“THIS is a true story. What follows is based on extensive research, interviews and published accounts.
“Some scenes have been created for the purpose of dramatisation.”
So begins Appropriate Adult, ITV1’s two-part Fred West drama.
Or rather the story of how trainee social worker Janet Leach was plunged into the nightmare world of serial killers Fred and Rose West.
I watched both 90 minute instalments of the two-part production in one sitting earlier this month and was hugely impressed by the way it had been handled.
Including the clarity of writer Neil McKay’s storytelling.
The performances of Emily Watson as Janet, Dominic West as Fred, Monica Dolan as Rose and several other fine cast members.
Not least Robert Glenister as Det Supt John Bennett, Sylvestra Le Touzel as Det Con Hazel Savage and Anthony Flanagan as Janet’s partner Mike.
And the way this tale of a chilling charmer’s evil influence on a well-intentioned mother has been so sensitively approached by all concerned.
There are many striking moments in the drama, which begins at 9pm on Sunday Sept 4 and concludes at the same time the following Sunday.
Such as Rose West sat at home in 25 Cromwell Street watching Neighbours on the TV as police arrive to search the house and garden.
When Janet listens for the first time as Fred describes in a matter-of-fact way how he killed and disposed of his daughter Heather.
Plus depraved and manipulative psychopath Fred West later describing confidante Janet as “a true soulmate”.
I had high expectations of the award-winning TV team behind Appropriate Adult and was not disappointed.
Forget the knee-jerk predictable hysterical reaction to this project before filming had even begun.
And applaud all involved for having the bravery and determination to bring this story to the screen.
My feature spread is in today’s MEN – and below – followed by some extra quotes from Emily Watson.
“WE’RE going on a journey together, Janet. And neither of us knows where it’s going to end.”
Serial killer Fred West’s chilling words in controversial new TV drama Appropriate Adult, filmed in locations across Manchester and Salford.
The title refers to the woman who sat in on police interviews as West’s independent representative to safeguard his interests.
Trainee social worker Janet Leach had never carried out the role before. When called in by police she thought it would be to help a delinquent 14-year-old boy. Instead she was plunged without warning into the nightmare world of depraved killers Fred and Rose West.
A derelict house in Cardiff Street, Higher Broughton, was transformed into an astonishingly realistic location for the West’s infamous home at 25 Cromwell Street. The original property in Gloucester was demolished in the wake of their horrific crimes.
Other locations include The Focus Building in Rowlands Way, Wythenshawe, which doubled for the interiors of both Gloucester Central Police station and Winson Green prison in Birmingham, where Fred hung himself on New Year’s Day 1995.
While land at Cotebrook, Tarporley provided the TV location for fields near the village of Kempley where the remains of some of the victims were unearthed.
Over the course of 20 years, Fred and Rose raped, tortured and murdered at least 12 young girls. The two-part film tells the story from the day of Fred’s arrest until his suicide.
Award-winning Derbyshire writer and executive producer Neil McKay says the idea for Appropriate Adult was born during a conversation in a Manchester pub. It completes a TV trilogy following the acclaimed See No Evil: The Moors Murders and This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.
Neil maintains this latest production is in the sensitive and responsible tradition of the previous dramas: “It is about the effects of the crimes rather than the crimes themselves.
“Throughout the process we have kept those who suffered in the forefront of our mind. One of Fred’s daughters has spoken out against the drama and said she will not watch it. We believe that no-one has more more right than her to make her feelings known, We reiterate, however, that the drama is a sober and unsensational account of a story in which there is legitimate public interest.”
He adds: “Janet makes no claims to be a heroine. She admits to making many mistakes and misjudgements as her relationship with Fred West developed. But he was a profoundly evil man who contaminated almost everyone he came into contact with.”
The story is told through Janet’s eyes and show what happens when someone is exposed to extreme evil. Twice Oscar nominated actress Emily Watson plays mother-of-five Janet, who went on that extraordinary journey with Fred West.
She recalls filming at Salford’s re-creation of Cromwell Street. “It was horrible. You forget it was a family home with loads of children living there and all sorts of young people. If you absconded from social services, it was probably the first place to go because you could get drink, drugs, sex. It was very liberal, warm and friendly…supposedly.
“They go to Cromwell Street because that’s what they did with the police interviews, so Fred could say, ‘Search there and there.’ But you don’t see any reconstruction of crimes or body parts or anything lurid in that way. There is a whole chasm of knowledge of what their crimes were, what they did. But we don’t go anywhere near that. And you wouldn’t want to know.”
The police interview scenes themselves were filmed in Wythenshawe. “It was claustrophobic in a tiny little room. There were four or five of us in those rooms and the two camera crews. And a lot of the interview scenes are verbatim.”
Emily recalls being “knocked for six” by some of the interviews. “There were occasionally times where I was being filmed and the reaction – Janet being taken back, repulsed or upset – was suddenly my own.”
The Hour and The Wire star Dominic West plays Fred West, who is no relation, with Monica Dolan as Rose. It’s a shock to discover that Fred was a jolly charmer, especially when it came to women. But then that’s how he lured young girls to their eventual death.
Dominic hesitated when first asked to play his namesake. “I had to clear in my own mind the moral question of whether these monsters should be brought back into the public eye.”
He was eventually convinced by an article written by the sister of one of West’s victims. “Saying that this case should never be forgotten and that the problem, far from going away, is getting worse and that these things should be discussed.”
Filming took place over seven weeks earlier this year with Dominic and Emily staying in a Manchester hotel with the rest of the cast.
Dominic believes he would not have been able to portray the killer if he had returned home to his wife and three children every night. “It would have been impossible. The acting would have suffered.”
Emily met Janet before filming began. Now working in another profession, Janet gave her full co-operation to the drama, wanting the true story of her involvement to be told.
“She’s very damaged by it because, despite the fact that she did a great service to the investigation, she was a catalyst for many of the revelations and discoveries. She’s very similar in looks to Fred’s first girlfriend and he was a complicated storyteller, actor – and a psychopath.
“Any of us would struggle to cope with walking into that moral universe. She was a very vulnerable woman who went into this room with Fred West. He was a great recruiter of human beings. He was incredibly charming, funny, personable and very quickly she became the person to whom he would confess.”
Janet had to treat everything Fred told her privately in confidence and not pass it on to anyone. He ensured she continued in the distressing role by promising to reveal just how many victims he and Rose had murdered.
West’s death meant she could finally tell police he had confessed that his wife had been involved in the killings. They had made a pact that he would take all the blame. And Janet could also inform detectives that Fred had said there were 20 more victims than had been thought – something Janet still believes to this day.
She collapsed after giving evidence at Rose’s trial, having perjured herself when denying she had a deal with a national newspaper. But Fred’s wife was later found guilty and went on to occupy a cell adjacent to Myra Hindley in Durham Prison. She remains behind bars serving a full life sentence.
Writer Neil insists the TV team were right to make Appropriate Adult and that we can all learn something from it. “Our belief is that, responsibly made, such dramas can illuminate events which have cast a dark shadow not only individual lives but also our society as a whole.”
*Appropriate Adult begins on ITV1 at 9pm on Sunday September 4 and concludes on Sept 11.
I met up with Emily Watson in London in June. Here is an edited selection of some of her other quotes during the round table interview:
Who was Janet Leach?
“I’d never heard of her. I think it’s a very unique insight and a totally new perspective on this story. She was completely not a professional. She’d had a few hours’ training. She was at the very beginning of the training to be a social worker.
“And she put herself on a volunteer list to be an Appropriate Adult. The kind of job description is – you sit in on a police interview for minors who have learning difficulties. Unbeknownst to her, with Fred West arrested – because there was so much history with social services, everybody in social services had a conflict of interest. Usually they would have drawn somebody in from social services to do this job. So they went to a more remote list.
“She’d never done it before. She got a phone call saying, ‘Come in today.’ And expected a 14-year-old delinquent boy. And it was Fred West. She had no idea what any of it was going to be. She wasn’t aware of what he was accused of. The first she heard of it was in the interview: ‘You are here today to discuss the murder of your daughter Heather.‘ Gulp.”
“I didn’t go off and read all those lurid books. I wanted to approach the situation in the way that Janet did, in innocence, really. One of the producers had spent a lot of time with her and there were the hours and hours of interviews, a lot of detail about her involvement and her life and everything pertained to the case. So I had all that as my research material and a lot of material from the (Daily) Mirror, as well, because later in the story…she sort of got thrown off the case for various complicated reasons and she talked to the Mirror. And then came back on to the case and then, having been promised that she would never be called as a witness, was called as a witness in Rose’s trial, perjured herself in court, collapsed in court. She said, ‘I’ve never spoken to the Press.’ And she had. She collapsed in court.
“It’s a very desperate, dramatic story because she was a very vulnerable woman who went into this room with Fred West. He was a great recruiter of human beings. He was incredibly charming, funny, personable and very quickly she became the person to whom he would confess. They’d leave her alone with him and then there would be a revelation. She became absolutely germane and a part of the investigation process. And if she wasn’t around, he would shut up.”
Did a rapport develop?
“Completely. It was a perfect storm, in a way, because of all her vulnerabilities and mistakes. She was clearly manipulated by him and very vulnerable to his manipulation. But had she not been that, we might never have known.”
Was Janet consulted?
“Yes, every step of the way. I met her…it’s very complex. She’s not a straightforward, heroic character. She’s not a bad person, she’s a good person. But she’s complicated and she makes mistakes. She’s very vulnerable and naive. It was a fantastic thing to have to play. And to interact with somebody of whom we, hopefully, none of us, have any knowledge. Somebody who has gone to the edge of depravity and beyond but still can sit in a room and make you feel like a million dollars. It was like a workface that I’ve never been to before in terms of acting experience. The psychology of interaction was like nothing…I’ve been to some quite strange places.”
What did you want to ask her?
“She’d had her life very much dissected and researched very thoroughly by the producers over a long period of time. She’s very good friends and close with one of the producers and had revealed a lot of information to him. So when I met her I didn’t really want to question her, I just wanted to have lunch with her and see where her centre of gravity was and what she was like. And I found her, despite all the vulnerabilties and screw ups, quite steely and quite strong in the middle of it all. She’s now in another profession entirely…she’s re-married, so she has a different name.”
“I met her more than once. She doesn’t put herself in the public eye at all. We did have a slightly unfortunate moment – some member of the royal family arriving on the train at the station where I met her. She was a bit, ‘What?!’”
Did she discuss Fred West’s suicide and the impact it had on her?
“Yes. That’s a very important part of the story. After the investigation had finished and he’d been charged, he was in Winson Green Prison, he contacted her and said, ‘Will you come and see me?’ And she started visiting him in prison. So she stepped over a line, a boundary. Looking back on it, it was probably not the right thing to do. But at the time she felt…she maintains to this day that there are many, many more victims that we don’t know about. And that she was doing that to try and get to the truth. But…
“I think it’s very complicated. I think she had good motives but she had been right at the heart of a massive story, an incredibly dramatic story that everybody in the country was talking about. And she was right there in the heart of it. And I think that’s very intoxicating and flattering. So there’s no easy, simple way to define shy she did what she did.
“Also I think she was very reactive. It all happened very quickly. So he basically said to her in that situation, ‘There’s so much more to tell and I will tell you everything.’ And intimated an awful lot. And then killed himself. So she was left with that knowledge for the rest of her life. And she actually attempted suicide herself not long after that.”
How did she feel about having this very difficult time in her life dragged up again?
“I don’t think she thinks it’s a walk in the park. But I think she feels it’s a good way to serve the story. I think she’s hoping that it will all go away after this. I think she feels from a personal point of view, the public perception of her was this woman who had perjured herself in court, collapsed in court. She was giving evidence against Rose and in court it came out that she had talked to the Mirror. So that is the public perception of her. And her role in the investigation is not known. So I think she feels that she could hold her head a bit higher. But she also hopes it will all go away and everyone will leave her alone.”
Did she have any questions for you?
“I think she was so not in any way media savvy or knew anything about how these things work. So not really, no. We had a laugh, really.”
Do you feel a sense of responsibility because she’s a real person?
“Oh God, yeah. Physically I’m not very like her. But I tried to have something of her bearing and her quality of being, in me.”
How intense were the police interview scenes to film?
“We were filming for seven, eight minutes, they’re 10 page scenes. A lot of talking for Dominic. But it’s fascinating stuff because it’s so real. She’s mostly just listening. He was not at all straightforward and a lot of the time you don’t know whether he’s making it up. Janet said to me, if he got bored and he wanted to be in a different room he’d say, ‘Oh, I’ve got something to confess.’ And they’d go up to an interview room, which had a window, and he’s make up a whole false story. It’s real smoke and mirrors. He’s changing his story all the time. I think to this day we don’t really know.”
He thought Janet was a reincarnation of one of his victims?
“She’s very similar in looks to his first girlfriend. He did all this stuff about being psychically connected to people. That was where he knew where the bodies were because he could feel them talking to him. And you just never really know if he’s just play acting or there’s something to it. He was just an incredibly complicated storyteller, actor, charming – and then suddenly you get to the edge of it and whoomf – evil bastard. Psychopath.”
How was it hearing those stories in his words?
“It’s like he talking, ‘And then we went down the shops and we did this and it was really funny, because blah, blah, blah…’ But actually what he’s talking about is the practical details of how to dispose of his daughter’s corpse. It’s so bizarre, his delivery. It’s like you’ve walked around a corner into an Alice In Wonderland world of a different sort of human being where the rules are different. You can’t relate to it, you can’t understand it. And the more we researched and the more we did it, it just became more mystifying. It’s utterly fascinating. I think Dominic had tapes, had transcripts and stuff. There’s a lot of material that is obviously very carefully protected.”
What do we see of Rose in this? More demonised at the time than Fred?
“You don’t see that much of her. Because the story is Janet’s point of view and she was the Appropriate Adult for Fred, you don’t see Rose’s interviews. You see her from a distance. You see Janet’s perception of her which is completely terrifying. She’s a very malevolent presence in the film. But it only tries to approach her guilt from the point of view of Fred who is the one person who can really implicate her. So they really try and push him to say she was involved.”
Fred tried to protect Rose?
“He did. Basically they made a pact. Unbelievably, the police gave them some time alone together when they were first arrested and they made a pact. He said, ‘You keep the family together, keep Cromwell Street going, keep all the kids together, and I’ll take the rap.’ But at that stage they probably thought it was only going to be Heather that they discovered.”
Was there a guilt for Janet in finding him charming?
“Yes. I think any of us would struggle to cope with walking into that moral universe. All the professionals involved in it went way past the remit of their professional experience and beyond, into a place that they couldn’t deal with. She was utterly naive, untrained. She had one really strong instinct, which was not to betray his confidence. Which is what the training for an Appropriate Adult is – if your client tells you something in confidence, you don’t betray it. She didn’t. And that was the reason he trusted her and he told her things. Because he would leak stories. He would say to his lawyer, to other police officers, he would tell them things and then it would turn up in the Press or somewhere. So he could work out who he could trust. And nothing he told her ever went any further. She would make him tell the police. So her attitude of trying to do the right thing, obey the rules and be a good person – her naivety – was a catalyst for finding out what had gone on.”
Why are we still intrigued by this story?
“I think to know that they were living amongst us. They could have been your neighbour for 20 years and you didn’t know. Two human beings doing it together is quite unusual. Going to the edge of depravity and beyond and doing it amongst us. Not in some distant, evil, part of the world. But right here. You get off the train at Gloucester station and Cromwell Street is literally just round the corner. It’s right there in the middle of Gloucester, in one of our cities. How does that happen? How do people become that, be that? How does it work? It’s fascinating because we can’t understand it. But we have a duty to try.”
Controversy about this project. Worried that people will judge this before they see it?
“They completely will make a judgement and everybody’s entitled to an opinion. And then they’ll watch it and I feel quite strongly that they will change them when they’ve seen it. There, of course, will be people who are not happy. It is very strong, painful, territory. And there are people who are still alive who are affected by it. And I’m respectful of that. But it’s an important subject and it’s been intelligently approached. That’s what drama does.”
Can see the charmer in Dominic. How was it playing opposite him?
“One of the things that the Press have said, ‘Oh my God, you’ve cast Dominic West.’ But actually Dominic is a sort of victim of his own success in a way. He’s a brilliant character actor. And he was the first person I thought of, because he looks like him. It’s really bizarre. He does. He’s very handsome and good-looking and all that. But there is something about him. And it wasn’t that much of a stretch for the make-up department to turn him into Fred West. And I think it’s a fascinating place for a character actor to go because it is so confusingly…he doesn’t walk around with a sign on his head saying, ‘I am evil,’ does he? He was a great recruiter of people.”
Any initial qualms about taking the role?
“My agent rang me and said, ‘They’re making a drama about the Wests.’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And then she said, ‘Read it. It’s brilliant.’ And then I read it. You revisit that story and it is horrific but utterly fascinating. I sat there for about 20 minutes. I’m glad I didn’t turn it down.”
Has the role of Appropriate Adult now changed?
“It has since this case. I think you now have to have a new Appropriate Adult every three days. It’s a much more carefully controlled situation to what it was then. I think anybody in this situation these days would be a lot more media savvy than she was because of the way the media has changed. Everybody is aware of those kind of issues in a way that back then they really weren’t. I think policing has changed a lot since this case. It was a massive watershed moment for policing as well.”
One particularly chilling scene in this that you could pick out?
“I think hearing him talking. Walking in and hearing him talking about the cutting up and disposing of a body in the most matter of fact way, as if he’s gone down the shops to buy some bananas way. I never can quite get my head around that. It’s very shocking.”
Does she remember when the case first broke?
“I was in my twenties and I remember it being utterly compelling, rivetting. Day after day new revelations. Really shocking.”
Those initial reservations?
“Really because of the horror of it. I’m quite instinctive in my responses to things. I worry about what people think later. But I just thought it was really good. I thought it was really intelligent, smart, interesting and engaging. No doubt provocative but worth it.”