Woman behind the icon
Tina & Bobby director John McKay tells why it’s more important to make an interesting real-life drama than a completely accurate one.
Known for his work on popular policing series Life on Mars and Jean Shrimpton and David Bailey biopic We’ll Take Manhattan, Scottish writerdirector John McKay dives back into the 1960s and 70s with his most ambitious tale yet.
Tina & Bobby is the three-part story of Tina Dean and how her marriage to a talented footballer called Bobby Moore transformed her from suburban housewife into the face of Bisto and the country’s first WAG. I was born in 1964. I grew up with names like Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best. They were as heroic and mythical to me as Captain Scarlet, the
Thunderbirds and James Bond. They existed in the same category – they were all on bubblegum cards and TV.
I’ve never been a football guy though, so in some ways, I was exactly the wrong director to make this show. But the thing is, what I recognised in the script, was that it was about the marriage of the icon – the woman behind the man – and their lower/ upper middle class aspirations which exactly mirrored my parents own. They began in rented accommodation and were super proud to own their first home, even if they didn’t have carpet. They were people who knew that life was good because they got a slightly bigger car every two years, or because their toaster was made of shiny metal, or because next year they were going to get a Kenwood Chef. Life was good and would eternally progress as long as their material gains reflected stability and progress.
What I said to the producers was, ‘‘I’m not a football guy. But I know what the drapes were, I know what Tupperware she has in the cupboard, I know what frock she wears’’.
The weird thing is I have an older brother who is all football. As I began to look at the football of the 1960s, I realised I knew it all anyway because when I had been sitting on the carpet playing with my Lego waiting for Doctor Who to come on, my brother was watching Match of the Day. No. I guess it had almost entirely passed me by. I must have seen pictures of Tina and Bobby in same way I’d seen them of John and Yoko. What’s really interesting about their relationship was, when you delve back into the history, you realise how important she was in his life and success.
He had cancer in the mid-’60s, just before becoming the World Cup winning captain of England. She must have been very supportive and protective of him in retaining that secret. He couldn’t talk about it because of social attitudes of the time and also reputationally. She must have been about the only person he could ever talk to.
By contrast, footballers are notorious shaggers, just like any other slightly overpaid star sportsman. So, in a way, the surprising thing was not that their marriage should ultimately founder, but how long it lasted. They were married for a good 20 years before they could bear to admit it wasn’t working. I think that’s another interesting part of the story. If your life and marriage coincides with rather astonishing success, given that we live, grow and change, what are you and your marriage when that success runs out? Yeah, I think you have to be responsible to either the explicit wishes of living people or implied feelings and wishes of people who aren’t around anymore, but who may have living relatives. However, the important thing is not to make boring drama because you’re worried about offending someone. Often, when something is truthfully dramatic, they will come to you and go ‘‘what a really great movie’’, because they would rather be in something really compelling, than boring.
For instance, I was very worried for a long time when I made We’ll Take Manhattan about how Jean (Shrimpton) would feel about it because she’s very reclusive. She’d given me permission to make the story, but had been too shy to really have an input during the process. I sent her a copy before it was broadcast as a courtesy and then I got a surprise phone call. ‘‘I can’t believe you made this drama – how did you know all those things? It’s as if you were there.’’
I guess the process of memory is odd. I think we all kind of guild and edit our memory in retrospect – we’re all busy making the movie of our lives. So to have a movie or TV shows made about you – unless it’s so offensive that you have to reach for your lawyer’s phone number – can often be very confirming, supportive. This was based on a memoir by Tina and she’s delighted with the result, I think. Because her principal agenda is that she believes Bobby has been under-served by the UK, particularly the Football Association. She likes the show because it shows what he went through, what he suffered for the sake of football. Yes, it seems an unlikely piece of casting for the most English person there is. Many actors who auditioned played football, which they often impressed on me by bringing one with them. Lorne was a rugby player. I encouraged him to do the same exercise regime as Bobby – which was very simple early 60s PT (physical training) – jogging and push-ups. Within three to four weeks, he looked like Bobby Moore – v-shaped broad shoulders, flat chest, narrow waist. He really inhabited at. And he was really good at Bobby’s slightly shy, mach inarticulacy. She is someone I knew from making the first series of Ordinary Lies. She’d come from six years on Coronation Street and I just found working with her that she was a real star, a force of nature. She’s very modest too though and sometimes doubts her ability to act things apart from ‘‘naughty Mancunian girl’’.
I had to convince her she could do this. She was going to come for a meeting and then bottled at the last minute. I had to really persuade her, drag her to meet me. I think she was afraid of the accent (Essex) and the age-range involved.
I think she does terrifically well – she’s the centre of the show. Because really, although it has football in it, it’s really a ‘‘woman’s show’’. Since it has been written pretty much for Gerry (Gerald) Butler, we’re just waiting for him to get done with things that are Fallen
( Olympus, London). The director involved is Vadim Jean, who is a classic English director, and he keeps me informed when there are windows in Gerry’s busy diary.
The movie remains there to be made and there is a big will in Scotland to make it. It’s the kind of thing the SNP (Scottish National Party) Government would love to see happen. Last we heard was that they were willing to close Edinburgh for it.
Tina & Bobby debuts 8.30pm, tonight, Rialto.
Tina & Bobby is the story of a famous footballer and the woman behind his success.
Tina & Bobby looks at what happens to a marriage when it is defined by one of the partner’s amazing success.