(As I wrote in my previous post, imagine that you are a top executive at a movie studio. This is my pitch for a new movie...would you give it a "green light"?)
London, 1896. It is pre-World War 1, but tensions are running high between Germany and England. Within the British government, there is a covert committee that is focused on gathering intelligence. They are concerned about rumors of "sleeper cells" of German spies, living in London. It is believed that Germans have placed spies (even as families!) throughout London neighborhoods and that they are plotting to destroy England from within it's own country.
Their biggest problem area is within the densely populated rowhouses of London, where houses are 3 stories tall and connected to each other using adjoining walls, forming a row of houses. If they suspected a German spy living in one of the center houses, how could they ever listen in on conversations and strategies?
As he was boarding the ship to return to England, Clive was approached by two men, who represented the intelligence committee of the British government. They asked Clive if he would like to use his gymnastic talents to protect his country. "Protect them from who?" Clive asked. The men pointed to the Germans who were nearby, celebrating their Olympic victories.
Clive agreed. His task was simple, yet dangerous. He was to spy on the suspected spies that might be living within the rowhouses. How? He would be working undercover as a chimney sweep. These rowhouses all had chimneys, given that fireplaces and coal furnaces were their only heat source. The coal fumes would clog up the chimneys and therefore, a "chimney sweep" would need to be hired to clean out the chimney.
As a "sweep", Clive could slip down into whichever houses he needed to in order to listen in on conversations, enter into vacant rooms and gather intelligence. A perfect plan for a gifted gymnast.
(obligatory montage training scene)
One day, on his way to a nearby building, he saw a girl who was crying in the park. He had a younger sister himself and wanted to console her. She was 14 years old and had been adopted when she was little. She said that her parents were cruel, often neglecting her and leaving her shut into her room for days and days, with little food or attention. Her name was Marta.
In time, we learn that Marta's parents are among the list of suspected spies that Clive has been investigating. He took particular interest in her parents because he wanted to make sure that Marta was going to be okay. As the intelligence committee learned more about this family, they suspected that Marta's parents were indeed German spies who had adopted the little girl simply to appear as a family to avoid suspicion.
The German spies were getting busier with meetings in their home and more activity that concerned the Brits. Their increased activity needed more intelligence gathering than a "chimney sweep" could provide on a daily basis. He needed to get more info. He decided to trust Marta and enlist her help against her adoptive parents.
Wanting to escape the cruelty of her German spy-parents, she agreed to help Clive and the Brits. Together they gathered intelligence and would regularly "sweep" the home for details.
Their intelligence pays off and the British soldiers invade the home. In a dramatic standoff, Marta's "father" holds a gun to her head and takes her as a hostage. She begs them for mercy, but they admit that she means nothing to them and she was merely a part of the ruse. Clive saves her and her cruel parents are killed. The spy network is fully revealed and many German spies are arrested.
The British government is so pleased with Clive that he becomes an officer of the British Crown in a quiet ceremony at Scotland Yard. He agrees to remain in his undercover role, given that more spies will likely invade (as we lead up to World War 1).
But he now needs to really blend in with the local people. He comes out of the shadows and becomes known as a humble and friendly chimney sweep. A regular fixture among the rowhouses of London. And to avoid any questions as to why a talented Olympic gymnast would become a chimney sweep, he chooses a new name. Clive Bertram simply becomes known as "Bert the Chimney Sweep" to the local neighborhood people.
And the young girl, Marta? Now once again orphaned, she becomes a ward of the state. Within days, she is adopted by one of Bert's bosses (Mr. Walter Poppins) and taken into his family. Wanting to leave her early life behind, she reinvents herself as well and becomes "Mary". As she grows up, she devotes her life to caring for the neglected children of London...as a nanny.
Bert and Mary still see each other from time to time, though no one knew their history, until now.
(Notes: by now, you've likely realized that this is my idea of a backstory for the two main characters of Mary Poppins. Even as a kid, I always wondered how they met. You can tell that they have an interesting history and seem to drop in on each other's lives. This backstory seems a fun and plausible beginning.)