The stars of Sex Education season 4
The fourth and final season Sex Education has finally arrived on Netflix, meaning it’s time to bid an emotional farewell to the hit teen drama.
The hugely popular, taboo-smashing show follows best friends Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) as they navigate school, relationships and sex alongside a host of bright and bold personalities.
But as viewers savour (or binge) the final batch of episodes that have arrived on streaming, we’re taking a look behind-the-scenes at everything that made the show what it is…
1. The town of Moordale is completely fictional
Connor Swindells and Asa Butterfield as seen in the first episode of Sex Education
Moordale is easily one of the most picturesque UK towns ever depicted on TV, but viewers might be disappointed to hear that it doesn’t actually exist.
However, the filming location is, indeed real, and the show was mostly shot in various locations across Wales. Fans can even visit the beautiful hillside house that Otis and Jean Milburn live in, which is a B&B called The Chalet, located in Herefordshire.
The red-bricked Moordale High School, meanwhile, was filmed at Caerleon campus in South Wales, while season four’s Cavendish Sixth Form College was shot at St Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff.
2. Sex Education shares a shooting location with Harry Potter
Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa as seen during Otis and Eric's ill-fated night of camping
Otis and Eric’s disastrous camping trip from season two was shot in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.
This historic region which has also been used as a shooting location for the seventh Harry Potter movie, as well as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Doctor Who.
3. The time period Sex Education is set in is meant to be ambiguous
Asa Butterfield and Emma Mackey as Otis and Maeve
As soon as Sex Education arrived on TV screens, viewers were quick to spot the visually striking fashion and sets, which clearly borrow elements from American high school culture – like varsity jackets and bright yellow lockers.
But this was a very intentional decision by writers, with Gillian Anderson, AKA sex therapist Jean Milburn, telling Radio Times: “There is a bit of both worlds, decidedly, in the series, and the aim and the hope is that Americans won’t notice.”
Writer Laurie Dunn added that while it’s “definitely set in Britain”, they made a “very conscious choice to have that American, throw-back nostalgia” feel to it, akin to classic high school flicks by John Hughes like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
4. Some scenes even pay deliberate homage to classic high school movies
The young female cast of Sex Education in season two
There’s a moment in season two that might look a little familiar to fans of ’80s movies. The scene in which the Moordale girls have detention and gather in the library after Aimee’s sexual assault, actually calls back to the classic plot of The Breakfast Club.
Just like the 1985 classic, Maeve, Aimee, Lily, Viv, Ola and Olivia are forced to bond despite all being from different social groups.
5. It’s always non-uniform day in Moordale
The final season of Sex Education introduced some intriguing new characters into the mix
Another American-ism in Sex Education is the fact that all the characters wear their own clothes rather than a school uniform. Not only that, but the brightly-hued attire has a distinctly ’80s feel to it.
Costume designer Daniella Pearman, who worked on the fourth season, said that the splash of eclectic prints and loud colours allows the characters to visually express their “individuality”.
“I do feel like people watching it can feel like: We can be anyone we want to be, we can dress how we want, we don’t all have to own the same snazzy phone or the same designer wardrobe, because everyone can be in their own little world like Moordale,” she shared withThe Independent.
6. Gillian Anderson and Emma Mackey both almost turned down Sex Education
Gillian Anderson plays Jean in all four seasons of Sex Education
Despite being two of the biggest stars in the show, Gillian Anderson and Emma Mackey weren’t so sure about taking on the project in the early days.
“I wasn’t sure if I was even going to do it. I’d never done [a TV series] before, so it was quite a momentous thing to take on,” Emma, who plays Otis’ love interest, confessed in an interview with Elle. “Luckily, it’s been handled really beautifully and has been edited and cast really well. It sets the bar very high. Other jobs now, I’m kind of like, ‘Why isn’t this like Sex Ed?’”
Gillian’s first reaction to the show, meanwhile, was a little stronger.
“When I first read it, I had not really responded to it. I kind of put it in the bin and my partner suggested that I take it out of the bin and look at it a bit more seriously,” she revealed on The One Show. “Actually when I did I found it incredibly hilarious.”
7. The cast replicated animal mating rituals as an unorthodox icebreaker exercise
Asa and Emma in the first episode of Sex Education
It’s no secret that there is a lot of sex in Sex Education (in fact, it’s right there in the title), and the cast have long praised the importance of intimacy coordinators on their raunchy show.
As it turns out, they were given a little help when it came to breaking the ice, with the cast revealing they had an interesting workshop exercise.
“We had to watch videos depicting different animals’ mating rituals,” shared Ncuti Gatwa in a cast interview with Netflix, with the subjects ranging from slugs to lions to bonobos.
“We then spent the afternoon replicating the aforementioned mating rhythms,” added Emma Mackey.
8. Aimee Lou Wood almost played an entirely different Sex Education character
Bafta winner Aimee Lou Wood is among Sex Education's biggest break-out stars
Aimee Lou Wood is a natural in her role as the sweetly optimistic and sensitive best friend of Maeve, Aimee Gibbs. But she almost played a very different role in Sex Education – the space-bun wearing, alien obsessed Lily Iglehart.
“From my agent, I got through this audition that was for Lily. All I saw were Lily’s [lines], so I didn’t see the rest of the script,” she shared withCollider. “I only saw Lily’s stuff and I thought she was hilarious and the show seemed amazing.
“And then my friend, because of her job at the time, she read the scripts and she said to me, ’Why aren’t you going in for Aimee? I feel like there’s a character in it called Aimee and she is your part.”
9. The cast sometimes improvised their lines on set
Eric and Otis' friendship is an important storyline throughout Sex Education's four seasons
Though the show is filled with exquisitely executed one-liners, it turns out that the cast aren’t strangers to a bit of improv.
“There’s a lot of unscripted moments,” Asa Butterfield shared in an interview with BuzzFeed. “Whether it’s song and dance, or just noises or jumping under the table, or Ncuti jumping on my back. Ben [Taylor], the director, bless him, because he loves it. He just has us turn it up to the max and give him what we got.”
10. In fact, one of Ncuti Gatwa’s most iconic lines was partly improvised
Who could forget Ncuti’s immortal delivery of, “wash your hands, you detty pig”?
In fact, the director was insistent on working this line into the scene after hearing the future Doctor Who actor call co-star Asa a dirty pig behind the scenes.
11. Ncuti worked hard to protect Eric’s individuality
Eric continues to explore his queerness further as Sex Education unfolds
The Rwandan-Scottish actor has spoken about how he worked hard to protect Eric’s spark on Sex Education, particularly when it came to pressures to cater for a white audience. “There were producers coming up to me like, ‘This ad-lib, I don’t feel like white people will understand it,’” he told British Vogue. “And I was like, ’It’s not for white people to understand.
“There are many white people in this show for white people to understand, but I want this other group of people to understand Eric. And that’s what you want too.’ And they got that. We were all constantly learning on that job.”
He has also spoken candidly about why working on Sex Education wasn’t always a “joyous” experience, sharing that being on the show “fast-tracked me into the downsides of this industry”.
12. There’s one key reason Asa Butterfield found it easy to slip into character
Gillian Anderson with Asa Butterfield in Sex Education
If Asa Butterfield ever needed to draw from some real-world experience for his on-screen relationship with sex therapist Jean Milburn, it turns out his mum actually is also a psychologist.
He recalled a cringe-inducing scene where he’s subjected to “the talk” from his sex positive TV mother, revealing that it reminded him of his experience as a teenager.
“I could hear by the tone of her voice what the conversation was going to be about, and I was like, ‘Mum, I’m not having this, I’m sorry but I’m not’, and I walked out,” he told The Telegraph. “You’d almost rather have that talk with anyone else, even a complete stranger, than your own parents.”
13. An important moment in season two was inspired by a real-life incident
The cast of Sex Education in the show's second season
One of the show’s most powerful storylines is in season two when Aimee is sexually assaulted on the bus. The incident marked a key-change in Sex Education’s tone and sparked an important conversation among the show’s characters.
According to writer Laurie Dunn that “came from something personal that happened to me in my late-20s, but had taken a toll on my mental health”, as she told The Guardian.
“Basically, a similar thing happened to me on my local bus, and it made me feel very unsafe in my environment,” she added, explaining that she was writing season two with the #MeToo movement in mind.
“And then thinking about other things that had happened in my life, and that one thing on the bus – why did that affect me so much, compared with other things?”
14. The crew got super creative when it came to… bodily fluids
Asa Butterfield in character as Otis
How could anyone forget the excruciating opening scene in season two where Otis – who literally can’t stop masturbating – goes at it in the car, only to finish all over the window right as his mum returns. To get the realistic shot they used a blast of coconut shampoo.
Then there’s Otis’ vomit off the side of his bike when he’s hungover, which was apparently a mixture of Innocent Smoothie and Weetabix.
15. The show’s cast have gone on to land major roles
Emma Mackey and Ncuti Gatwa at the Barbie premiere
While cast members like Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson already had a great deal of acting experience prior to Sex Education, it’s the show’s breakout stars that have gone on to land some of the roles of a lifetime.
And Ncuti wasn’t even the only Sex Education to appear in the mega blockbuster, as Emma Mackey starred alongside Margot Robbie as physicist Barbie, while Connor Swindells plays a Mattel intern.
All four seasons of Sex Education are available to stream now.
This article has been updated to correct a photo captioning error.