Skip to main content

You can’t handle the truth!

You can’t handle the truth!

In his first ever TV presenting role, award-winning actor Christopher Eccleston investigates two notorious crimes that rocked Britain

By Charlotte Briggs, Staff Writer

From Danny Dyer to Ross Kemp, legions of actors are swapping scripts for real-life stories as they venture into the world of factual film-making. And Christopher Eccleston is the latest thespian to join their ranks with his debut docu-series The Guilty Innocent With Christopher Eccleston.


The programme sees the Shallow Grave actor spearhead an in-depth investigation into two highly controversial convictions, which at the time prompted the biggest and boldest grassroots campaigns the nation had ever seen. As well as meeting experts and those who were close to the accused, the series also uses dramatic reconstructions and archive footage to shine a new light on our criminal justice system.



In the first of two episodes, Eccleston looks at the case of minicab driver George Davis, who was falsely accused of an armed robbery of the London Electricity Board in 1974. And in a TV exclusive, Davis breaks his 50-year silence arrest to discuss his experiences of his trial and incarceration based on a conviction that was overturned decades later.


Next, Eccleston re-examines the notorious case of James Hanratty, who was one of the last men to receive the death penalty in Britain. Hanratty was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Michael Gregsten and attempted murder of Valerie Storie and hanged in 1962, sparking a powerful movement to abolish capital punishment in the UK.


Don’t miss The Guilty Innocent With Christopher Eccleston from 9pm on Tuesday 14 May on Sky HISTORY HD (CH 131). In the meantime, we sat down with the Emmy Award-winning actor, who talked to us what it was like to make a documentary, the importance of being vigilant regarding public services and which cases he wants to investigate next.


What made you choose this project for your first TV presenting role?

I’ve done nearly 50 years of acting. When I was approached to do this series, it was pointed out to me that a lot of the dramas I’d done engaged with injustice – Let Him Have It, Hillsborough, Sunday and Our Friends In The North whose characters were very politically engaged. I love my job but if I could move into self-authored documentary pieces, I’d be very happy to do that. A great hero to me is Michael Palin, who’s done it all.


What was it like interviewing someone rather than being interviewed yourself?

In my day-to-day life the last thing I want to do is talk about myself. I’m a much better listener than a talker. It’s my job to try to understand and empathise with people in order that I can play them. For me, the reason for doing this show was to meet people. I find it fascinating and it can be incredibly dramatic to hear people talk about their lives in a documentary format.


What surprised you the most while filming the programme?

Feeling the emotional weight on the individuals and the toll that it’s taken. When I met the two members of the Hanratty family, you could feel the sense of their burden. Both these cases absolutely divided British society. The media was obsessed, people had their opinions and I remember that George Davis graffiti up in Salford when I was a child [“GEORGE DAVIS IS INNOCENT” was commonly seen on walls at the time of his trial]. Davis and Hanratty were working-class people who didn’t have a voice. And their cases led to the working classes engaging with and taking on the establishment.


Are there any cases you’d want to explore in a second series?

I engaged with Derek Bentley’s family when I was filming Let Him Have It [Bentley was convicted of murder and hanged in 1953, but was pardoned in 1993] and I would like to look at his case because I think it says a great deal about class in this country. I’d also look at the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Stephen Lawrence and the Post Office scandal. I’d like to make more of these Guilty Innocent series because I think it touches on all areas of society. There’s huge emotional engagement.


Has this experience made you rethink how the British justice system works?

It’s reminded me that we have to be eternally vigilant of our public services. It’s sixth-form politics to just say that the whole establishment and police force is corrupt. We have to feel that we have a voice in how they conduct themselves. We cannot become complacent because it could happen to any of us. I could have been George Davis or a member of my family could have been George Davis.


How do you hope the audience reacts to this series?

I hope they feel that their intelligence is being respected. I feel with a lot of television the audience are regarded as passive consumers. I’ve tried not to make drama like that and I’m hoping that this documentary asks for a level of intellectual and emotional engagement. I’m there for the audience, really, so hopefully I ask the questions that they would want to ask.


When is The Guilty Innocent With Christopher Eccleston on TV?

You can watch the first episode of The Guilty Innocent With Christopher Eccleston at 9pm on Tuesday 14 May on Sky HISTORY HD (CH 131). The second instalment follows on Tuesday 21 May and episodes will also be available in On Demand.


You might also like

TV channels: Channels, content and features available depend on your chosen package. Channel line-ups and content are subject to change at any time and to regional variations.

HD: HD TV set, V HD Box, TiVo box, Virgin TV V6 box or Virgin TV 360 box connected with HDMI cables required for HD channels. Number of inclusive HD channels depends on package.

Catch Up TV: Catch Up TV content available for up to 7 days or up to 30 days after broadcast, depending on content.