Undercovers Press Release

Press Release: 7th March 2014

The Age of Stupid team joins forces with Simon Beaufoy and Tony Garnett for true-life undercover cops TV drama

Spanner Films announces UNDERCOVERS, a four-part television drama series based on the incredible true story of the police spies who infiltrated British activist groups over the last 50 years and the women who had long-term relationships and even children with the spies.

The Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday announced that there will be a full Judge-led Public Inquiry into these undercover police, who also spied on Stephen Lawrence’s family.

The UNDERCOVERS writing team is Slumdog Millionaire and Full Monty’s Simon Beaufoy, who recently scored another smash hit with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, together with Age of Stupid and McLibel writer/director Franny Armstrong, and former Chumbawamba singer/lyricist Alice Nutter, screenwriter of My Generation and The Accused, who was herself an activist for two decades and knew some of the police spies as friends. Director & cast TBC.

Beaufoy says “This true story of love, politics and betrayal has more drama, suspense and moral complexity than anything we writers can ever dream up. I think it has the potential to be a smash hit in the UK and abroad”.

One of the true-life stories is that of activist Helen Steel who was planning a future with her partner of two years, “John Barker”, convinced he was the love of her life. After he disappeared suddenly, not knowing whether he was alive or dead, she spent 18 years searching as far afield as South Africa and New Zealand. Eventually she discovered he was in fact married police officer John Dines, who had taken the name John Barker from a child who had died of leukaemia aged eight, without the parents knowing anything about their dead child’s identity being used by the police.

Helen went on to become one of the two defendants in the infamous McDonald’s libel trial in the ‘90s – the longest-running court case in English history. UNDERCOVERS creator Franny Armstrong followed Helen’s story for almost 10 years in her multi-award-winning documentary “McLibel”, seen by 26 million viewers. Helen is part of the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, ”COPS” (campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.wordpress.com) as well as one of eight women taking legal action against the police (policespiesoutoflives.org.uk).

Franny Armstrong and producer Lizzie Gillett pioneered the now-ubiquitous crowd-funding finance model back in 2004, raising £900,000 for their climate change film The Age of Stupid, which reached No 1 at the UK box office, won a Guinness World Record for the biggest-ever premiere, caused the UK government to change its policy on coal power stations and led to the formation of the 10:10 campaign (1010uk.org) in 42 countries. Franny was named one of the World’s Top 100 women by the Guardian and one of London’s 1000 most influential people by The Evening Standard.

Franny and Lizzie have developed a new crowdfunding model for UNDERCOVERS. The first financing round (£150K) is fully subscribed and the next (£3 million) launches in April 2014.

Franny says “There are very few stories compelling enough to dedicate five years of my life to, but the deeper I get into the world of Undercovers, the more committed I become to making a heart-stopping drama which touches and angers millions of people all round the world.”

Legendary producer Tony Garnett (Cathy Come Home, Kes), has come out of retirement to act as Executive Producer:  "The arbitrary power of the police seems free of all constraint. They casually ruin the lives of idealistic protesters - mere collateral damage; they routinely lie under oath in court; they trample on ancient, hard won liberties. Maybe when we see their actions brought to life on screen we will collectively be galvanised to assert our rights over them." 

John Battsek from Passion Pictures, who has produced two Oscar-winning films (Searching for Sugarman, One Day in September) joins the team as Executive Producer:  “TV shows like Breaking Bad, Borgen and House of Cards are combining impeccable writing, fabulous casting and innovative finance and distribution models to herald a new golden age of TV drama. Undercovers dreams of joining this list and has an ace up its sleeve – our story is true. ”

Four further seasons – each focussing on a spy-activist couple from a different activist group in a different decade - are planned if season one is a success.

Lizzie Gillett, Producer


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