The 1995 film I.D. was a story about an undercover police officer whose assignment was to infiltrate a gang of football thugs. The undercover officer soon starts to forget which side he’s on, when the fighting and drinking becomes the norm.
The above provides a synopsis to one of the UK’s most violent and hard-hitting films that you may never wish to watch! But what we didn’t know back in 1995 was that this story was true and the undercover officer was in fact a man who goes by the name, James Bannon.
WUWO Magazine caught up with James for a chat in order get to the bottom of how this hard hitting story came to light as well as find out a bit more about his diverse working background; undercover police officer, actor, stand up comedian, the set up and sale of a chain of estate agents and a brief spell owning and running an airline.
What are you up to right now?
I’m writing a book based on the film I.D. I’ve spoken about it being factually based a bit more recently, but I hadn’t done so before. I took the decision early on not to broadcast that as I was trying to be an actor and carve a new career on the back of the film rather than ‘I used to be an undercover police officer who became an actor.’
Looking back, I should have gone down that route because of the amount of interest it has created. Maybe my career as an actor would have been slightly different! (laughs)
I was very fortunate. I had good representation and got seen for lots of great stuff. I went to a really small drama school, which gave me good basics. At 23 years old when you’ve come out from being a covert police officer for years, which is all I knew, your employable skills aren’t many. But you are really good at pretending you are someone you’re not.
How did you become an undercover officer?
I got spotted by a really good sergeant who took me under his wing and thought I had the natural ability to work in plain clothes. I suppose I didn’t look like old bill and maybe I didn’t behave like the average young policeman did. I grew up on an estate and wasn’t afraid to say what I thought was right or wrong. There was a massive social and political problem in mid to late 80s with football hooliganism. They wanted us to go in, get evidence and get arrests.
You can’t teach someone to be covert policeman. You can give them the tools, run scenarios and role-play but nothing will be a substitution for the real situation. You are forever thinking on your feet. It’s not about just wearing plain clothes, it is a completely specialist type of policing. I was living another life for 2 and a half years and it’s absolutely insane.
How far can an undercover officer go? Did you commit offences?
You have to trust the individual officer and that they will make a decision based on where they are in that operation and what the consequences are if they carry out those options. You have to ask “is what I’m doing for the common good?”
It’s not as simple as black and white. For example, on an operation would you have three pints of beer because that’s what they’re all drinking and then drive them all home? Or the extreme of that is do you sleep with this woman because it’s going to elevate your status and you’re going to get into a certain level much quicker than if you didn’t? I never lost sight that what I was doing was a job.
Is the film factually correct?
There are elements of the film which are factually correct but some are just to boost it as a film.
Watch film trailer
Did you carry out acts of violence?
I worked as an undercover football hooligan for two and a half years. During that time I convinced everyone that I was a hardcore football hooligan.
I couldn’t have done that by sitting down watching ‘The Waltons’, but at the same time if someone is running at me and about to hit me with a big bat, then that is about self preservation. I would feel quite justified that if he’s going to hit me with that lump of wood then I’ll need to hit him before he hits me.
Did the police take the case to court after your time undercover?
No arrests were ever made from our operation.
Have you ever bumped into the men you were surveying?
I’ve seen some of them since. They knew I was undercover as they watched the film and they were very aware of who they were in it. It was like: what are we gonna do? Roll around and wait for the old bill to come and break it up or are we gonna talk about it?
Some people didn’t like how their character came across and others did well out of it. The film has in a way made the book a more interesting read. The book is really what happened, true life and factual stuff. A lot was left out of the film and the end of the film was ridiculous!
Did you write the original screenplay? And why did you not star in it?
I wrote the original story then they used it for the screen play. I was an actor and wanted to be in it, got the part then was pulled two days before they were about to make it because the lawyers advised them to drop me. Looking back, being a lot older and wiser, I don’t think I was ever going to be in it.
Did they pay you for using your story?
I was paid £5,000 – that was it.
Part two to follow
Interview by Steven Godwin