The A Word: Ending explained and everything you need to know about the BBC drama ahead of spin-off Ralph and Katie release

The much loved show is sadly missed

Lee Ingleby as Paul and Max Vento as Joe in The A Word
(Image credit: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy/Future)

We answer all the burning questions about autism-based drama The A Word, giving you the ultimate recap before its spin-off lands.

When The A Word began airing on the BBC in March 2016, it immediately gained a huge following, garnering critical acclaim for the portrayal of a family dealing with an autism diagnosis. The quality of the performances and realistic handling of the subject, reached out to many families finding themselves in similar situations. Now that spin-off Ralph and Katie is due to air, The A Word with Christopher Eccleston and Morven Christie at the helm, has been brought to the forefront of its dedicated fans’ attention once again. Read on for everything you need to know about The A Word, ahead of Ralph and Katie airing its debut episode.  

For more drama, David Tennant fans anticipating the Inside Man BBC release date have not been disappointed - viewers have been gripped by the action. If you’ve yet to start watching the show and want to know how many episodes Inside Man has and when they air, we have the answers. Eagle-eyed viewers have been doing some real-life sleuthing about where the locations spotted in the series really are - Inside Man filmed across some “quintessentially English” counties, and we reveal exactly where.  

The A Word: Ending explained

Joe’s sister Rebecca had returned from University pregnant, earlier in the series. During the final episode, when driving back from Manchester to the Lake District, she begins having stomach pain - she only has Joe in the car to help. But a heroic Joe manages to flag down help by walking until he came across passersby who could raise the alarm.

With Alison and Paul having split up earlier in the show and now in new relationships, both fledgling romances come to an end when they realise they still have feelings for each other. They vow to spend time together and devote themselves to Rebecca and their new granddaughter.

A now married Ralph and Katie move into their first flat together. Worrying they won’t cope, Louise and Maurice move in with them - this arrangement doesn’t last very long when they all irritate one another and Maurice moves back out. Maurice and Louise later get engaged - with the closing moments showing Louise’s engagement ring. The episode closed with the whole family present for a photoshoot, and Rebecca announcing her new baby’s name to be Rosie.

Was The A Word cancelled? 

he BBC never offered an official statement on whether The A Word was cancelled. However, the ending of season 3 appeared to present the show with a very natural conclusion, leaving no loose ends.

All plot threads were beautifully tied up, and the ending was seen as a fitting closure to the 3 series of preceding drama. Social media fans certainly appeared to treat the end of series 3 as the overall finale. 

On Twitter, one fan wrote “One of the most wholesome TV series I have seen. I'd love to see more of Joe and his family, but somehow I feel like the finale tonight was the best way to end it. Just beautiful. #theaword”. Another added “What a beautiful ending to @theaworduk  - perfectly imperfect. Brilliant stuff #bbc #theaword”.

When did The A Word finish?

The final episode of The A Word aired on June 9, 2020. The social media response to the finale was overwhelmingly positive. 

One emotional fan wrote on Twitter “Hope for humanity restored after watching that episode of #theAword Great art is surely part of what it is to be fully human”.

Allison Keen from Paste magazine heaped praise upon the final episode, saying “The A Word is exceptionally authentic in everything it does. Beautiful? Yes. Emotionally sound? Absolutely. Funny? Very much so. But above all, it rings true, and leaves you a little better off than you were before”.

Is The A Word based on a true story? 

The A Word was adapted from the Israeli series Yellow Peppers, which was based on the real life experiences of its writer Keren Margalit - her son Michael was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4.

Speaking to The New York Times, Margalit said “After my son was diagnosed, I started to look at life only through the prism of communication. So it made sense to take the problems that humans have with communication and apply them to this crazy, funny, weird family”.

Tom Purser works for the National Autistic Society, worked as an advisor for the show - he has a teenage son with autism. He also spoke to the publication, saying “A lot of the portrayals on television have given an unhelpfully narrow look at what autism is, and its impact on a family. The experience can be quite isolating, and that’s why it’s important to see it properly portrayed on TV”.

Morven Christie as Alison, Max Vento as Joe, and Lee Ingleby as Paul in The A Word

(Image credit: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy)

Is Joe from The A Word autistic? 

Actor Max Vento who plays Joe in The A Word, is not autistic in real life. 

Show writer Peter Bowker spoke to the Royal Television Society about the decision not to cast an autistic child in the role. He said “We decided that it was too much to ask of a child of five on the autism spectrum to play another child on the spectrum. When we’ve cast older characters with autism, we’ve always insisted the actor is someone on the spectrum”.

He continued “Max was pretty much everyone’s first choice from the moment we saw him. I remember seeing Max and saying that he looks like a chubby Ian Curtis [from Joy Division]. For me, that fulfilled the criteria, given that his musical tastes are, bizarrely, the taste of a 61-year-old man from Manchester”.

Max Vento as Joe and Morven Christie as Alison in The A Word

(Image credit: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy)

Is Mark in The A Word autistic?

Yes, Travis George Smith who plays Mark in The A Word, is autistic in real life

According to the National Autism Society, Smith was diagnosed at the age of 8. His school teacher suggested to his mother he might have autism. His mother, who worked with young people with disabilities and had encountered autism, had already begun to suspect her son had the condition. Smith said that when his diagnosis was confirmed, his journey towards understanding himself began.    

Speaking about landing the role of Mark in The A Word, Smith said “I was in quite a dark place in my life at the time. I’d just finished school, and it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to leave with much of an education or much to my name. It was very scary. 

My mum knew better than anyone that acting was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get there. One evening she found an open casting call for the character of Mark on The A Word, and suggested I give it a go. A month later, I got a call and was told I had got the role. Everything has changed since then. It’s amazing.”  

Why did Paul and Alison break up in The A Word?

Paul and Alison broke up due to struggling with Joe’s diagnosis and getting him the special educational help he needed. Paul also admitted to an attraction to Sophie, an employee at his pub

Paul was following his dreams of opening a gastropub when it was decided Joe could no longer stay in mainstream school. A school that catered to his needs was found, but it was in Manchester. With Paul’s revelation that he was attracted to Sophie - who also had an autistic child - the marriage buckled.

Alison and Joe went to live in Manchester where Joe could attend his special school. He spent weekends and holidays with Paul in the Lake District with Paul, who was renovating a small house and living with Maurice in the meantime.

Is The A Word on Netflix? 

No, The A Word is not currently available on Netflix, but all 3 series are available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer is a totally free service - you only need to register an account. Once you’ve set up an account, you can watch live BBC channels, and catch up with any shows you've missed.

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.