The Bromley Boy
Comes to the Algarve
By Sophie Sadler
Bromley and Lagos are not two places you would often say in one breath.
Through serendipity, however, these two points are where actor and film
producer TJ Herbert's stars have aligned.
The Bromley Boy Comes to the Algarve
By Sophie Sadler
Bromley and Lagos are not two places you would often say in one breath. Through serendipity, however, these two points are where actor and film producer TJ Herbert's stars have aligned.
When I met TJ, he is thanking his lucky stars that he moved to Lagos in February, just before lockdown. He reflects that the Algarve, which he has been visiting for 26 years, is a better place to have been in isolation than his London flat.
His parents bought a house in Lagos after having seen it in an advert in the Sunday Times. They extended it to form two properties, in which he and his sister enjoyed many happy holidays. Being in lockdown has allowed him, his Australian wife and six-year-old daughter to do some renovating on the property which he plans to also use as a film location.
We are meeting though, not to discuss Lagos, but Bromley, following the success of his film, The Bromley Boys, which been described as a “Must See” by The Times. It was the culmination of a seven-year journey after setting up his own production company, Itchy Fish.
TJ definitely looks like a film star, wearing a peaked hat and John Lennon sunglasses he stands out among the other diners at Fresco, yet he started his working career as a lawyer and followed his father into marine insurance. There was a creative gene in the family: his uncle was horror author James Herbert, and it is from him that TJ believes he acquired his love of telling stories.
Aged 25, he decided he needed a change in direction and wanted to explore his creative side. In the late 1990s he did a post-graduate course in performing arts and had been a jobbing actor for 15 years when he had his epiphany in Waterstones.
“After many years trying to get a break I decided to take matters into my own hands and launched my own production company. My mission statement was to become the master of my own destiny – if I was going to get a welly up the only way I could see that happening was generating my own material. I trotted off to Waterstones in Bromley and was immediately greeted by a poster of Dave Roberts, in his Bromley shirt, arms crossed, promoting The Bromley Boys: The true story of supporting the worst football team in Britain. As both a Bromley boy and a football fan (Crystal Palace) I was immediately intrigued and bought the book. I read it front to back in a matter of hours and thought, this is the one.”
This was the start of his film-making journey which would make a biopic in its own right. He hunted down the author, then residing in Connecticut, and convinced him to give him the rights for six months in order to develop a screenplay. A couple of years prior to this he had played a role in a comedy pilot about a lowly non-league football team. The series didn’t get commissioned but it did introduce him to the writer Warren Dudley.
“I loved his writing combining football and comedy so it was an easy choice in getting him on board to adapt the book into a screenplay.” Dudley wrote a funny yet touching coming-of-age story that uses non-league football as the backdrop. A laugh-out-loud feel-good comedy played out to the sights and sounds of Britain in the 1970s.
The author read the screenplay and granted TJ the rights to start the process of raising the money to make the film, “easy peasy – or so I thought”.
The next and most crucial step was securing finance and it was here that he met his first hurdle as investors couldn’t see a commercial appeal outside of Bromley FC – and even there some fans weren’t overly enamoured by the book because of how the club was positioned. TJ did not agree. “Having met many of the characters from the book and listening to their heartfelt stories I knew football fans up and down the country would relate to it. But more importantly, I felt it had a wonderful human story that would appeal to a universal audience.”
After four years, seeing over 500 potential investors, and with funding having been withdrawn twice, the film finally got into pre-production in the summer of 2016. “There were times when I doubted myself. But something spurred me on – call it stupidity – call it dogged stubbornness – but I had set my sights on proving those doubters wrong.” TJ had to re-mortgage his house to get to this stage and was the guarantor of the movie so the stakes were high.
Their first problem was finding a football club that they could take over for filming. Crockenhill FC offered their ground since Bromley FC had had a recent refurbishment. Their challenge second was finding the right male lead. Although he originally wanted the lead roles to be taken by unknowns from Bromley, after screen testing around 1000 he still hadn't found the right fit. Luckily Brennock O'Connor, who played Olly in Game of Thrones, auditioned and TJ immediately knew he was the one.
The Worthing-born teenager plays Dave Roberts, both the central character in the film, as well as the real-life author of The Bromley Boys book. Brenock confessed his nervousness about his first major film assignment: “Being the lead role is terrifying. It is the first lead role I have had - touch wood there are more to come - but it was daunting as a 16-year-old going into it.” But Brenock acknowledged that The Bromley Boys script played a pivotal role in him accepting the part: “The writing is incredible It’s a really funny script. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud when I was reading it, which is a great sign.”