Anybody's Nightmare

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Anybody's Nightmare
GenreCrime drama
Written byJohn Flanagan
Andrew McCulloch
Directed byTristram Powell
StarringPatricia Routledge
Georgina Sutcliffe
Thomas Arnold
Jean Ainslie
David Calder
Malcolm Sinclair
William Armstrong
Nicola Redmond
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes1
Executive producerSharon Bloom
ProducersKen Baker
Stephen Smallwood
CinematographyChris O'Dell
EditorJamie McCoan
Running time97 minutes
Production companyCarlton Television
Original networkITV, STV, UTV
Picture format16:9
Audio formatStereo
Original release7 October 2001 (2001-10-07)

Anybody's Nightmare is a British television crime drama, based on the true story of the imprisonment of Sheila Bowler, that was broadcast on ITV on 7 October 2001.[1] Patricia Routledge starred as Bowler, a 62-year-old music teacher who in 1993 was wrongly arrested, tried and convicted for the murder of her husband's 89-year-old aunt Florence Jackson, who in 1992 had drowned in the River Brede in East Sussex.[2] The film chronicles the investigation and trial, and her subsequent four years' detention in Holloway Prison and Bullwood Hall Prison before her successful appeal in 1998.[3]

The film depicts the quest for justice undertaken by Sheila's children, Simon (Thomas Arnold) and Jane (Georgina Sutcliffe), who were helped by a friend of the family, Angela Devlin (Nicola Redmond); Devlin's book on the case, published in 1998, was the basis for the film. The cast includes David Calder as prosecution barrister Anthony Glass QC, Malcolm Sinclair as Nicholas Purnell QC, and William Armstrong as Jeremy Roberts QC, Bowler's defence lawyers.[4] The initial broadcast of the film drew 9.11 million viewers.[5]


Sheila Bowler (Patricia Routledge) is a 62-year-old music teacher living in Rye, East Sussex. One weekend, she goes to collect her late husband's auntie, Florence Jackson (Jean Ainslie), from the care home where she is living. On the drive back home, Sheila's car suffers a puncture. She makes the decision to leave Florence in the car to walk to a nearby cottage to call for help. Upon her return, Sheila discovers that Florence has disappeared. The police are called, but despite an overnight search, no trace of Florence is discovered. Early the next day, divers pull a body from the nearby River Brede, which is confirmed to be that of Florence.

The much younger police inspectors in charge of the case seemingly find suspicion in every one of Sheila's actions, from her lack of concern while phoning for help to her cleaning her shoes after returning home to her not signing in at the care home when she picked up Auntie Flo. Sheila's lawyers, also much younger, advise her to refuse to answer any questions whatsoever in police questioning, a tactic which only spurs the case to trial. In court, Sheila is unprepared for aggressive cross-examination and is subsequently found guilty.

In prison, Sheila takes advantage of the wardens' discomfort with her age to leverage better working conditions and eventually becomes friends with some of the inmates, who take to calling her "super-gran". Meanwhile, her children reconnect with an old friend who advises them to do their own homework on the appeals process and to find better lawyers. Their efforts eventually lead to media attention for Sheila's case and the appeal goes forward.

At the appeal, Sheila and her lawyers are better prepared and make a more convincing case. When the receptionist of the care home reveals details about Auntie Flo that sink the prosecution's original argument, Sheila is finally freed.


  • Patricia Routledge as Sheila Bowler
  • Georgina Sutcliffe as Jane Bowler
  • Thomas Arnold as Simon Bowler
  • Jean Ainslie as Florence "Aunt Flo" Jackson
  • David Calder as Anthony Glass, QC
  • Malcolm Sinclair as Nicholas Purnell, QC
  • William Armstrong as Jeremy Roberts, QC
  • Nicola Redmond as Angela Devlin
  • Albert Welling as Ewen Smith
  • Scott Baker as DS Renno
  • Louisa Millwood-Haigh as WDS Booth
  • Anne Carroll as Valerie Nye
  • Michael Culver as Lord Chief Justice Bingham
  • Peter Halliday as Lord Justice Swinton Thomas
  • Rashid Karapiet as Dr. Jeelani
  • Valerie Lilley as Mrs. Dobson


  1. ^ Guardian Staff (4 October 2001). "The innocent" – via
  2. ^ "Anybody's Nightmare – review - cast and crew, movie star rating and where to watch film on TV and online". Radio Times.
  3. ^ Carlton makes film of Sheila Bowler case, Broadcast Now, 1 February 2001.
  4. ^ "Anybody's Nightmare (2001)". BFI.
  5. ^ "Weekly top 30 programmes - BARB".

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