Print deal sought for son's screen tribute to his father

For a first-time author, it's the stuff of dreams: to have your debut novel transformed into a feature film with an all-star cast led by Bob Hoskins.

That journey has been all the more emotional for Mark Baxter because he chose to write the autobiographical tale – loosely based around the violent events of the 1986 Wapping printers' dispute – only as a means of coping with the grief of losing his father, John, who died of cancer. He is now looking forward to the release this year of a movie in which Jenny Agutter will play his mother, Shirley, and his own part will be taken by the rising British actor Calum McNab (The Firm, The Football Factory).

Despite this, Baxter has yet to find a publisher for his book, The Mumper, and is struggling to meet demand for the story by printing copies on the self-publishing website

A former print worker, Baxter wrote The Mumper to depict the adventures and banter of his father's circle of friends – drinkers in The Flying Dutchman pub in Camberwell, south London.

The story, about the group's decision to club together to buy a racehorse, was picked up by Trix Worrell, the south London-based writer of the Channel 4 sitcom Desmond's. Worrell introduced the story to producer Tony Humphreys and it is being made into a film called Weighed In: The Story Of The Mumper, from a screenplay by Nigel Smith.

"My dad was always saying he would write a book of the escapades that he'd heard over the years," said Baxter. "After a couple of years of getting over his death, I started to write it down and the stories just grew and grew. It was never my intention to write a book, just to document the stories that I had heard."

The memoir, told in the argot of south London, documents a group of amateur pub crooners, including Baxter's father, played in the film by veteran British actor Phil Davis (Quadrophenia, Vera Drake, Lark Rise To Candleford).

"When I was 12 and 13 my mum would say, 'Take the boy' and I would sit among the crowd and watch my dad singing and just soaking up the characters and the humour around me. I have a lot of affection for the people but a lot of the guys were dying or moving out of the area, so it was a case of getting the material down on paper."

Baxter, 48, was assisted by co-author Paolo Hewitt, an established music writer. "We decided to publish it ourselves through," said Baxter. "I printed 10 copies and handed them to the guys in the book, they read it and passed it to their friends and family and then asked for more. It grew by word of mouth."

The involvement in the film of Hoskins, playing union man Percy "Smudge" Smith, has raised the profile of the story to another level. "I'm buying 30 copies at a time which then fund another 30 copies," says Baxter. "I can hardly cope with the orders that are coming in and I need to pass it on to a publishing firm that can get it in the bookshops and satisfy the demand that we've already got. With the film being released this year, I'm sure there will be lots of interest."

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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