True story behind BBC One ‘Climategate’ drama The Trick

What was the 'Climategate' affair in 2009, and how did it impact leading scientist Phil Jones?

The Trick

Jason Watkins stars in BBC One’s one-off drama, The Trick, a fact-based feature that tells the human story behind the real-life ‘Climategate’ affair.

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Set in the late Noughties, the drama focuses on Phil Jones and his wife Ruth (played by Jason Watkins and Victoria Hamilton respectively), whose lives are rocked when Phil’s work on climate change becomes the focus of a media scandal.

Read on to learn more about the real-life story of the Climategate affair, and the true history behind The Trick.

Who is Professor Philip Jones?

Philip ‘Phil’ Jones is a world-renowned scientist specialising in climate change. He is the former Director of Climatic Research at the University of East Anglia, the post he held prior to ‘Climategate’, when he was targeted in a co-ordinated hack that saw thousands of emails stolen and used by climate change deniers.

It’s still unknown who was behind the hack.

In The Trick, Phil (played by Jason Watkins) contemplates death by suicide after becoming a victim of cyberterrorism and seeing his life’s work discredited in news reports across the globe.

Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - early release (No. Early release) - Picture Shows: Phil Jones (JASON WATKINS) - (C) Vox Pictures - Photographer: Rory Taylor

Speaking to The Observer, Jones said of that period: “At the time, the mail was awful. Everyone was attacking me and I couldn’t deal with it. I got Christmas cards filled with obscenities and, to this day – on the November anniversary of the hacking – I still get a couple of offensive messages.” He added: “After The Trick is screened I expect there will be a new wave of abuse. However, I accept the risk because this is a story that needs to be told.”

On being played by Jason Watkins, he said: “I only had one Zoom meeting with Jason but he picked up all sorts of mannerisms and quirks that I didn’t realise I had – like folding my arms in front of myself when I am talking.”

What was the ‘Climategate’ affair?

The ‘Climategate’ affair of 2009 took place in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talk summit in December of that year.

In 2009, the University of East Anglia’s climate research team were hacked, with thousands of emails and related documents stolen. A small number of emails that seemed to suggest the scientists had exaggerated the threat of climate change were later published by climate change deniers.

The scientists, including Phil Jones, had not exaggerated the threat after all, but the scandal still made headlines around the world – in The Trick, we see real-life news footage reporting on ‘Climategate’, from the likes of The Guardian and the BBC to NBC and Fox News across the Atlantic.

“With time running out against an unseen enemy, The Trick looks at the potentially devastating consequences to humanity from climate change denial – how a media storm undermined public confidence in the science and how the concept of ‘truth’ took a back seat causing us to lose a decade of action,” reads the official BBC synopsis.

It continues: “The film also charts the unjustified persecution of Phil Jones, his wife Ruth’s support of her husband and the fight for the ultimate exoneration of himself and the science.”

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The Trick airs on BBC One on Monday 18th October. Visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out the rest of our Drama coverage.