The BBC has ordered new feature length drama Men Up, made by Quay Street Productions and Boom, for BBC One and BBC iPlayer in a co-commission with BBC Wales.

Written by Matthew Barry (Industry, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Men Up is inspired by the true story of one of the world’s first medical trials for the drug that became Viagra, held in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital in 1994. Russell T Davies is on board as an exec.

Men Up’s  cast includes Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones, Misfits, Riviera), Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk, The Pact), Alexandra Roach (Killing Eve, Sanditon, No Offence), Phaldut Sharma (Sherwood, Romantic Getaway), Paul Rhys (A Discovery of Witches, Rellick), Steffan Rhodri (House of the Dragon, Temple), Mark Lewis Jones (Gangs of London, The Phantom of the Open), Joanna Page (Gavin & Stacey, Dolittle), Alexandria Riley (The Pembrokeshire Murders, The Pact), Nathan Sussex (It’s A Sin, Hollyoaks), Lisa Palfrey (Sex Education, COBRA), Dyfan Dwyfor (A Very English Scandal, Requiem) and Katy Wix (Ghosts, Stath Lets Flats).

Meurig Jenkins (Rheon), Colin White (Rhodri), Tommy Cadogan (Rhys), Peetham ‘Pete’ Shah (Sharma) and Eddie O’Connor (Jones) all have one thing in common. Impotency.  It’s affecting them in every aspect of their lives, as they are drowning in shame and silence.  Left feeling as failures as men, questioning their manhood, and having attempted their own fixes to no avail, the group is presented with a lifeline: a place on a trial for an unknown drug thought to cure impotence led by the ambitious Dr Dylan Pearce (Barnard) with support from clinical nurse Moira Davies (Page). As each man grapples with their own insecurities and hiding the truth from their loved ones – including their wives and partners Ffion Jenkins (Roach) and Teresa Rigby (Palfrey) who are also fighting their own battles – will this little pill be able to bring back their spark?

Writer Matthew Barry said: Who knew that one of the first Viagra trials in the world took place in 1994…in Swansea! I’m beyond delighted to be working with Nicola, Russell, and the entire team to bring this extraordinary tale to the screen. People hear the word impotence, and they wait for the punchline. But this story is about so much more. And with an incredible Welsh cast, led by Iwan Rheon and Alexandra Roach, I can’t wait to bring it to the screen.”

Davina Earl, executive producer for Quay Street Productions, says: “Men Up is one of those truly remarkable true stories that is a joy to be able to bring to the screen.  This is the type of story that we love at Quay Street – one of heart, soul, complex characters, with humour and drama at the centre. With Matthew Barry’s fantastic script coupled with our stellar cast, audiences are in for a treat.”

Rachel Evans, executive producer for Boom, added: This little-known story deserves to be shouted from the rooftops and Matthew Barry’s deft writing has brought a human, hilarious slice of Swansea in the 90s to life. Boom is delighted to be co-producing with Quay Street Productions to feature the Welsh men and women who pioneered the use of a drug which became known right across the globe.”

Lindsay Salt, Director of BBC Drama, says: “Men Up is a little-known chapter of our history, beautifully told across 90 minutes of poignant, funny, and life-affirming television. It’s no surprise that Matthew’s charming and intelligent script has attracted such a strong ensemble of acting talent, and I cannot wait to see them bring his words to life.”

BBC Cymru Wales Head of Commissioning Nick Andrews said: “It’s almost too extraordinary to be true. And yet it is! Matt Barry’s exquisite script has brought to life a precious true story, a social history, that will leave you punching the air with the sheer joy and triumph of it all. A truly Welsh story with global impact.”

Gerwyn Evans, Deputy Director, Creative Wales, said: This production is bringing high quality jobs, skills development and fair work to the local area including trainee placements as part of the Economy Futures Fund.  I’m delighted to see this remarkable story from Swansea get the recognition it deserves. Supported by a cast of stellar Welsh actors, I look forward to seeing this little-known story brought to life when it arrives on our screens!”

Men Up (1×90’) is written by Matthew Barry, directed by Ashley Way (White Lines, Stella, Merlin), and produced by Karen Lewis (The Salisbury Poisonings, Years and Years, Happy Valley). The executive producers are Nicola Shindler (Nolly, It’s A Sin, Happy Valley) and Davina Earl (Safe, Come Home) for Quay Street Productions, Rachel Evans (35 Diwrnod/35 Days, How This Blind Girl…) for Boom, Matthew Barry, Russell T Davies (Nolly, It’s A Sin, Doctor Who), and Rebecca Ferguson for the BBC.

Matthew Barry has previously worked with Shindler and Davies on their 2015 drama Banana, which was part of the Cucumber, Banana, Tofu series for Channel 4.

Men Up has received Welsh Government support via Creative Wales and is produced in association with Cineflix Rights as exclusive worldwide distribution partner.

Quay Street Productions and Boom are both part of ITV Studios.

Jon Creamer

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