ITV’s head of Drama Polly Hill has commissioned Fash, a drama series about footballer brothers Justin and John Fashanu, from playwright, writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah (Elmina’s Kitchen, Breaking) for airing on ITV1 and ITVX.

John Fashanu is closely involved in the drama, serving as consultant on the series alongside Peter Tatchell and a number of other contributors. The series will be produced by Happy Prince (part of ITV Studios). ITV’s head of Drama, Polly Hill, will oversee the commission of Fash on behalf of the channel. Fash will premiere on ITV1 and will be available as a boxset on ITVX once the first episode has aired.

In 1981, at 20 years old, Justin Fashanu signs to Nottingham Forest, becoming the first black British footballer to be sold for £1 million, becoming one of the most celebrated men in British sport. In 1990, he is the first professional footballer to publicly come out as gay. In 1998, with his football career in tatters and ostracised by his family, Justin commits suicide.

In 1981, Justin’s younger brother John signs to Norwich City, the same club at which his brother made his name. Over the next few years, as his younger brother’s star fades and life becomes mired by pitch-side rumour and front-page tabloid exposés, John supersedes Justin as the famous Fashanu. In 1998, when Justin dies, the two are wholly estranged.

Fash is the unvarnished story of two young men each trapped in their own damaging and dangerous notions of masculinity that traverses back and forth across their eventful lives, from a childhood spent in Dr Barnado’s care homes in the care of a white foster family, when they had nobody to rely on but each other amid an overwhelmingly white community which always saw them as “other”, to their tragic and irreconcilable estrangement that played out across the national media.

In the series Kwei-Armah exposes the toxic prejudices that ran to the heart of Britain at the time – both socially and institutionally – which catalysed the breakdown of these two brothers’ relationship, from the entrenched racism and homophobia ingrained in sport, and in football in particular, to the dangerously intrusive and relentless tabloid media which stoked such hate.

John Fashanu says:“I’m so pleased to be working with Kwame and Happy Prince on this project. Much has been said and written about the relationship Justin and I shared over the years, but drama of this type has an ability to delve right to the beating heart and truth of events in a way other media can’t. I feel privileged to play a part in bringing it to the screen.”

Kwame Kwei-Armah says: “I grew up watching the Fashanu brothers. I was fascinated by them. Inspired by them. As an adult, my heart breaks for them. ‘The past is a foreign land’, the saying goes, ‘they do things differently there’. In Fash, I wanted to dive into that past, particularly one that has so many resonances with today.”

Peter Tatchell adds: “This is a powerful, moving life story that needs to be told. I am very honoured to act as a consultant to the production team, based on my friendship with Justin Fashanu in the 1980s.”

Commented Polly Hill: “Kwame’s scripts are brilliant and tell a story that is heart-breaking and sadly still relevant today. It is always a huge responsibility telling a true story, and Kwame and the team at Happy Prince tell Justin and John’s story with all the truth, passion and sensitivity it deserves. I’m delighted it’s found a home on ITV.”

Alexander Lamb, executive producer at Happy Prince, adds: “Fash is a truly important story that myself, Dominic and the Happy Prince team are desperate to tell; and its significance and timeliness rings even truer as football and sexuality currently dominate the news. It’s an honour to work with the brilliant Kwame Kwei-Armah as he brings Justin and John’s incredibly tough, beautifully moving, and often heart-breaking tragedy alive.”

The executive producers are Dominic Treadwell-Collins (A Very English Scandal, Holding, EastEnders) and Alexander Lamb (We Hunt Together, The Bay, Ackley Bridge). The series is produced by Happy Prince. International distribution for Happy Prince is handled by ITV Studios.

Pippa Considine

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