Neil Baldwin from Staffordshire likes to think of himself as an ordinary man. But his life has been anything but. Over the years he’s become a friend to politicians, sports stars and even royalty and now his life has become the subject of a new feature film. Bob Hockenhull’s been to meet him.
BBC Two announces Marvellous – new drama starring Toby Jones
It struck me if there was going to be a drama about Neil then it had to reflect his fluid and eccentric story. It is, therefore, part biopic, part musical, part fantasy. It isn’t always an easy story.”Peter Bowker, Writer
BBC Two has today announced new drama Marvellous, a Fifty Fathoms and Tiger Aspect co-production.
(Actor Toby Jones, who portrayed Alfred Hitchcock in The Girl, plays the part of Neil Baldwin)
The 1×90-minute film tells the story of Neil Baldwin, who award-winning writer Peter Bowker learned of in a 2010 article in The Guardian and immediately felt he had to meet:
“Neil Baldwin walked into the students’ union in 1960, an engaging schoolboy with learning difficulties from the local town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and became a fixture.”
The film tells the beautiful, funny, true story of Neil Baldwin, a man who confounds our expectations: he has been a circus clown; a lay preacher; kit man at Stoke City (Lou Macari has often described him as his best-ever signing, and they became firm friends), once famously leading the City attack against Aston Villa in a testimonial match; he is on first name terms with leading sportsmen and senior clergy; and most recently, he was awarded an Honorary Degree by Keele University for the contributions he has made to campus life there across the last 50 years. In a world in which we seem intent on labelling each other, Neil has consistently defied any definition at all.
Bowker says: “I have long been interested in how we use labels to limit the people we are describing – even, at worse, to dehumanise them. But Neil – despite being labelled and to some extent written off as a young man – struck me as a man who defied those who wished to define him.
“It struck me if there was going to be a drama about Neil then it had to reflect his fluid and eccentric story. It is, therefore, part biopic, part musical, part fantasy. It isn’t always an easy story. It isn’t sugar coated, but I think it is ultimately optimistic and celebratory. And I think that’s important in this era where vilifying and writing off others has become something of a national pastime.”
Toby Jones says: “I am really intrigued and eager to explore Peter Bowker’s innovative and uplifting script.”
Lucy Richer, Commissioning Editor for BBC Drama, says: “The combination of Neil’s inspirational and incredible life story combined with Peter’s passion and wonderful writing will ensure Marvellous is unmissable viewing for BBC Two”.
Written by Peter Bowker (Occupation, Eric And Ernie), Marvellous is being directed by Julian Farino (21 Up, Flesh And Blood, Entourage) and produced by Katie Swinden (Peaky Blinders, Luther).
The executive producers are Patrick Spence (Fortitude, Five Minutes Of Heaven) and Bowker for Fifty Fathoms/Tiger Aspect, and Lucy Richer for the BBC. It was commissioned by Janice Hadlow, then Controller BBC Two and Ben Stephenson, Controller BBC Drama Commissioning.
Marvellous is Julian Farino’s first drama since returning from his hugely successful career in the US, where he worked as lead director and executive producer on the smash HBO hit Entourage. He and Bowker last collaborated on the award-winning BBC Two single drama Flesh And Blood.