starts on series three of BBC's The A Word in Cumbria". Times & Star. Workington, Cumbria. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  3. ^ Ritman, Alex (22 March 2016). "Autism Drama Writer Talks BBC, Sundance's 'The A Word'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  4. ^ Burns, Judith (29 December 2017). "MBE for author of 'instruction manual' for autism". BBC News. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
  5. ^ "Filming begins on The A Word, new six-part drama for BBC One" (Press release). BBC Media Centre. 26 October 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  6. ^ "The A Word filming in Keswick". Time & Star. 15 January 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  7. ^ Clarke, Tom (26 October 2015). "'The a Word' Goes into Production at Space Studios Manchester". The Space Project. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Filming commences on The A Word series three" (Press release). BBC Media Centre. 24 May 2019. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d "Weekly top 30 programmes on TV sets (July 1998 – Sept 2018)". Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  10. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (8 January 2016). "SundanceTV Acquires BBC, Keshet Autism Drama 'The A-Word'". Variety. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  11. ^ Kalia, Ammar (5 May 2020). "TV tonight: the third series of The A Word gets under way". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  12. ^ Middleton, Richard (17 October 2022). "Disney+ strikes 'Ralph & Katie' & 'The A Word' deal across Europe". TBI Vision.
  13. ^ Johnson, Niall (23 March 2016). "BBC One's autistic family drama The A Word opens with 4.7m". Mediatel. Retrieved 23 March 2016.[dead link]
  14. ^ Debnath, Neela (23 March 2016). "The A Word: Viewers praise Christopher Eccleston drama tackling autism". Daily Express. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  15. ^ "The A Word: Season 1". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 June 2024.
  16. ^ "The A Word season 1". Metacritic. Retrieved 14 June 2024.
  17. ^ "The A Word: Season 2". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 June 2024.
  18. ^ "The A Word: Season 3". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 June 2024.
  19. ^ "BBC One announces Ralph And Katie, a spin-off of Peter Bowker's hit drama The A Word" (Press release). BBC Media Centre. 24 August 2020. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  20. ^ Hogan, Michael (9 October 2022). "Interview | Jordan Hogg: 'In 15 years, I've never come across another disabled director'". The Observer. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  21. ^ "Ralph & Katie". BBC iPlayer. Retrieved 9 October 2022.

External links[edit]