Fifteen years after the racially-motivated murder of teenager Anthony Walker, BBC One is airing Anthony – a drama which imagines the life the aspiring-lawyer could have led had he not been killed in July 2005.
Written by Hillsborough’s Jimmy McGovern, the 90-minute film shows Anthony marry the love of his life, save an old friend from homelessness, watch the birth of his daughter and get a job at a barristers’ chambers – opportunities which were robbed from him the night he was murdered.
As a large part of the drama is fictionalised, McGovern wrote Anthony’s story based off of conversations he had with Anthony’s mother Gee Walker, but how accurate are the true-to-life parts? And what are the imagined events of Anthony’s life based off of?
Here’s everything you need to know about the true story behind Anthony Walker’s murder and how accurate Anthony is in portraying the teenager’s life on screen.
The true story behind Anthony Walker’s death
Anthony Walker, a Black British student living with his family in Huyton, Merseyside, was murdered on 30th July 2005 in a racist attack.
The 18-year-old had spent the evening at home, babysitting his nephew with his girlfriend Louise Thompson. He walked with Thompson and his cousin Marcus Binns to the local bus stop, where a stranger, Michael Barton, shouted racial abuse at him and his cousin.
The group walked to another bus stop, but Barton and his friend Paul Taylor followed them in a car and attacked the group. While Binns and Thompson managed to run away, Walker was fatally injured when Taylor stabbed his head with an ice axe.
Walker was taken to hospital, where he died at 5:25am. Barton and Taylor fled to Amsterdam, but after being named as suspects, they returned to Liverpool four days later and were arrested and charged with Walker’s murder.
Taylor and Barton were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, with minimum terms of 23 years and 17 years respectively.
Speaking about Walker’s murder, Anthony writer Jimmy McGovern said during a Q&A roundtable that the news was “huge in Liverpool”.
“It had such an impact on the city. The sense of outrage was enormous, everybody marching and walking and just wanting to be associated with the Walker family and their grief,” he said. “It was akin to Hillsborough, that kind of impact.”
Over 3,000 mourners attended Anthony Walker’s funeral in Liverpool on 25th August 2005 and the service was broadcast on a big screen in Liverpool city centre.
After Taylor and Barton’s two-week trial, Walker’s mother Gee Walker told reporters that she forgave her son’s killers by drawing on her Christian faith, saying: “I’ve got to forgive them. I still forgive them. My family and I still stand by what we believe: forgiveness.”
“She’s got the most powerful Christian faith of anybody I’ve ever met,” McGovern said. “When she said she forgave those two young men, my God, the city of Liverpool was just overwhelmed with feeling. She’s an amazing woman.”
In memory of Walker, who wanted to study law at university, the Crown Prosecution Service in Merseyside created the CPS Anthony Walker Law Scholarship in 2008 – a 12 month scholarship open to any Black or Minority Ethnic graduate who wishes to study for the Legal Practice Course.
How did Jimmy McGovern write Anthony Walker’s fictionalised life?
A large part of the 90-minute drama imagines what Anthony Walker’s life would have been like had he not been murdered on 30th July 2005, which meant that McGovern was scripting events within a real person’s life that never happened.
“It was based on a lot of what I learned from Gee,” McGovern said when talking about writing the script for Anthony. “The notion of helping somebody, that came from Gee. He was the first to help a human being.”
The writer added that a scene in which Walker scolds a homeless man who refuses to hand over a copy of The Big Issue was based off of his respect for the rules and his love of the magazine.
“That initial scene where he’s prepared to give but he wants the rules obeyed – you do not mess about with the Big Issue. It’s a wonderful initiative, and if a man is allowed to mess about with The Big Issue, it ruins it for all the other Big Issue salespersons.” he said. “So that principle that he sticks to is very much Anthony and very much came from Gee.”
How accurate is Anthony?
While the plot of Anthony is mainly fictional, based off details provided to McGovern by Gee Walker about her son, the film does also dramatise Walker’s death and what he was doing the night he was killed.
Toheeb Jimoh, who plays Anthony in the drama, said that the cast and crew tried to keep the costumes and the way in which Walker was portrayed as accurate as possible.
“We always had reference points from Gee as to what types of stuff he would wear. He would wear a basketball jersey with a shirt underneath and then stuff on top,” he said. “A lot of that came from Gee, and so yeah, we tried to keep it as truthful as we could but also there were loads of references throughout even when we were doing the fictitious bits.”
Jimoh added that Gee also influenced the way in which he acted as Anthony, providing notes during the drama’s read-through.
“She just basically gave all of us her blessing to tell the story and she wished us the best and it was nothing but positivity and kind words, and then she sort of whispered to me again, because we were doing a readthrough and I was improvising, I was throwing stuff in that wasn’t even in the script at some points, and she just pulled me aside and went, ‘Anthony didn’t swear.'”
While McGovern tried to base the fictional moments of Walker’s life on real-life references, he said that the scene in which Anthony appears on BBC gameshow Pointless was not informed by anything from Walker’s life. “I’m afraid it’s totally from my imagination but I’ve actually been on Pointless and I got to the head to head I’m proud to say.”
Why did Jimmy McGovern write Anthony?
Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern, who has penned dramas Cracker, Hillsborough, The Lakes, The Street and Accused, said that he was approached by Anthony Walker’s mother Gee Walker to write the project.
“I’ve known Gee for quite a while, and you just don’t say no to Gee,” he said. “I’d known Gee primarily because I’d used Gee. I’m a writer, but what you do as a writer is you use all the resources possible, and Gee was always generous with her time. So every time I needed to talk about loss, or grief, or pain of loss, I went to Gee Walker first. And she was really forthcoming and generous. And then one day, Gee said to me, ‘It’s my turn now’.”
He added that he decided to write a drama about the life that Anthony Walker never got to live instead of focussing solely on events leading up his murder as he wanted to approach his death in a fresh way.
“The BBC had just shown a really good film about the death of Damilola Taylor, and I knew that if I went to the BBC with a drama that showed a lead-up to the killing, the killing and the aftermath of the killing, about a young black boy, the BBC would say, ‘Well, we’ve already done this with the Damilola Taylor story’. So I had to find a fresh way in, so that’s how that came about really.”
He continued: “And I’d been thinking about the First World War… thousands died and I kept on thinking, how many of those men who died could have achieved something in their life? A cure for a virus, perhaps… And that got me thinking about Anthony. That’s the way it came about.”
Which characters in Anthony are real?
While Anthony, played by Toheeb Jimoh, was based on a real-life character, as was his mother Gee Walker (Rakie Ayola), the character of Katherine, who Anthony goes on to marry and have a child with, was completely fictional.
“I think she’s just a symbol of a love story that he never got to have,” said Julia Brown who plays Katherine. “And that sort of first love and they have a child together and a beautiful wedding and I think it shows as well how Anthony’s family just accepts her into part of the family.”
“The way that the character dotes on Anthony shows how special a person he is and I think she picks up on everything that he stands for, their first date and I think she’s surprised a little bit when she first meets him just how wonderful this person is. I thinks it’s just a character to show what a relationship he could have had that was taken away from him,” she added.
Anthony airs on BBC One on Monday 27th July at 8:30pm – take a look at what else is on with our TV Guide