Ghosts’ Simon Farnaby talks the true story of The Phantom Of The Open

The golf world has many famous names, but now a new Hollywood film will tell the story of Maurice Flitcroft – a man who became an unlikely hero after scoring the worst round of golf in British Open history.

The unbelievable true story of shipyard worker Maurice is now told in The Phantom Of The Open, and stars an A-list cast including Academy Award winner Mark Rylance and actress Sally Hawkins.

Simon Farnaby, star of BBC series Ghosts and writer of films including Paddington and The Phantom Of The Open, spoke to Daily Star about the remarkable true story behind the film, reuniting with Paddington star Sally Hawkins and nights out with Maurice Flitcroft's disco dancing sons.

The Phantom Of The Open opens in cinemas on March 18, 2022 and tells the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a crane worker from Barrow-in-Furness, who despite never having played a round of golf in his life, decided to enter the British Golf Open in 1976 as a professional.

He soon made headlines across the world after he scored the worst round of golf at the event, and was dubbed "The Phantom Of The Open" by the press.

Maurice was later barred from ever joining a golf club, but undeterred, decided to re-enter again under a different identity – and inspired a whole generation of golfers in the process.

Writer Simon Farnaby revealed that despite being a well known actor in BBC series such as Ghosts and Horrible Histories, as well as being the writer of films such as Paddington, he actually wanted to be a professional golfer himself.

It was on the golfing green he first learnt of Maurice Flitcroft, saying: "I was brought up around golf, because my dad was a greenkeeper at a golf club in the North East. There was talk amongst the juniors of Maurice Flitcroft.

"Then I sort of forgot about him for a while and I actually wanted to be a professional golfer myself until I was about 16. I was good – I could have turned pro – but I wasn't good enough to be on the TV in the US Masters or whatever, so I stopped.

"Then it came to 2007 and I read his obituary and I went, oh that guy has died! I remember him! The more I read about him, the more inspired I got to make something of it."

Inspired, Simon and his friend Scott Murray set off on an adventure that would see them uncovering the real life story of Maurice Flitcroft, kickstarting a 14-year journey to get the film to the big screen.

Their first port of call was Maurice's home town of Barrow-in-Furness, where Simon and Scott were lucky enough to learn more about Maurice from his family and friends.

Simon said: "Scott and I, who wrote the book, went up to Barrow and had an unforgettable week with Gene and James [Flitcroft], who are Maurice's twin sons who are in the film."

The writer has fond memories of his time in Barrow with the real life Gene and James Flitcroft, who are played by actors Jonah and Christian Lees in the film, saying: "We went out in Barrow and went to lots of pubs. It was outrageous and they were real sort of characters.

"Everywhere they went they were doing their dance moves as well."

The twins had been inspired to follow their dream of disco dancing after Maurice encouraged them to embark on their dream career path, with Simon adding: "Maurice had this philosophy – do whatever you want to – and that is what he said to the kids. The kids loved dancing and they became world disco dancing champions. They were a success story to Maurice's philosophy."

Amongst the memorable nights out, Simon also discovered the warmth and love that the people of Barrow-In-Furness still held for Maurice – and stories of the budding golfer's acts of kindness.

"Everyone had so much affection for Maurice", he added.

"We met a childhood friend of theirs [Gene and James] who Maurice had taken under his wing.

"He gave us a lot of information about how Maurice was serious about what he was doing – it wasn't a joke to him. He genuinely thought he was good enough to compete at top level."

He added: "Throughout his life he fought against what he saw as the bullies. He didn't like bullies. He stood up to them. He was ahead of his time in many ways."

"He didn't take the hand that he was dealt – he was like, 'I want to be somebody and I want to do something'," said Simon.

"He tried and he failed in some respects, but he succeeded in others. I'm really glad you find it inspiring and I think people are finding it very uplifting, which is great."

However, despite the extensive research and work that went into developing the film, it was a long process to get it to the big screen, and the duo initially found it difficult to gain traction for the film to be produced.

Despite this, they continued to publicise Maurice's story in the 2010 biography, The Phantom Of The Open, before the film was finally given the green light over a decade later.

Speaking about the journey to get the film to audiences across the world, Simon credited producer Tom Miller for never failing to give up on the project.

He said: "In a way, it was its own Flitcroftian enterprise.

"I thought, no one is going to be interested in this – it's very niche. It's not even really about golf, but people will think it is about golf. Even then, it's such a strange little story. He [Tom] said, 'no this will resonate', and I'm glad he persuaded me to carry on.

"At the premiere at the London Festival Hall, we had 2,000 people there and they got it, they really got it.

"It's not an out and out comedy – it's a true story. To find that people understood it and laughed at the funny bits and were sad by some of the emotional bits was very satisfying."

The Phantom Of The Open finally opens on March 18, 2022 and has been directed by Craig Roberts, who was not only determined to make it a film set in the seventies, but to make it as authentic as possible by shooting it all on film.

Along with a phenomenal soundtrack, the film also stars an A-list cast including Academy Award winner Mark Rylance as Maurice Flitcroft, along with Simon's fellow Paddington star Sally Hawkins as Maurice's wife Jean.

"Mark – we were so lucky to get him – and Sally Hawkins as well, who I'd worked with before on Paddington," said Simon.

"Having them agree to do it was phenomenal, and seeing them together was just magical. That's the heart of the story – it's them two. Jean and Maurice were completely together on everything.

"They were together for over 40 years. They went through a lot together and are really the heart of the film."

Although The Phantom Of The Open focuses on Maurice's attempt to play golf professionally, the core of the film centres around Maurice's relationship with his family – and is a story, written with love, that is sure to resonate with audiences.

Along with inspiring not only his sons to achieve their dreams, the uplifting film also inspires viewers to dream big – making it one of the year's must see pictures.

Conveying the emotion in the story was something that Simon felt was important, and compared his constant rewrites of the script to his experience of working on blockbuster Paddington 2, adding: "We had it in Paddington 2 at the end when Aunt Lucy comes and we did quite a lot of screenings where we wanted people to be really emotional. We felt it should be that.

"Then we did little rewrites, until there was one screening where two girls in front of us just burst out crying. We went – we've got it!"

Throughout the emotion there is also a number of laugh out loud moments, particularly on the golf course, when Maurice comes face to face with disgruntled golf administrator Keith Mackenzie of the Royal & Ancient, the organisers of the Open, played by Notting Hill star Rhys Ifans.

The cast also includes newcomers Jonah and Christian Lees, who light up the screen as Maurice's disco dancing twins Gene and James.

However, showcasing some impressive moves throughout the film, Christian and Jonah Lees did not think they themselves were good dancers at all.

"The twins were amazing. Christian and Jonah, who are real twins, worked hard on their dance moves.

"I'm pleased that you think they do great dance moves, as they said themselves 'we're not very good at dancing are we?'. I said, 'you look great!'"

Simon also revealed another behind the scenes secret – that Mark had not played golf before.

He said: "I got him a lesson with the pro [golfer] at my club. He has a real hippy approach to golf – he talks about gravity and being at one with the golf ball. I knew Mark would like him, and he did, he said 'he's great. I love that guy.'"

Despite being the writer of the film, Simon couldn't resist making a cameo either, living out his professional golf dream on the big screen – and landing a very memorable hole in one in the process.

"I played a character who was there with Maurice when he shot his 121," said Simon.

"The guy before me is a professional golfer and he couldn't hit the ball as well as he usually could, because he was using these old golf clubs. They have wooden heads on. They're really hard to hit for a modern golfer. He had about a dozen goes and finally hit quite a good shot.

"Then it was my go to hit my shot, and in the first take, I blasted it 200 yards straight down the middle of the fairway – but I was using my clubs that I used when I was a junior – so I knew how to use that club. That was my proudest moment I had on screen. All the extras there burst into spontaneous round of applause."


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