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Six things you didn't know about Ronan Bennett, the NI writer behind Netflix’s Top Boy

 

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Ronan Bennett (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

Ronan Bennett (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

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Ronan Bennett attends the Top Boy UK Premiere at Hackney Picturehouse on September 04, 2019 in London. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

Ronan Bennett attends the Top Boy UK Premiere at Hackney Picturehouse on September 04, 2019 in London. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

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Ronan Bennett (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

East London crime drama Top Boy caused an internet frenzy when its 10 episode revival hit Netflix earlier this month.

The drama takes viewers into the housing estate of east London as tensions rise between drug gangs and those who strive to live honest lives against the odds in the crime-riddled area.

Belfast novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett is the brains behind Top Boy, the first two series of which originally aired on Channel 4 before it was cancelled in 2013.

Now, thanks to Drake and Netflix, the show is back.

Here are some things you mightn't know about the Northern Ireland writer behind the series that everyone is talking about.

He grew up in Newtownabbey

Bennett (63) was born in England but raised in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim in a devout Roman Catholic family. He attended St Mary’s Christian Brothers school on Belfast’s Falls Road.

He says Top Boy draws parallels with his experience growing up in Northern Ireland.

"It doesn’t take much imagination to think your way into this world. And maybe if you’re Irish it’s a little easier," he wrote in a piece for The Guardian.

He spent time in Long Kesh prison

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An aerial shot of Long Kesh, September 1971

An aerial shot of Long Kesh, September 1971

An aerial shot of Long Kesh, September 1971

 

Bennett became politically active in the early years of the Troubles. He was accepted for a place at Queen's University Belfast before he was arrested for suspected involvement in an IRA robbery.

In 1974, at age 18, he was convicted by a no-jury Diplock court of murdering Inspector William Elliott, a 49-year-old RUC officer during an IRA bank robbery at the Ulster Bank in The Diamond shopping area in Rathcoole, close to his home in Merville Garden Village, on September 6, 1974.

He had been in Long Kesh prison for a year when his conviction was overturned on appeal and he was released as "the evidence of identification was unsatisfactory".

He used to work for Jeremy Corbyn

He left Northern Ireland shortly after and went on to study at King's College London where he received a first class honours degree in history.

The same year he completed a doctorate on crime and law enforcement in 17th-century England, he was hired as a researcher by politician Jeremy Corbyn.

He has Drake to thank for the revival of Top Boy

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Drake, Ashley Walters, Micheal Ward and Little Simz attending the UK premiere of Top Boy (Ian West/PA)

Drake, Ashley Walters, Micheal Ward and Little Simz attending the UK premiere of Top Boy (Ian West/PA)

Drake, Ashley Walters, Micheal Ward and Little Simz attending the UK premiere of Top Boy (Ian West/PA)

 

Three years ago, Bennett got a call to tell him that a Canadian musician had seen the show and wanted to help make another series.

"In showbusiness, lots of people express interest in lots of things," Bennett told the Irish Examiner. "'I’m excited' is a much-mimicked showbiz line."

"I didn’t pay much attention. But some months later, I got a call again to say that the singer was in town and wanted to meet."

“The first time we met Drake, I remember he was drinking pinot grigio,” he said.

“I didn’t even know who Drake was until my kids told me about him. What struck me was how humble he was. He wasn’t coming in saying, ‘I want to do this or that’. He said, ‘I want to be the gasoline to your fire’.”

The rapper said he related to the UK series because it reminded him of where he grew up in Toronto and it "shows a world that is ignored".

He lives in Hackney, where the show is set

Bennett has lived right in the centre of Hackney, where Top Boy is set, for over 30 years - longer than he lived in his native Belfast.

He has said he was inspired to write Top Boy when he saw a 12-year-old selling drugs outside his local supermarket.

He lives in the London borough with his children, Finn and Molly.

While Bennett was getting to work on the scripts for Top Boy's second season, his wife, journalist Georgina Henry, was dying of sinus cancer. She passed away in February 2014 aged 53.

What else has he worked on?

Bennett has written numerous works of written fiction and non-fiction as well as feature films and television series.

One of his most recognisable pieces of work is 2009 Hollywood blockbuster Public Enemies, which starred Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington appeared in Bennett's Gunpowder, a BBC drama detailing the 1605 plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

The primetime show was criticised for its "graphic and violent" content.

Top Boy is streaming on Netflix now

Belfast Telegraph