Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her family

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Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a
Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her family

When Julia Stonehouse tuned in to ITV’s new drama, she was horrified by what she saw.

Three-part blockbuster Stonehouse – watched by an estimated six million viewers each night this week – is based on the life of her MP father John, who attempted and failed to fake his own death after a mental breakdown in the 1970s.

Julia called the drama a “vicious attack” on her family that is “littered with falsehoods” about her father, who was mentally ill and addicted to mind-altering prescription drugs.

Julia, 71, said she had even written to ITV complaining about the show, starring Keeley Hawes and Matthew Macfadyen, before it aired.

She told the Sunday Mirror: “It is emotional abuse to our family.

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“It portrayed my father as a communist spy, he wasn’t, he was anti-communist. They said he was caught in a honeytrap, he just wasn’t.

Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her familyMatthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes played John and Barbara Stonehouse respectively (ITV)

“My mother, who is 91, has been really worried about it.

“My father was depressed and suicidal from prescription drugs and had had a mental breakdown during the six months before he faked his death but that was hardly addressed.

“They made him look like a hap-less fool. But I guess mental illness isn’t funny and doesn’t sell.

“It’s like they think the Stonehouse family is a row of tubes of paint and they think they can squeeze them and create an image of their own.

“My father was a clever, nice, kind man who was so smart.”

Julia, who wrote John Stonehouse, My Father: The True Story Of The Runaway MP, also criticised ITV1’s documentary about him, shown on Thursday – saying it “tried to give credence to their fantasy version of events in the drama”.

Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her familyJohn Stonehouse pictured with family members, including his partner Barbara (right) in 1975 (Andrew Meyerson)

A caption before the series read: “This drama is based on a true story. Some scenes and characters have been imagined for dramatic purposes.”

But Julia said the show is “full of fantasy” – claiming her father’s mistress never had a lisp, he never blew money on a sports car and that the family lived in a rented home in South London – not a country pile.

John Stonehouse was Postmaster General in Harold Wilson’s government when he vanished while swimming in the sea off Miami in 1974, leaving just a pile of folded clothes.

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Theories of what had happened to the married Labour MP – a long-distance swimmer – included a heart attack, drowning, a shark attack and a Mafia kidnap.

Julia, who was 24 when he vanished, said: “We knew he was an amazing swimmer. We hoped someone would find him and he had been suffering amnesia.”

Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her familyThe drama about John Stonehouse aired on ITV last week (ITV)

Five weeks later he was found and arrested in Australia, which came as a relief to Julia and her family. But Stonehouse had large debts and was jailed for seven years in 1976 for theft and fraud, in a scandal that will be new to many viewers.

Julia said: “You see my father’s character have sex with a blonde woman in a honeytrap before he is recruited against his will to be a spy for Czechoslovakia.

"That never happened. He wrote only a book about someone in a honeytrap. That element is the most hurtful.”

Julia says she and her sister are portrayed as “silent, grinning extras, like children in a horror movie”, while Hawes’ portrayal of her mother Barbara also irks Julia.

She added: “I’m glad my mother hasn’t seen it yet.”

Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her familyHarold Wilson, then leader of the Labour Party, is pictured alongside Mr Stonehouse in 1963 (Andrew Meyerson)
Horrified wife of Stonehouse drama MP says show a 'vicious attack' on her familyJulia Stonehouse said the drama about her father was 'full of fantasy' (Andrew Meyerson)

One scene which did not annoy Julia is her father’s address to the House of Commons. She said: “It probably better represented what he thought about politics and what happened to him better than he articulated it.

“I understand it’s a drama but how many viewers came away thinking it was historical fact? We have to live with that and try to let people know about the real John Stonehouse.”

ITV said the series was based on “years of extensive research” and said Julia was asked for input.

A spokesman added: “She made it clear from the outset that she and her family did not wish to contribute.”

Ben Griffiths

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