NOW IT’S NAPPY VALLEY: TV psychopath James Norton plays controversial test tube baby pioneer in new movie about Louise Brown

As the psychopathic Tommy Lee Royce on BBC drama Happy Valley, James Norton was responsible for ending more than one life.

But in his next – more inspiring – role, the acclaimed actor will be playing a Nobel-winning doctor responsible for bringing countless lives into the world.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the 38-year-old will be portraying medical pioneer Robert Edwards, whose research resulted in the world’s first ‘test tube baby’ – and ultimately more than four million children born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Norton was spotted filming scenes for a forthcoming movie about that work, entitled Joy, in the cobbled streets of Cambridge last week. 

With him was Thomasin McKenzie, the New Zealand-born star of Last Night In Soho, who will play nurse Jean Purdy, whose key role in the ground-breaking research was overlooked for three decades.

ON SET: Happy Valley’s James Norton and Bill Nighy who will be playing gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe

Bill Nighy will be playing gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, the third member of the medical team whose then-controversial work led to the birth of Louise Joy Brown at Oldham General Hospital in 1978.

Wearing a long-sleeved blue polo shirt, Norton was filmed peering out of a window to watch 23-year-old Ms McKenzie walking down a side street. 

In another scene for the movie – directed by Sex Education’s Ben Taylor and due for release on Netflix – Ms McKenzie was filmed reading a copy of medical journal The Lancet.

The surroundings would have been familiar for Norton, who graduated from Cambridge with a first-class theology degree in 2007, having studied at Fitzwilliam College.

His character was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine in 2010 for his work in developing IVF, but Edwards could not share the honour with his colleagues as they had died by then, and the accolade is not awarded posthumously.

Edwards started to study human fertilisation around 1960 and in 1968 he was able to achieve fertilisation of a human egg in the laboratory. 

He then started to collaborate with Steptoe.

Purdy was the first to see that a fertilised egg, which was to become Louise Brown, was dividing to make new cells. 

Thomasin McKenzie, the New Zealand-born star of Last Night In Soho, who will play nurse Jean Purdy

Pictured: Gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, embryologist Jean Purdy and physiologist Robert Edwards at the birth of Louise Brown on July 25, 1978

Edwards started to study human fertilisation around 1960 and in 1968 he was able to achieve fertilisation of a human egg in the laboratory

Although she co-wrote 26 papers with her colleagues, Purdy’s name was left off a plaque at Oldham marking their work – an oversight only corrected in 2013. She had died in 1985, aged just 39, of a malignant melanoma.

The history-making birth of 5lb 12oz baby Louise on July 25, 1978 was exclusively reported in the Daily Mail with a front-page photograph and the headline: ‘The lovely Louise.’

Ms Brown, now a mother of two herself, said last night: ‘I’m aware that a film is being made but have not been involved with it. I look forward to seeing it when it is released.’

Edwards died in 2013, aged 87, and Steptoe died in 1988, aged 74.

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