New feature-length BBC drama, Men Up, is now available to watch on iPlayer and follows a group of men who sign up for the first clinical trial of a revolutionary impotence drug that would become known as Viagra.


Set in Swansea in 1994, the new drama stars Iwan Rheon (Wolf), Steffan Rhodri (House of the Dragon), Phaldut Sharma (Sherwood), Paul Rhys (Saltburn) and Mark Lewis Jones (Gangs of London) as a group of men who sign up for the trial, with the drama exploring the secrets and lies they have to face up to in the process.

The film follows the five men as they embark of their medical journey, and with each experiencing both humorous and poignant moments in their personal lives, audiences will be naturally curious about whether the characters are based on real participants in the trial.

So, is Men Up based on real events, and are the men and the doctor in the trial real people? Read on for everything you need to know.

Men Up true story: Are the characters based on real people?

Men Up follows the lives of five Welsh men – Meurig, Colin, Peetham, Tommy and Eddie – who sign up for a clinical trial that is testing a new pill produced by Pfizer that could help with erectile dysfunction.

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While the pill is, of course, very real, the characters and their stories in the film are completely fictional.

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“I created fictional characters, thinking of the type of men who might have been on the trial, these working class Welshmen,” explains writer and executive producer Matthew Barry.

The patients may be Barry’s creations (the trial would have been confidential so the real participants’ names remain a secret), but the doctor in charge of their trial, Dr Dylan Pearce (Aneurin Barnard) is based on a real person – original trial doctor Dr David Price, who also worked as a medical consultant on the film.

Aneurin Barnard as Dr Dylan Pearce, standing square on looking directly into the camera
Quay Street Productions/Tom Jackson

Dr Price is a consultant physician at Morriston Hospital in Swansea who began to explore the treatments and causes of impotence in the 1980s.

"I wrote a leading article in the British Medical Journal in 1993, saying impotence is the most neglected complication of diabetes and we had to change that," he explains.

"As a result of that article, I was approached by Pfizer, who had this new drug. [They] had this drug which is designed to treat cardiovascular disease and men refused to turn in their unused tablets because their sex lives improved so much."

Did the Wales clinical trial in Men Up really take place?

Colin White (STEFFAN RHODRI), Tommy Cadogan (PAUL RHYS), Meurig Jenkins (IWAN RHEON), Eddie O’Connor (MARK LEWIS JONES), Peetham ‘Pete’ Shah (PHALDUT SHARMA) pose for a press shot for Men Up. They are looking at a pile of blue pills which are Viagra.

In the film, the clinical trial takes place in Swansea in 1994, and that is exactly what happened in real life – at Morriston Hospital in the town.

It was the first clinical trial of Viagra anywhere in the world.

"We set up the first trials in 1994, and it was clear then after the first patient, we had something special," Dr Price remembers. "We had these ordinary middle-aged Swansea men who were able to have sex for the first time in years after just taking a tablet. The rest is history – it just took off."

When did Viagra become widely available?

Cast of Men Up walking up a residential road together
Quay Street Productions/Tom Jackson

Men Up focuses on the very first clinical trial of the drug, but there were many more trials and tests before the infamous "little blue pill" became available to the public.

Viagra – the brand name for the drug that is also known as Sildenafil – was patented in 1996, two years after the Welsh trial, and approved for use in erectile dysfunction in March 1998 in the US and later in the same year in the UK and Europe.

Since then, it has been a huge success for Pfizer, with annual sales in 2008 reaching $1.9 billion.

It’s not just been used as treatment for erectile dysfunction, either – athletes have reportedly used the drug (which increases blood flow) as a performance enhancer, while a 2007 study on hamsters proved that it could be used to treat jet lag recovery.

Unsurprisingly due to its success, Sildenafil is also one of the most counterfeited drugs – with Interpol reporting in October that erectile dysfunction medicines were the most seized counterfeit drugs around the world this year.

Men Up is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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