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Talking to Tony Schumacher

A former policeman lost everything and was forced to sleep rough in his car. The only reason he didn’t take his own life was that he couldn’t bear the thought of his dog, Boo, being put into kennels or worse. He was about as low as a man could be. That man was Tony Schumacher, the writer of the BBC hit TV series, The Responder.

As a boy, Tony would dream of being a writer, but school wasn’t for him. “When the teacher talked, it was like the sound of the teacher in Charlie Brown, totally muffled. Nothing made sense.” Tony said. “People laugh at me when I say I was thick, but I really was.” An unclassified in English compounded his belief, although he did get a GCSE in metal work and a CSE in geography.
“My mum and dad desperately wanted me to go back and resit my exams and eventually, I agreed that if I didn’t get a job before school started in September, I would. I did. Well, I did for two days. I was there Monday and Tuesday and on Tuesday night, my mate called to say that there was a roofing job going, so I took it.”

Tony was a dreadful roofer and ended up just doing general labouring jobs. His boss, Dave, must have seen something no one else did and set Tony a daily challenge. He would ask him a question on a topic of the day and one that required him to research the answer. Tony would have to ask his mum, listen to the news or buy a newspaper to give Dave the answer the following day. If he failed, he would be punched in the arm – something that simply wouldn’t be accepted today. For some reason, it motivated Tony and made him take an interest in the world around him.

Various jobs ensued, and Tony drifted in and out of one after the other. He signed up to work on the cruise ships through a girlfriend at the time, often away for months at a time. On his return, he would look for a temporary job before returning for the next cruise. On one such home visit, after a trip to the Med, he was browsing The Echo one Thursday night and applied for a couple of jobs. One for an underground drainage company which he took and hated, and one for the police that gave him an escape from the first!

“I can remember the first day of police training, there was about thirty of us in the room and we were all asked to say why we had joined the police. The lads were all saying that they had always wanted to be a copper, ever since being a kid. I was thinking about what I was going to say because I had never thought about it before! It came to my turn, and I just said I wanted to be a policeman so I could pay the mortgage. Everyone laughed and I got the job. The best of it is, that the lowly metalwork GCSE and geography CSE was enough to get me in as two ‘O’ levels were the minimum qualification.”

At first, Tony loved his job. It was funny, dark, fast-moving and exciting, everything he hoped it would be. But as time went on, it got heavy. The constant deaths -and the sights he would witness day in, and day out got too much, and he thought he was having a breakdown. In hindsight, he was more likely suffering from PTSD.

He subsequently lost his job, marriage and home and ended up sleeping in his car. He was at rock bottom and had nothing left to lose, so after a friend helped him sort a place to live, he wrote a TV script, something he knew nothing about.
“I looked up scriptwriting on YouTube and went from there,” Tony said. “I picture a film in my head and then transfer it to paper. I don’t know if it is right or wrong, but I put every bit of detail down I can. Today, I am writing a scene that involves an Everton FC mug. The mug has a chip in it. It isn’t a white chip, not even a grey chip. This chip is brown because of the amount of tea it has had in it. That is the amount of detail I go into when I am writing.”

The Responder is a gripping police drama about Chris Carson, a serving police officer on the edge played by Martin Freeman. Morally compromised, Chris tries to keep it together when all aspects of his life are falling apart. The relentless pressures of the job turned him into a sleep-deprived victim of his daily routine.

I asked Tony if Chris was loosely based on himself. “Loosely. The mental aspect of Chris was definitely me. I was so busy trying to help every one else, I neglected myself and my family. I wasn’t corrupt though. I got that storyline from reading a newspaper a few years after leaving the force. Bang in the middle of the front page was a photo of a bobby I served with that was up on a drug charge. It got me thinking.”

The complexity of Chris’ character came across so well on screen. As a viewer, you are invested in his turmoil. It is so well written and so powerfully acted.

Tony is also an accomplished author. His first three novels have been published by HarperCollins in the USA and are available on Amazon.


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