Stuart: A Life Backwards

Synopsis: When Stuart Shorter - a homeless alcoholic with a violent past - meets writer and charity worker Alexander Masters, they strike up an unlikely friendship. As Alexander learns more about Stuart's complicated life and traumatic childhood, he asks if he can write his story and Stuart advises him to tell the story backwards, so that it's "More exciting - like a Tom Clancy murder mystery". As their remarkable alliance develops, Stuart gradually recounts his life story in reverse, his resilient personality and dry sense of humour giving the story an almost tragi-comic edge. Through post office heists, attempts at suicide and spells inside numerous institutions, Alexander is given a glimpse into a totally alien world and begins to understand how Stuart's life spiralled so badly out of control.
Genre: Drama
Director(s): David Attwood
  6 wins & 1 nomination.
92 min

Hello, Alexander. It's Stuart.

Hello, Stuart.

You know, admitting I've had lots to drink

and that, but I can't help reflect

I'm Alexander, the bloke

in the glasses driving,

not the mumbly one on the tape.

That's Stuart.

I got to know Stuart in 2000 and

decided to write his biography.

All my friends said it was mad.

I mean, after all this man was unknown,

he wasn't famous, not a celebrity,

but the book turned out okay.

Just wish Stuart could

have been here to see it.

I think it was the first ever biography

of a homeless man.

From birth to the present day.

So, back in 2000 I was earning

a bit of extra pocket money

working as a fundraiser

at Wintercomfort,

which is a busy little day shelter in Cambridge,

normally full of homeless people.

Full, that is, until the morning that

the police decided to raid the place.

They've been arrested.

All of them?

What a good idea.

Uh, no, no. It was, um,

just my boss, Ruth,

and um, her deputy, John.

Some of the clients have been secretly

dealing drugs on the premises

but because Ruth and John ran the charity,

they were held responsible.

They've got evidence, on film.

I was furious at the injustice of it.

And, uh, then really, for the

first time in my life

I actually began to take a real and

practical interest in the homeless.

F*** off, pisshead!

I'd like to introduce to you Alexander Masters,

a dedicated friend of the homeless himself,

chairman of the campaign.

Oh, we were convinced

they'd never be convicted.

I mean, if prisons can't control drugs then

how could Ruth and John be expected to?

As everyone knows, we're here this evening

about Ruth Wyner and John

The judge, Justice Howarth, sent them down

for five years, and four years.

- Shame.

- Thank you.

- Fascist.

- Thank you.

But this is the crunch,

what are we going to do about it?

How is this campaign going to

get Ruth and John out?

- Yes?

- We could send them books.

Bunyan, he's good for prisons.

Hardly. Miracle of the Rose,

by Genet, if you must.

Excuse me, this isn't gonna work.

Sending them books, eh?

It won't fit in the box.

- Sorry?

- The inmate's belongings.

Everyone's got one.

- Who is that?

- No idea. They all look the same to me.

you're also allowed a piece of carpet

what won't fit in your box,

and a budgie

or, or a canary,

and obviously the cage is not

going to fit in the box.

But, it is Ruth and John what will suffer.

All of them books, the screws will just chuck them out

because they won't fit in your box.

I'm not being funny, but you should really know

about boxes if you're gonna have a campaign.

Me name's Psycho, but you can

call me Stuart, if you like.

- Um, what's your address?

- Umm... 2 Laurel Lane.

Yeah, they help me: doctors, a couple clothes,

outreach, sometimes lunch with two puddings.

Yeah, they put it all on,

those two. And the staff.

I'm not being funny, yeah,

but I am really grateful.

- The other day I got a really [indiscernible].

- Oh, great.

- Can I help?

- Yeah, uh, yeah.

That's how I first met Stuart Shorter.

Street brawler, alcoholic, a heroin addict,

sociopathic street raconteur with a fondness

for what he called "little strips of silver".

Knives, to you and me.

- Thank you very much for agreeing to store these.

- Oh, no problem.

Mind the step. Oh, dear.

Here you go, mate.

Welcome to my humble abode.

2 Laurel Lane.

Well, they are laurels, aren't they?

I only heard about the meeting this morning

when I was picking up my breakfast.

- Your address?

- Mm-hm.

A bad idea, number one, mate. You could get

any old riff-raff showing up. Oh, dear, dear.


It's you.

I've addressed some envelopes.

- Which, uh...

- They alright?


I've had a blinding idea for the campaign.

Yeah, get us on television and all.

Not even violent, if we leave

out the kidnapping.

- Do you want to come in?

- Oh, yes please.

It's a bit wet out there.

Ooh, that's nice.

- How many sugars?

- As many as you got, mate.


All them books.

Have you read all of them?



Not exactly.

The Hunting Wasp.

A whole book about them little summer things.

This one.

What is this one about?

The colour mauve.

How do you f***ing get away with this?

Now, this blinding idea.

Have you got a car?


What do you like better: Volvo or VW?

And then a few weeks later I had the idea about

the book and started doing a little research.

That boy has suffered. He deserves a book.

You should write a book about me.

Always such a caring boy.

Happy-go-lucky little thing.

Legs all over the show, bless him.

Three months after that we carried

out Stuart's blinding idea

which was a sleep-over protest

in front of the home office

to persuade the then Home Secretary,

Jack Straw, to release Ruth and John.

Which was better than his first idea,

which was to kidnap him.

Stuart took care of our transport.


And on the way to London I read him

the first few pages of my book idea.

"Stuart Clive Shorter was a happy-go-lucky little boy,

'the most considerate of my children', marvels his mother."



Why do you want to write

this f***ing book anyway?

To make lots and lots and lots of money.

Seriously? You think you can

make money out of it?

Could, maybe.

Something as boring as that?

Don't be so rude. Anyway, it's not my

fault that you started out so dull.

Rate this script:5.0 / 1 vote

Alexander Masters

Alexander Masters is an author, screenwriter, and worker with the homeless. He lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Masters is the son of authors Dexter Masters and Joan Brady. He was educated at Bedales School, and took a first in physics from King's College London. He then went to St Edmund's College, Cambridge for a further degree in maths, and then the beginnings of a PhD in the philosophy of quantum mechanics. He was studying for an MSc degree in mathematics with the Open University, and working as an assistant at a hostel for the homeless in Cambridge, when he wrote his first book. He is the writer and illustrator of Stuart: A Life Backwards (ISBN 0-00-720037-4), the biography of Stuart Shorter. It explores how a young boy, somewhat disabled from birth, became mentally unstable, criminal and violent, living homeless on the streets of Cambridge. As the title suggests, the book starts from Shorter's adult life, tracing it back in time through his troubled childhood, examining the effects his family, schooling and disability had on his eventual state. Masters wrote the book with Shorter's active and enthusiastic help.Alexander Masters won an Arts Council Writers' Award for Stuart and went on to win the Guardian First Book Award and the Hawthornden Prize. The book was also shortlisted (in the biography category) for the Whitbread Book-of-the-Year Award, the Samuel Johnson Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the United States. He also wrote a screenplay adaptation, filmed in 2006 for the BBC and HBO, and broadcast in September 2007. It won the Royal Television Society Award in the Single Drama category and the Reims International Television award for the Best TV Screenplay. In 2007, he collaborated with photographer Adrian Clarke on the book Gary's Friends, chronicling the lives of drug and alcohol abusers in North East England. Masters is also the author of The Genius In My Basement (ISBN 9780007243389), a biography of mathematician Simon P. Norton. In 2016, Masters published A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash (ISBN 9780374178185)Alexander Masters has been portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Stuart: A Life Backwards, the 2007 BBC dramatization of his biography of Stuart Shorter. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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