The story of the life of Charmian Brent, ex-wife of Ronald Biggs, is to be told in a five part ITV drama produced by ITV Studios.
Written by award-winning writer and Executive Producer Jeff Pope (The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, See No Evil: The Moors Murders, Appropriate Adult as executive producer), ‘Mrs Biggs’, will chronicle Charmian’s life from the fateful moment that, as a teenager on a train, she first met and fell in love with the flirtatious and worldly Biggs.
It will recount the story of their struggle to stay together in the face of fierce opposition from Charmian’s family – aghast at Biggs’ criminal record – and their idyllic life as the parents of young children before money worries forced Biggs to ask for a loan from an old friend to pay the deposit on a house they wanted to buy for their growing family. That friend was Bruce Reynolds, at that moment planning the most famous crimes in British history – the Great Train Robbery of August 1963.
The consequences of the robbery were to devastate Charmian’s life. Blissfully ignorant of what her husband was up to – he told her he was on a tree felling job in Wiltshire whilst away on the robbery – she nonetheless went on the run with her husband and children after he’d dramatically skipped over the wall of Wandsworth prison. Shunned by her parents and desperate to keep her own family together, she secretly emigrated with her sons to Australia on false passports. Biggs had already quietly slipped out there and she now managed to help her husband, one of the world’s most wanted men, to avoid capture for more than four years.
But she was never to find any real peace and when – at her insistence – Biggs skipped the country for Rio, only hours before Melbourne Police discovered where they were living, Charmian and her three boys were on their own, facing an uncertain future in a foreign country.
Tragedy was to follow with the death in a car accident of her eldest son Nicky and she threw herself into building a life for her other two sons, studying for a degree and taking on a job as she pleaded to be allowed to stay in Australia. Then, when Biggs was discovered by Scotland Yard living under an assumed name in Rio, she flew out for an emotional reunion. Biggs broke the news to her that that he had a chance of evading extradition as the father of an unborn child by a local night club dancer, Raimunda Nascimento De Castro – and then asked her for a divorce. He told his loyal wife that it would give him a better chance of persuading the Brazilian authorities that he intended to bring up his baby with Raimunda – and therefore be allowed to stay. Although utterly heartbroken, Charmian agreed.
Set on location in London, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Paris, Adelaide, Melbourne and Rio de Janeiro, ‘Mrs Biggs’ is a co-production with Melbourne based December Media for Seven Network in Australia.
Charmian, who was allowed to remain in Australia, has acted as consultant to the production. She said: “If my story were to be dramatized I wanted it to be done as accurately as possible. It seemed to me this was an opportunity to convey the rollercoaster of emotions involved, rather than just the bare facts.’
Jeff Pope has been developing the drama for four years.
He said: “Charmian’s is one of the great untold stories of the 20th Century, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest crimes of all times. But at the heart of it is a simple love story between Charmian and Ron.”
Jeff also commented on the fact the drama will be a co-production:
“The story is, on one level, about a young family coming to Australia in the 60s, when it was a land of opportunity and discovery. We always knew we were going to need an Australian partner and Seven Network were committed and supportive right from the word go. We are looking forward to working with Seven on this great adventure.”
‘Mrs Biggs’ will be produced by Kwadjo Dajan (Appropriate Adult as co- producer) and directed by Paul Whittington (Vera, DCI Banks).
‘Mrs Biggs’ has been commissioned for ITV by Director of Drama Commissioning, Laura Mackie and Controller of Drama Commissioning Sally Haynes.
“‘Mrs Biggs’ is the heartbreaking story of Charmian’s enduring love for Ron Biggs. It’s a very moving and emotional narrative, which Jeff has written beautifully,” said Laura. “We are delighted to have commissioned five episodes from ITV Studios.”
Filming will begin in Manchester in February 2012 before moving to Australia, and will continue for eleven weeks. Casting details will be made known prior to commencement of production.