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Screening a Christian marvel

26 September 2014

SCOTT KERSHAW/TIGER ASPECT/FIFTY FATHOMS

An inspiration: Neil Baldwin, played by Toby Jones, in a scene from the film Marvellous, which explores his life

An inspiration: Neil Baldwin, played by Toby Jones, in a scene from the film Marvellous, which explores his life

CIRCUS clown, fixture at Keele University for half a century, the Stoke City manager Lou Macari's "best-ever signing" - Neil Baldwin has an identity that is nothing if not multi-faceted. But asked about the focus of the documentary on his life, he was clear: "My friends who came along to the première said 'You've put God in it first' - and that's it how should be."

The film, Marvellous, was scheduled to be shown yesterday on BBC2. It will tell the story of Mr Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties who has lived an extraordinary life, owing to his boundless capacity to make friends. Besides becoming kit man at his beloved Stoke City, he secured an honorary degree from Keele University, an institution that he simply walked into in 1960. "I liked the campus and the chapel and the people," he told The Guardian in 2010, in an article that inspired the writer of Marvellous, Peter Bowker.

"I have long been interested in how we use labels to limit the people we are describing - and even, at worse, to dehumanise them," Mr Bowker told the Radio Times. "But Neil - despite being labelled and to some extent written off as a young man - struck me as a man who defied those who wished to define him."

Mr Baldwin counts many bishops in the Church of England among his friends. In an interview with Neill Harvey-Smith for the diocese of Lichfield, published this month, he described his experience of becoming a Christian through a Church Army mission in Chesterton in 1957: "I thought 'I'll give my life to the Lord', and that's what I did. I've been at Keele since 1960."

His mother, with whom he lived until she died a few years ago, was a Christadelphian.

"She was remarkably progressive and proud, and there was no question about yielding to public perception of any kind of learning difficulty," the actor Toby Jones, who plays Mr Baldwin in the film, told Radio 4's Front Row this week.

"You would say he [Mr Baldwin] is an optimist but no matter how hard one pushes him on anything bad, the effect of his experience of life has proved to him that things generally turn out for the best."

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