Six secrets from the set of A Very English Scandal!

Behind the scenes shot of Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal
(Image credit: BBC/Blueprint Television Ltd)

We go behind-the-scenes of Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw’s drama, based on the true story of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who was accused of conspiring to murder his ex-lover Norman Scott...

1. Sir Ian McKellen was asked to star in A Very English Scandal

This week’s final episode features the so-called ‘Trial of the Century’ as Thorpe (Hugh) stands trial at the Old Bailey in 1979. Sir Ian McKellen was asked to play judge Sir Joseph Cantley, but turned down the role. "Peter Cook did a famous pastiche of the prejudiced judge at The Secret Policeman's Ball in 1979 and Ian knew perfectly well he’d be compared to him," explains director Stephen Frears. Raiders of the Lost Ark star Paul Freeman was instead cast.

2. Blake grew his own 70s moustache!

The hair and make up department were delighted with Blake Harrison, as he turned up on is first day to play hitman Andrew Newton with a full beard. "They loved that they could easily get shaving and shape his 1970s sideburns and the moustache using my real facial hair! It was alright for them but afterwards I had to go home looking like Borat!"

3. It’s all Hugh’s own hair!

Thorpe had a very distinctive comb over hairstyle and what we see on screen is all Hugh’s own locks. He was, however, given contact lenses to darken his eyes to be more like the real Thorpe. Meanwhile, Ben wore a wig for Norman Scott’s early look in the 1960s, but as his hair was longer in the later 1970s, hairpieces were just added to Ben’s own barnet to make it more fulsome.

4. Costumes are exact replicas

Monica Dolan in A Very English Scandal

Monica Dolan was impressed by the production team’s dedication to replicate the outfit that Thorpe’s second wife Marion wore on the first day of the trial. "Lots of the photos were in black and white so they had to find out what colours they were. She wore a very bright orange blouse and I’m wearing the same."

5. Four Great Danes needed

Norman Scott was a dog lover but Ben, who plays him, found working with our four-legged friends rather challenging. "We went through four Great Danes while filming the scenes with Norman’s dog Rinka," he says. "They’re really big and very beautiful creatures but they just wouldn’t do what was needed!"

6. Parliament is in Buckinghamshire

Behind the scenes pic of Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal

Filming took place at Bulstrode, Buckinghamshire. Interiors of its 1865 mansion doubled as the Houses of Parliament's offices, and hitman Andrew Newton’s failed murder attempt on Scott was filmed in a nearby field, doubling for Exmoor.

A Very English Scandal continues on BBC1 at 9pm.

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.