What is the real-life story behind ITV’s Torvill and Dean biopic?

From romance rumours to family trauma, here is everything you need to know about the real Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and their journey to Olympic glory

Torvill and Dean

Torvill and Dean’s Boléro ice dance made them a national sensation, won them an Olympic gold medal, and earned them a record-breaking high score – as a TV audience of 24 million Brits tuned in to cheer them on.

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Now, a one-off ITV drama on Christmas Day will take us from Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s early childhood right up until the moment they stepped out onto the ice at the 1984 Winter Olympics to perform that famous routine.

Written by Made in Dagenham’s William Ivory, the two-hour special stars Ackley Bridge’s Poppy Lee Friar as Jayne Torvill and Game of Thrones actor Will Tudor as Christopher Dean.

There’s a certain amount of dramatic license in any TV drama – so just how closely does Torvill and Dean follow the real-life story of this well-known duo?

We’ve answered all the big questions you’ll be asking…


Did Christopher Dean’s mother really abandon him as a child?

young Torvill and Dean

Yes – and it was a decisive moment in his childhood.

Christopher Dean grew up in Calverton, a small mining village on the outskirts of Nottingham, where his parents Colin and Mavis lived in a two-bed council flat. His father was a miner and the family struggled badly for money, although Chris has said he was always well-fed and got “lots of fresh air and freedom.”

But one morning, when he was six, his mother Mavis left the family home – and a woman called Betty took her place.

Looking back on that time, Christopher wrote in the Daily Mail: “One day, my mum and dad took me to see some friends of theirs. Or at least I always thought they were friends. When we arrived at their house I was told to sit down in the living room. Soon after, I remember an almighty row ensuing. All four of them seemed to be shouting across the room at each other and I was sitting in the middle. Even at six years old I understood what had been going on.”

Is seemed his dad had been having an affair with the woman called Betty, and his mother and Betty’s husband had just found out.

Sometime after that, his mother sat him down and warned him she was “going away.” He began to cry, and pleaded with her not to go, but she didn’t say anything and deflected his questions.

A week or so passed, Christopher recalled, and “then, one morning, I went downstairs to find my mum standing by the front door with a suitcase. I don’t remember her saying goodbye. One minute she was there, and the next, gone.

“Later on the same day, Betty, my new stepmother, arrived with a suitcase. Again, there were no explanations given, and no opportunity to ask questions. It seemed that I just had to get used to the idea.”

Dean Andrews and Susan Earl play Colin and Betty in Torvill & Dean
Dean Andrews and Susan Earl play Colin and Betty in Torvill & Dean (ITV)

A couple of years later, Christopher was on his way back from school when he saw his mum walking into a flat above the local hairdresser’s. He didn’t tell anybody he’d seen her, but each day he would slow down as he passed her flat in hopes of getting a glimpse. Sometimes he saw the top of her head.

After a while Chris was allowed to make contact, but that soon came to an abrupt halt without explanation. Later, when Chris was skating in competitions as an amateur, Mavis would come to watch – but would leave immediately once the performance was over. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that he started seeing his mother on a regular basis.

In 2014, he wrote: “These days my mum and I get along fine. She’s well into her eighties now and I think would sometimes like to talk about what happened, try to offer closure, perhaps. But if I’m honest it’s not something I crave.”

So what about his relationship with stepmother Betty? It wasn’t always easy, he has admitted, but “the one thing I’ll always be grateful to Betty for is introducing me to ice skating. She’d talked my dad into buying me my first pair of skates. That must have been a huge outlay for them at the time, but it was quite a masterstroke.”


How did Torvill and Dean become ice skating partners?

Torvill and Dean

All this time, Jayne Torvill was growing up nearby in Nottingham with her parents George and Betty Torvill – played in the ITV drama by Stephen Tompkinson and Jo Hartley.

Like Chris, she was from a working-class family: her father worked for Raleigh bicycles, and her mother had a job at the Players’ cigarette factory. The Torvills later opened their own newsagents.

Jayne became hooked on ice skating at the age of eight following an after-school trip to the local ice rink in Nottingham, just as we see on-screen in ITV’s Torvill and Dean.

She immediately began taking lessons with local teachers Thelma Perry (played by Anita Dobson) and Norma Bowmar, rushing to the rink before and after school.

Torvill and Dean

Meanwhile, Colin and Betty actually had a fondness for ballroom dancing, and once they saw how much 10-year-old Chris loved skating they began to take him to the rink every Saturday.

Both Jayne and Chris went to the same rink in Nottingham, but didn’t interact for the first few years. In the Christmas double issue, Jayne tells Radio Times: “My first memory of Chris is seeing him at the ice rink one Saturday afternoon in 1971. He stood out because he was whizzing around so fast and had blond hair. That’s when I named him the Blond Prince.”

Jayne had previously partnered with a boy called Michael Hutchinson, but after three years the pair of them had parted ways and she was back to skating singles. Chris was also skating solo, as – despite being named British Junior Dance Champions – he and his partner Sandra Elson were NOT getting on and had finally called it quits.

Then, in 1975, coach Janet Sawbridge saw their potential as partners and decided to try matching them up.

Torvill and Dean, ITV

In the TV drama, Janet (played by Jaime Winstone) tests out their chemistry by making them get into hold, standing hip-to-hip and eye-to-eye. She then nips off for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

And that’s pretty much what happened in real life. “It felt awkward – for a minute,” Chris says. “From then on both of us wanted to make a go of it.”

They quickly succeeded in several national and international competitions, winning in Oberstdorf and coming third in the British Championships in 1977.

Will Tudor, who plays Christopher Dean, says: “An interesting thing Torvill and Dean told us is that it wasn’t like they felt this spark straight away. There wasn’t a lightning strike moment, but over time those complimentary character traits they had really started to work.

“They both believed in the same end goal and the way they approached it – it wasn’t just about technique, it was also about the feel and emotion of these dances.”


Did Torvill and Dean have a romantic relationship?

Torvill and Dean

In ITV’s Torvill and Dean, there is a moment, on an empty coach after winning a competition as partners, when the two of them acknowledge their attraction to each other and share that long-anticipated kiss. But ultimately they decide not to let romance get in the way of their skating partnership – and that’s that.

Except for the timing of the kiss, that scene is pretty true to life.

Jayne and Christopher have always insisted there was no romantic relationship between them, although in recently years they’ve admitted that they’d “dabbled” as teenagers – with one kiss. But that was already behind them by the time they became Torvill and Dean.

Jayne tells the Christmas edition of Radio Times: “Because the Boléro is very romantic, the media were convinced we were a couple. One journalist said, ‘So, Chris, when are you getting married?’ and he said, ‘Not yet!’ And that was it – there were reports that we were going to get married. I thought, ‘Oh no! Why did you say that?'”

Christopher Dean, Jayne Torvill Competing In The 1984 Winter Olympics

She adds: “We did actually kiss once – before we were a skating couple. We were in the back of the bus going to a league match, and it just happened. It was a one-off. We never talked about it afterwards. We laugh about it now.

“Chris comes out with things without filtering them, and on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories he said, ‘We dabbled.’ So that’s what it is now – Dabblegate. It was a kiss!”

Christopher insists: “Dabblegate was just a teenage kiss in the back of a bus. We were 14 years old, and teenagers in the most naive sense. We didn’t talk about it much after. The skating was everything and having a relationship just didn’t occur to us.”


Who did Torvill and Dean marry?

In 1990, Jayne married American sound engineer Philip Christensen, her husband of 28 years and counting. After a painful struggle with infertility and IVF, they decided to adopt and now have two teenage children, Kieran and Jessica.

“As a couple skating together it’s easy for the guy to go off and start a family, it wouldn’t affect his skating, whereas for me it would have stopped what we were doing,” she told The Sun. “So I left it quite late. And I was into my forties by then.”

Chris has had a more turbulent love-life, with two failed marriages.

In 1991 he married French-Canadian world ice dance champion Isabelle Duchesnay, but they divorced in 1993. Isabelle made her feelings about Jayne perfectly clear at the time, saying: “I felt that he had two women in his life. Because his work was more important, that automatically made Jayne more important because she was his work.”

Christopher Dean marrying Jill Trenary
Christopher Dean marrying Jill Trenary in 1994 (Getty)

In 1994 he married American skater Jill Trenary and moved to Colorado, where they raised their two sons Jack and Sam.

However, their relationship broke down after he began filming Dancing on Ice and they were separated by 2010. Shortly afterwards, he and Dancing on Ice judge Karen Barber confirmed their relationship.


Did Torvill and Dean fall out? 

Torvill and Dean

By all accounts, Chris could be angry and critical. He needed to be in control at all times.

In 1994, a fly-on-the-wall documentary got people talking when it showed Chris reducing Jayne to tears with his harsh words and behaviour.

But the two of them have remained close throughout the years, talking most days even when they were not performing together.

Jayne tells Radio Times: “Chris expresses his anger more openly than me. He’ll raise his voice.” By contrast, she says, “it’s hard for me to get wound up about anything.”

Chris says: “We’ve fallen out lots of times, but not to the extent that we’ve ever stopped talking. it was always about little things, but we’d never leave the ice having an argument. Jayne can deal with just about anything. I’m a bit more passionate and have – well used to have – this aggression and determination. I’ve definitely become more mellow.”


How did Torvill and Dean become Olympic skaters – and who was Betty Callaway?

Betty Callaway with Torvill and Dean
Betty Callaway with Torvill and Dean (Getty)

Janet Sawbridge could only take them so far, and in 1979 Betty Callaway became Torvill and Dean’s new coach.

Played on-screen by Call the Midwife’s Annabelle Apsion, she was an English figure skating coach who had trained previous world champions and European champions. She had a brilliant track-record and an excellent reputation.

In 1980, Chris and Jayne took a gamble and quit their jobs. Chris had spent six years in the police force, while Jayne had been working as an insurance clerk. Now it was time to focus all their efforts on skating – and Olympic gold.

That same year, Torvill and Dean placed 5th at Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in New York. They followed that up with 4th in the World Championships. They were now in medal contention for big international events, and over the next four years they started placing 1st in competition after competition.

By the time they reached the 1984 Olympics at Sarajevo, they were favourites to win.


Did Chris come up with the Bolero?

Chris was the chief choreographer and creative force behind Torvill and Dean, while Jayne was more practical – working out the logistics of landing each lift.

With their performance to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, the pair won gold and became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time (for a single programme). Famously, they received 12 perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s.

Torvill and Dean continued to dance the Boléro, and, by 2007 they estimated that they had performed it more than 2,000 times.


What happened after the Olympics?

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean on Dancing on Ice
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean on Dancing on Ice (ITV)

After the Olympics, Torvill and Dean turned professional, which allowed them to finally make some money from their talent.

However, under the Olympic Committee rules of the time, giving up their amateur status actually made them ineligible to compete in the Olympics. They were barred from taking part until the rules were relaxed in 1993, just in time for them to compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway. They left with a bronze.

In 1998, Torvill and Dean performed one final dance, and then hung up their skates and retired. Chris was living in the US, Jayne was in the UK, and they both wanted to focus on their families.

But in recent years, their partnership as Torvill and Dean has had a second act. In 2006, they reunited to work on the TV show Dancing on Ice, and they remain closely involved with the show which is set to return in the new year.


How involved were the real Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in the making of this ITV drama?

Chris and Jayne were deeply involved in shaping ITV’s Torvill and Dean, sitting down with screenwriter Billy Ivory to share their memories.

Poppy Lee Friar, who plays Jayne Torvill, said: “We spoke to them and they’re so kind! They gave us creative license. They’re ecstatic that this is happening.”

Her co-star Will Tudor, who plays Christopher Dean, added: “They said we had their blessing to put our own artistic spin on it. That was liberating. They were wonderful, that put my mind at rest hearing them say that.”

Chris and Jayne also recruited Olympic ice dancers Nick Buckland and Penny Coomes to join the production as stunt doubles, and later as coaches and consultants.

“Chris messaged early on this year and asked if we would like to be involved as the ice skating doubles for Jayne and Chris in a TV movie, which sounded extremely exciting,” Nick said.

“We spoke to Chris along the way, and down to a couple of days before the actual shooting, FaceTiming with him and making sure that everything was in place. We wanted to make sure that everything was how it should be, so we were feeding back to him along the way.

“It was very important to get it right and we wanted to make sure we were Torvill and Dean’s eyes and ears.”


Is the skating real in ITV’s Torvill and Dean – and how was it filmed?

Torvill and Dean

Asking anybody to skate just like Torvill and Dean is quite a tall order, especially if they’ve barely set foot on the ice before. That’s why producers recruited a pair of Olympic ice-skaters to give actors Poppy Lee Friar and Will Tudor a crash-course – and to serve as their stunt doubles.

Nick Buckland and Penny Coomes have represented Great Britain at the Olympics three times, and are five-time British National Champions.

So what we see on screen is actually a carefully-cut mixture of TV stars Poppy and Will and ice-skaters Penny and Nick, with the actors skating as much as possible and the professionals taking over where necessary.

“I had only skated twice before, and once was for a birthday party,” Will admits. “I loved it but could only go in straight lines and couldn’t turn. I slammed into the barriers a lot. The second time was for a date. Terrible idea. The skates I was wearing were blunt, I was sliding around like Bambi on ice.”

But he and Poppy threw themselves into learning to skate, spending two weeks on the ice with Nick and Penny.

“Top-level ice skating is just amazing to me,” Poppy says. “We had two weeks of training and two weeks of night shoots on the ice, as well.”

Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland
Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland (Getty)

Nick tells RadioTimes.com: “We were really heavily involved in helping them learn the technique and learn to try and move like Torvill and Dean for certain scenes, so we really worked collaboratively with both of them.

“We would switch up, so me and Penny would do some of the more complicated stuff, and Will and Poppy would do some of the basic scenes that [director] Gillies MacKinnon wanted.

“And we also sat down with Gillies and went through specifically every skating scene, he’d mapped out storyboards that he wanted and we could then go in from there and actually work out which combination would be suited for each scene. Sometimes I would skate with Poppy, and sometimes Penny would skate with Will.”

So why take this approach? Penny explains: “We want the movie to look as authentic and as real and as great as possible, and obviously we’ve been ice skating our whole lives and still feel like we’re not even a touch on Torvill and Dean. So to ask Will and Poppy to do it in two weeks is just not realistic.

“We wanted to have the magic of film and make sure that they did as much as they could possibly do – and they did a fair amount – and then when the crossover happens between them and Nick and myself, we don’t want people to tell. We don’t want to ruin the story and the imagination and the overall effect.”

And when it comes to the Boléro itself, a decision was taken NOT to recreate that famous dance – instead cutting to the real-life footage of Torvill and Dean.

torvill_and_dean_01

Nick adds: “I think the overall idea of us being involved and also helping within the editing is that it becomes, and looks, seamless… and by the end of the movie I am totally confident that you’ll be utterly convinced that Poppy and Will are Torvill and Dean.”

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Torvill and Dean will air on Christmas Day (Tuesday 25th December) at 9.15pm on ITV


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