Little less than a year ago, Hugo Speer was leading a truly blessed life.
He had a blissfully happy wife Vivienne, whom he utterly adores, two wonderful daughters, Nico, now ten, and six-year-old Elki, and a lovely family home in leafy North London, in the sort of friendly neighbourhood where children jump over fences to play in each other’s gardens.
Hugo, now 55, was working on The Full Monty television drama, for a hefty sum, with his Monty pals — Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Paul Barber, Steve Huison, Wim Snape, Lesley Sharp and Tom Wilkinson — 25 years after they filmed the brilliant original movie about six unemployed steel workers from Sheffield who form a striptease group.
But in May last year this blessed life was devastated when Hugo was sacked for ‘inappropriate conduct’ during filming in Manchester. His crime? He struggles to understand it.
Hugo, you see, was dismissed for being seen undressed in the privacy of his own trailer when he was changing at the end of a day’s filming.
Little less than a year ago, Hugo Speer (left) was leading a truly blessed life. He had a blissfully happy wife Vivienne (right), whom he utterly adores, two wonderful daughters, Nico, now ten, and six-year-old Elki, and a lovely family home in leafy North London, in the sort of friendly neighbourhood where children jump over fences to play in each other’s gardens
‘It doesn’t even make sense,’ he says. ‘Some mates of mine, laddie mates in the pub, just laughed.
They said: ‘This is The Full Monty you’re on, isn’t it? For God’s sake?’ It was tragi-comic, but they didn’t realise how badly affected I was. I went into massive, deep shock. As you can see, I’m still kind of there.’
I can. Hugo, who comes across as a thoroughly decent, kind man, is trying to hold himself together but is in pieces throughout much of this raw, emotional interview. His distress is deeply affecting.
An actor of 31 years, Hugo was highly regarded by everyone who has ever worked with him.
He was, says Jessica Pope, executive producer on the BBC’s The Musketeers in which he starred for three series, ‘the first person to notice when someone on set was ill at ease or shy and make them feel comfortable’.
But this brilliant man has had no film or television work since this accusation was made and now needs antidepressants to get through the day, while at night he worries himself half sick about keeping a roof over his family’s heads.
His fiercely supportive wife Vivienne, 41, who tries to keep the household afloat through her work as a scriptwriter, tells me there have been days she’s been ‘scared to leave him at home alone in case he took his own life’.
Hugo Speer in the 1997 film The Full Monty
Hugo confesses he has contemplated suicide. ‘I just wanted to stop feeling what I was feeling. If it wasn’t for Vivienne and the girls, I would have ended it all. That was the worst thing. I didn’t want to be feeling like this, but I couldn’t stop living because of my family.’
He breaks down in huge sobs. ‘My children, they’re so little I can’t . . .’ Vivienne reaches out to comfort him. He holds on to her like a drowning man to a rock.
‘They’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives, seeing their daddy having a nervous breakdown. No child should have to see that.’
He tries to gather himself. ‘I didn’t think this was going to happen. I thought I was all cried out. In this industry reputation is everything, I have spent 31 years working really hard to build a reputation that now lies in tatters. How could this have happened? Where were the grown-ups in the room?’
Hugo tells me that a runner in her early 20s, with little on-set experience, knocked on the door of his trailer when he was changing.
He shouted ‘one minute’ but she opened it nonetheless and stood on the steps engaging him in a 30‑second conversation.
Hugo says he hid himself behind the wardrobe and thought no more about it other than wondering why she hadn’t walked away, as most people would upon interrupting someone changing.
Six days later, on May 10, he was taken aside by a producer on set. ‘He said: ‘Hugo, can I have a word — there’s been a couple of complaints about you,’ he says.
‘I said: ‘What?’ I’ve never, in 31 years, had a single complaint about my conduct. He told me: ‘You’ve been seen undressed in your trailer.’
I couldn’t believe it. I said: ‘OK, that’s my trailer. That’s where I get dressed and undressed.’ He said: ‘It’s serious.’ I said: ‘Whoa, stop. What’s serious? What’s going on?’
‘I’m a 55-year-old happily married man with two small children. I’m not going to start turning into a flasher after all these years in the business. I was so shocked to be told I’d made members of the crew feel ‘uncomfortable’.
‘I tried to think back and remembered the runner, but she hadn’t said anything since she opened the door on me. Not ‘that was a bit awkward’. Nothing. We just carried on doing our jobs.
‘Then an executive producer took me to one side. He said: ‘We have to be seen to be doing the right thing.’ I was due three weeks off from filming, so I was sent home ‘until it has all blown over’.
‘When you hear words like that — ‘We have to be seen to be doing the right thing’ — alarm bells ring. But I just had to trust them and believe it would all get sorted out.’
Hugo left that day. He was never to return.
Following an investigation that he argues was little better than a witch-hunt, his character, Guy, was written out of the rest of the series. Hugo doesn’t know the storyline.
He hasn’t been told. Instead, he learnt from an original cast member and long-time friend that his contract had been cancelled.
‘I still believed it would get sorted so I hadn’t yet told Vivienne. She was juggling several projects which was quite stressful. I felt a duty to protect my family and not say, ‘Oh I think I may be accused of something’, when I didn’t believe I’d done anything wrong. I thought: ‘OK this is the world we live in, but it will be dealt with.’
Six days after being sent home, he attended an interview at his agent’s offices with a human resources consultant appointed by the production company Little Island.
He says he didn’t give it a thought when the HR consultant told his agent it was ‘better’ if she didn’t sit in on the interview.
Nor did he think too much about the fact he was not given a written-up witness statement to read, approve and sign. The interview lasted about 30 minutes and, when he left, he says he still didn’t know exactly what he was being accused of.
He was waiting to hear the outcome of the investigation when, on May 27, he received a devastating phone call from a colleague on The Full Monty.
Hugo Speer and wife Vivienne in 2013 with baby Nico
‘He said: ‘Mate, mate, what’s gone on? Why have you had your contract terminated?’ It was an utter bombshell. I didn’t know.’
Hugo called his agent whom he learned had been informed by the production company less than an hour before.
In a state of shock, Hugo went to Vivienne’s home office to tell her. ‘I’ve got some bad news,’ he said. Such was their trouble-free life, she could only imagine her new bike had been stolen. He said: ‘No, it’s really bad news.’
‘I was gutted for Hugo and just so angry they could do something like this to someone who’s so not like that,’ says Vivienne.
Hugo was beside himself too as he tried to make sense of what seemed nonsensical. ‘I wasn’t sleeping at all. I’d be lying in bed playing it over and over in my mind. What could I have done differently? How did this happen?
‘I felt like I was getting kicked in the stomach over and over again. I couldn’t sleep. I’d get up but I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t do anything.’
Five days later he received an email from the HR consultant with a copy of her investigation report.
Hugo also stood accused of being seen undressed in his trailer by a costume trainee. The trainee complained she’d seen him walking naked in his trailer past an open door.
She acknowledged he didn’t so much as look at her. Hugo has no recollection of it but candidly says: ‘The trailers are dark and stuffy. If it’s a warm day I’ve been known to have the door open but I should have been more careful in this instance, as I was getting changed.
‘I’d no idea anyone was in the vicinity or could see into my trailer. If I made anyone feel uncomfortable I am extremely sorry.’
When he read the report, he says, ‘my heart sank. It seemed like a box-ticking exercise that had been dashed off. For starters, my name was spelled incorrectly and there were lots of typos.
‘But what really jumped out was that it said I had been given a verbal warning from a member of the crew. I hadn’t been given a warning. No one warned me about anything.
‘The first I heard about any complaints was when the producer pulled me aside on set. It seemed to me that the investigation was a sham, so I hired a legal team.’
After several weeks of frustrating legal to-ing and fro-ing, lawyers acting for Hugo issued Little Island and Disney with a Data Subject Access Request, which grants someone the right to have access to the personal data held about them, including emails and WhatsApp messages.
Hugo says: ‘I wanted to make sense of how I came to be sacked without warning.’
The next day a newspaper reporter arrived at Hugo’s front door. ‘He said: ‘Do you have any comments about your termination from The Full Monty?’ I just looked at him and my heart sank. The children were here. They were terrified. We were all terrified . . . The following day it was on the front page of the newspaper. There were pictures of me naked from the original movie and the headline was ‘Monty Gone’.
‘The newspaper came out on the Saturday and, two days later, we had to do the school run. I knew that everyone — 800 parents, something like that — knew. Can you imagine that feeling? Having to walk to school with our children having had that on the front page?
‘It was the most humiliating day of my life,’ he says, breaking down in tears. ‘My children shouldn’t have to go through this.’
Neighbours and friends have rallied round. They believe Hugo to be fair-minded with a social conscience. He supports the #MeToo movement and is disgusted by those who abuse a position of power.
His experience raises worrying questions about the effect of cancel culture. Two days after the newspaper article, Hugo’s voiceover agent called to say that owing to the negative publicity, a job had been cancelled.
And he soon learned that the cast and crew of The Full Monty had had to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
‘Hugo was in a state of extreme anxiety,’ says Vivienne. ‘He had depression, insomnia, exhaustion, nightmares. He was shaking. His heart was racing. Over the next few days, the subject of suicide started to come up. I was worried he’d have a heart attack because of all the stress. This is wrong. So wrong.’
Hugo was prescribed sedatives and began counselling sessions.
Meanwhile, he began to receive copies of heavily redacted emails and WhatsApp messages from Little Island and Disney.
‘There was black line after black line. Pages and pages of it,’ he says. ‘But when you read the stuff they were letting through, it was incredible. We saw a quote from an email written five days before the HR investigation which began, ‘sounds like we will be removing him from production’.’
Another said, ‘How long can we give Little Island to complete their ‘investigation’.’ The word investigation was in inverted commas.
It transpired the allegations against Hugo had already been investigated internally without his knowledge. A member of the crew had taken statements but failed to take one from him. She had then sent a WhatsApp message to the runner about Hugo suggesting she ‘kick him in the d***’.
Hugo says: ‘Evidence suggested the decision to terminate my contract had been taken five or so days before I was given a chance to defend myself during the HR investigation. On top of that, the HR report stated that I wouldn’t have needed a shower because my scenes were not dirty or strenuous.’
Vivienne takes his hand. ‘Imagine a male HR person took a woman into a room, denied her a witness, questioned her about why she was undressed and then came to the conclusion she didn’t need to wash because she wasn’t dirty and her scenes weren’t strenuous?’
‘But as freelancers, actors have few rights in employment law. Thankfully, next year the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority will be set up to change that.
Towards the end of last year, Hugo learned the case would not be heard at an employment tribunal until 2024. His own costs were mounting and he faced the prospect of having to pay Disney’s costs, too, if his claim was unsuccessful.
‘I wasn’t sleeping at night,’ he says. ‘It was costing us thousands and thousands, and if they took us for costs we would have been out of this house. I was homeless when I was a teenager. Try telling a former homeless man he’s about to be kicked out of his home with his wife and small children. I thought: ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘
So in January, he threw in the towel and dropped his case.
‘The other side then said the condition for accepting and not challenging for costs so far was for me never to contact anyone on the production, including my friends of 25 years, and to sign an NDA.’
He declined to sign the agreement. He’s still furious. ‘They’ve taken my job. They’ve taken my reputation. They’ve taken my money. They’ve taken my mental health. And now they wanted my voice.
‘No, you don’t get to gag me. You don’t ruin my life, potentially ruin my career and then gag me to protect your reputation. You know what? You can’t. I don’t want anybody else to have to go through the living hell that me and my family have been put through.’
Vivienne gives me a look that says no one else ever should.
A spokesperson for Disney said: ‘Last year, we were made aware of allegations of inappropriate conduct by Hugo Speer on the set of The Full Monty. As is policy, an independent investigation was launched. Upon its completion, the decision was made to terminate his contract, with immediate effect.’
Post source: The List