Is Top Boy a True Story? Where is it Filmed?

Image Credit: Channel 4

Top Boy‘ is a British crime drama series that revolves around two London friends — Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) — who run a drug business together, with the aim of being the richest guys on the block. Although their business is underground, it is thriving and making them quite a lot of money. However, greed gets the better of them and they partner with a don named Bobby Raikes in order to live richer. Soon, things go south as they get involved in the rivalry between the gangs of Raikes and Kamale Robert Lewis and face some grave consequences.

The series gives the viewers a glimpse of the hoods in London and walks them through what transpires on these segregated streets. The brilliant performances from the cast members along with a realistic narrative make one wonder if ‘Top Boy’ is based on a true story or not. Well, we are here to clear your doubts!

Is Top Boy Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Top Boy’ is not based on a true story. The show’s creator Ronan Bennett is also responsible for penning the screenplay, which might not be an actual story but is certainly inspired by some real events. The crime series is set in a fictional estate named Summerhouse, which is located in the real-world area of the London Borough of Hackney. It portrays or at least tries to illustrate, the harsh reality of the hoods in this borough of Inner London, particularly focusing on the existence of gangs fighting for dominance.

While preparing for his powerful crime drama series, Bennett conducted quite a deep research into Hackney gangs. A few months before that though, he experienced and witnessed a real-life incident that inspired him to make the series. In a piece for The Observer in 2011, Bennett described the encounter, writing, “I notice a kid hanging in the forecourt. I would say he’s about 12. A man in his – guessing – mid-20s approaches him and exchanges a few words. The kid slips away into an alley between a burger bar and a secondhand furniture shop.”

He further added, “I decide to wait and see what happens. The man draws on a cigarette and looks up and down the street. The kid reappears. They do a street handshake. The kid spits on the ground and goes off. The man casually stoops to retrieve whatever it is and goes on his way. I go and do my shopping.” After not seeing the kids for a few weeks, Bennett spotted him again and approached him. Even after Bennett confirmed he is not a police officer, the kid hesitated to talk and asked him to leave.

When Bennett left and informed a police officer, the latter said, “As long as there’s no rise in ancillary crime – breaking into cars, muggings, burglaries – we leave it alone. If a 12-year old was selling drugs outside Tesco’s in Saffron Walden it would be a different story – there would be a major police operation.” Bennett went on to interview several people from the area; their stories probably sowed the seeds of inspiration in his mind, which gave way to the creation of ‘Top Boy.’

Bennet’s friend Gerry Jackson, a fitness trainer, also played a huge role in helping him depict the prevalent issues in the series realistically. Since Gerry has been in Islington and Hackney his entire life, he has enough stories residing in him, about all that happens in the boroughs. Bennet expanded further on this, “In between benching, crunching, squatting and stretching, Gerry tells me stories about people he knows who work, or have worked “on the road”. Some of the stories from the road are graphically violent. A gang break into a man’s house and torture him by using his chest as an ironing board; a finger cut off; another man buried alive.”

‘Peaky Blinders’ is a perfect example of a series that also depicts gang rivalries and all the violence that comes along with them. Although set in 1900s England, it runs parallel to almost the same themes as in ‘Top Boy’ and is inspired by the eponymous real-life street gang. So, even though, the narrative is totally fictional and a figment of the imagination of Bennett’s creative mind, the roots from where the series was born are very much planted in reality.

Top Boy Filming Locations

‘Top Boy’ is filmed extensively in England. However, the production team also traveled to Jamaica, Spain, and Morocco, to shoot several sequences for the crime series. It is the creator’s insistence on making the narrative as realistic as possible that takes them to different locations for filming purposes. If you want to know about the specific locations, we have got you covered!

Kent, England

The production team travels to Kent, England, to shoot various important scenes for the series. Kent is a county located in South East England, which is packed with picturesque various ridges and valleys. The crew was seen filming the third season in Margate at Fulsam Rock Beach and Walpole Bay Hotel along with a few streets, including Athelstan Road.

Another stop where a few scenes were shot is Ramsgate, particularly Jacob’s Ladder, Ramsgate Station, and right outside the Rose of England pub located on the High Street. Apart from these locations, Gordon Place in Gravesend doubles up as the fictional Summerhouse Estate. East Crescent Street also stood in for a few scenes set in Hackney.

London Borough of Hackney, England

Since the series is set in the London Borough of Hackney, it is only fair that some of the scenes, if not all, are filmed here too. Named after its principal district, this borough is located in Inner London. The De Beauvoir estate portrays the Summerhouse Estate for a few scenes. In addition to this, the production team was also spotted at Haggerston, Dalston, and London Fields as well, shooting several sequences for the crime series.

London Borough of Southwark, England

For filming purposes, the cast and crew members of the series also head to the London Borough of Southwark, which is located in south London. To be specific, the legal scenes that are seen in the fourth season were filmed in Blackfriars Crown Court in Southwark, at a short distance from Blackfriars Road. A few episodes were also shot in Heygate Estate, which doubled up as the fictional Summerhouse Estate. Once a large housing estate in Walworth, it was demolished in 2014. Moreover, Walworth Academy is where the school scenes for the series were filmed.

Isle of Dogs, England

After the demolition of Heygate Estate, the team had to look for a new location that could double up as the Summerhouse Estate. After much searching around, they picked Samuda Estate located in the Isle of Dogs as it offers the ideal backdrop for the fictional estate. Apart from the exterior shots, several interior shots such as characters’ bedrooms are also filmed inside local people’s flats.

London Borough of Waltham Forest, England

Located in northeast London, the London Borough of Waltham Forest is also one of the many locations in England where the production team of the series sets camp. Several scenes are filmed in the Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, including the sequence wherein Dushane’s mother gets admitted to the hospital when her physical health starts deteriorating.

Other Locations in England

Other than the aforementioned locations, several other locations served as filming sites for ‘Top Boy.’ A 1980s-themed nightclub named The Valmont Club — which is now closed — in Fulham Road in Chelsea is where many sequences of the club scenes were filmed. The production team also took a trip to Queensway to shoot a few scenes in the Queensway Bowling Alley, which is now known as Queens Skate, Dine and Bowl, located in Bayswater. In addition to this, the London Borough of Newham and Waterloo Estate located in Romford also served as the filming locations for several important scenes in the series. Also, West London Film Studios, which is situated in Hayes, served as a significant filming site for multiple sequences.

Other Locations in the World

Image Credit: William Richards/Netflix

In the third season, Dushane is shown hiding in Jamaica, working in his cousin’s car rental shop, so some crew members traveled to Jamaica to capture these scenes. Going even more global with the fourth season, the team also lenses several scenes in Spain and Morocco and portrays the full breadth of the drug trade in the series.

Read more: Shows Like Top Boy