BBC The Responder creator Tony Schumacher hit rock bottom before taxi ride changed life forever

Tony Schumacher has shared his incredible story in an exclusive interview with the ECHO
Tony Schumacher has shared his incredible story in an exclusive interview with the ECHO -Credit:Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo

It is just a day away from The Responder's season two premiere and Tony Schumacher admits he's feeling nervous.

The Huyton showrunner won universal acclaim and wall to wall five star reviews with his gritty portrayal of life on the streets of Liverpool as a first response officer in his hit BBC show. However, Tony is not someone who lets success go to his head as he knows more than anyone how life can change in an instant.

It's no surprise The Responder struck a chord with so many because it comes from a place of truth as Tony channelled his own personal struggles into aspects of Chris Carson's story. The 56-year-old told the ECHO in an exclusive interview how he hit rock bottom when he quit the force in 2006 after suffering a nervous breakdown due to the stresses of the job.

READ MORE: Jimmy McGovern's Liverpool admission as he shares Scouse trait key to his success

He said: "I went completely off the end and resigned from the job. I couldn't go back to work. What I hadn't done was planned for a future because I was so ill.

"I had nowhere to live, my marriage had broken down and I ended up living out of my car by Crosby beach for about two months.

"I had nothing and, had my car MOT not been due, I'd probably still be there. I thought I'm going to lose the car here and If I lose the car, then I'm knackered.

"A mate of mine reached out to me and he got me a place to live and I started this slow recovery." Tony is thankful he didn't suffer from addiction issues as this meant he was able to get his life back on track by getting a job as a taxi driver.

When he was younger, Tony dreamed of becoming a writer but shelved those plans when failing his English O-Levels made it seem like an unachievable fantasy. However, Tony always tried to keep in touch with his creative spark as he dabbled with stand-up comedy during his time in the police and hoped the flexible hours of a cab driver would allow him to get back on stage.

The new job changed the direction of his life in a way he never expected, and allowed him to pursue the original dream when former editor of Liverpool Confidential, Angie Sammons, got in the back of his cab and the two struck up a conversation. He said: "I just told her I was a writer and I don't know why I did because I hadn't written anything for 30 years at that point.

"She said 'well, send me some stuff' and my whole life changed in that moment. I went home that night and wrote something. She bought it and I became a writer."

The sliding doors moment is even more extraordinary as Tony revealed he nearly drove away from the pick up point at Lime Street station when the editor's train arrived later than scheduled. He laughed: "This week I've been thinking 'oh my god, if she didn't get in that car'..."

Tony's career has continued to go from strength to strength since that moment as he has published several books and pivoted into screenwriting after he was mentored by Jimmy McGovern. Tony's ability to communicate truth, heart and feeling in his work has attracted the attention of the best in the industry.

Martin Freeman took one look at the pilot script for The Responder and arranged to go for a coffee three days later to see how he could be involved in the lead role. However, Tony remains humble when he reflects on his rise to the top and said his experience of failure means he strives to work harder than anyone else.

He said: "I worry it could go away just as easily. That's what makes me work like a lunatic. I work ridiculous hours and I think it's because of that innate working class fear that this could all go tomorrow.

"Somebody might just come along and say we're not buying your stuff anymore. I've got that low level anxiety. There's an overwhelming dread constantly.

"Failure is always just behind me and it feels like it's just nipping at my heels the whole way. My agent said to me the other day, 'I love you because you always hit your deadlines'. It's because I'm terrified that if I don't, then someone will say 'don't bother'."

Tony credits his upbringing with instilling this strong work ethic as he explains his dad worked long hours at Ford's factory and his mum had to abandon creative pursuits for a job at the Meccano factory. A conversation with Tony is a whistle-stop tour through these Liverpudlian reference points - and the writer is proud to have been shaped by the city he now proudly represents on the cultural stage.

He said: "I love the city and I love the people. I was sitting in a cafe in Toxteth the other day and I was waiting 10 minutes for my mate and I was just listening to the conversation. It's the best city in the world and there's no getting away from it."

The Responder is unapologetically Scouse and one of the show's major strengths was how the dialogue captured the Liverpool voice perfectly with slang and in-jokes littered throughout the script. The first season was sold to over 70 countries and Tony said it was amazing to see people all over the world fall in love with the region's dialect.

He said: "It does blow my mind to think Marco is saying tracky and trabs and there's some poor interpreter trying to figure out what that means. If there was a thing that everyone fell in love with, it was the authenticity of how it sounded and, not in the way that it was a novelty, they just loved they were properly hearing those voices."

Although The Responder was a worldwide critical success and landed multiple awards, Tony said winning the support of people in Liverpool meant more than anything. He said: "You don't want to let people down. I know before the show people were having a little go at it about making a show about crime in Liverpool.

"But I always say it's not about crime, it's about people. It's about people struggling. Nobody is just shoving millions under a bed. It's people who are struggling to get by in this modern world and, in this city, which has had it really hard with crime and corruption.

"It was about saying these are good people who are doing bad things. I wanted people to love them and people have done so far."

The first season of The Responder was a standalone story as the thrilling plot was tied up at the end of the original five episodes. However, Tony breathed life into the characters and said the curiosity of where they would be six months later made him want to delve back into the story.

He said: "It felt with Chris that although we tied up all the loose ends of the plot, we hadn't tied up Chris. You didn't feel like he got any resolution and I was interested in where he would be mentally after that."

Tony has once again tapped into some of his own struggles to tell the story of how Chris is aiming to be a better man and repair the relationships in his life. He admitted it is difficult to revisit those parts of his life, but the fact he is able to tell it to a global audience is a sign of how far he has come since those days living out of his car on Crosby beach.

He said: "I like to say it isn't [difficult to revisit the darkest moments] but sometimes it is. Sometimes you don't give it a second thought. But other times when you've got to go looking for certain things, feelings and moments.

"I'll be driving home at 3/4 in the morning and you are back in that place. I'm not sobbing my heart out in the car or wanting to throw myself in the Mersey, but I am conscious I've opened that tap again but that's how I make my living so what can you do?"

Creator of a successful BBC show is the latest in Tony's varied CV that has included taxi driver, police officer, roofer and working at the tip. However, despite the many paths he has travelled during his rollercoaster journey, Tony has never lost sight of his roots and has always remained true to himself.

He said: "What I find funny is I probably am different but I don't feel any different as a human being. My thought process, anxieties, worries and humour feels exactly the same in that first week when I was driving a cab and my life was totally different.

"Sometimes if you think about [his life now], it blows your mind. I went to The Ivy the other week and I come out, saying ta-ra to my agent and it hit me then. Sometimes it catches you and it's the maddest thing in the world.

"But then at 4.20am I was sitting at home stroking the dog, just chilling before I went to bed and I used to do that when I was driving a cab." From failing his O-Levels and leaving school at 16, Tony's arc has come full circle as The Responder is now studied on the A-Level syllabus.

He has managed to rebuild his personal life along the way as the writer is now happily married and a proud dad. Although the anxieties it could all suddenly change may never go away, Tony can now look forward to the next chapter of his inspirational journey as he follows in the footsteps of legendary Merseyside scribes such as Alan Bleasdale, Heidi Thomas and Jimmy McGovern.

He said: "I want to do this for the rest of my life and I can understand now why people don't want to retire."

The ECHO sat down with Tony for a wide ranging interview on his life at our HQ, which premieres on our YouTube channel tomorrow at 7.30pm. You can watch the interview when it goes live here

The Responder season two gets underway on BBC One tomorrow at 9pm

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