The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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TV to tap race against odds

The story of Stephen Hawking’s battle as a young scientist stricken by motor neurone disease is to be made into a television drama.

Filming is about to start and the drama is due for broadcast next year on BBC 2. It has been written by Peter Moffatt, who wrote the television series Cambridge Spies, and is being directed by the documentary film-maker Philip Martin.

John Lynch, the creative director of BBC Science, said: “Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the modern era. Now, as a result of the relationship that BBC Science has developed with him, we have the opportunity to tell his story, with Stephen’s collaboration.”

Collaboration is important. An earlier play — God and Stephen Hawking — was dismissed by Prof. Hawking as “stupid and worthless”.

The new drama is to star Benedict Cumberbatch as the 21-year-old Hawking who, as a bored and unpromising Ph.D student at Cambridge, is diagnosed with the degenerative disease and given two years to live. Prof. Hawking, now 61, has written about the shock his diagnosis caused at the time.

However, while he was having tests in hospital, he watched a boy die of leukaemia in the bed opposite.

“At least my condition didn’t make me feel sick,” he recalled. “Whenever I feel inclined to be sorry for myself I remember that boy.”

The doctors told him to carry on with the research he had just started in general relativity and cosmology.

“I felt somewhat of a tragic character,” said Prof. Hawking. “I took to listening to Wagner, but reports in magazine articles that I drank heavily are an exaggeration,” he added.

Against the odds, he survived. “Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before.”

He began to make progress with his research and got engaged to Jane Wilde. “That changed my life. It gave me something to live for.”

He went on to achieve worldwide acclaim and popular success, in particular with his book A Brief History of Time.

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