'This is my story.'

A jaunty choir belts out Delilah as we watch scenes from a man's life stream past: a boy at his desk; sketching birds; his upset mother; football crowds; trapeze acts and clowns and painted faces. What is this story? How does this melange of images fit together? What kind of life does it make? Whose story is this?

'This is my story,' says Neil Baldwin.

Marvellous (BBC2) is not an ordinary programme. On the surface it's a biopic telling the true story of Neil Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties who refused to accept that life was to be slow and confined.

Yet thrown in amongst the straight acting, with marvellous performances from Toby Jones, Gemma Jones, Tony Curran, and Greg McHugh, is joyful choir music and quirky guest appearances from the famous people in the story, such as Lou Macari and Gary Lineker, as well as some from Neil himself.

Marvellous is also the best thing I have seen on TV this year. I watched it this morning in my dressing gown, and am writing this now at 7.20pm, still in that dressing gown, its pockets filled with damp, crinkled hankies, having spent the day shuffling around feeling weak from the huge, rollicking emotion of this story, swearing to try and be a better person but not sure how…

Neil works as a clown, but wakes one morning to find the circus has packed up and gone, leaving him behind in his tiny caravan. Unable to get home without help he finds the nearest church where he introduces himself to the priest, claiming to be friends with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The priest is baffled by this strange little man who has wandered in from the circus but agrees to help him get home, even if he is being disrespectful by pretending to know the Archbishop.

When they finally part, Neil asks him to sign his Bible. As the priest uncaps his pen, Neil stops him from scribbling on the front page. 'That's for me bishops and archbishops,' he explains. 'There's space at the back for regular clergy.' Sure enough, Neil's bible has been autographed by every fancy bishop in the land, including an affectionate signature from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.

He is safely returned home but his poor mum frets. Her heart is weak and she is terrified of how Neil will cope without her. 'When I let you get that circus job you said they'd look after you,' she says. He reassures her that he has a new job at the university. 'When did they offer you that?' 'Tomorrow,' he says.

Neil is full of naive hope and an unbending, simple logic. This is what allowed him to decide that life would not be dim and which gave him the courage to go off to join the circus. That same hope and belief soon sees him established at Keele University where he welcomes the students and signs them up to the newly formed Neil Baldwin Football Club.

He has more heart and courage than most of us, but his learning disability means he often lacks common sense. His mum discovers he's in debt to the electricity board as he's been keeping his electric fire on all night to keep the budgies warm and she worries endlessly about how he'll cope when she's no longer here.

Desperate to see him settled, she escorts him to the Job Centre where the adviser gently questions him about which jobs he'd like to do. 'I'd like to manage Stoke City,' he says. 'It don't have to be Stoke but I draw the line at Port Vale.'

Hanging round the stadium of his beloved Stoke he catches the eye of the new manager Lou Macari who offers him a job as kit-man and here begins a glorious new chapter in Neil's life, where he becomes the kit-man, mascot and heart of the football club. Lou Macari even brings him on as a sub during a testimonial and there is Neil, proud in his strip, under the floodlights, with the whole crowd chanting 'There's only one Neil Baldwin!'

Another dream has come true: he wanted to play for his football club and now he has. He wanted to run off to join the circus and so he did. 'I've always wanted to be happy so I decided to be,' he says with a naïve logic you cannot argue with.

In one of the programme's delightful quirky moments, the real Lou Macari appears on the subs' bench beside the actor playing him, assuring him that 'yes, this really happened.'

So can it be as easy as that? Can you simply decide to make yourself happy? Perhaps, but whilst the more intellectual of us will sit dithering over spreadsheets and bank statements and job vacancies to calculate whether we could in fact take a few shambling steps in the direction of our dream, Neil just plods on towards it. His logic makes it happen: 'I want to be happy so I will.'

It was this naivete which made him wander up to Lou Macari but it was his blunt logic which carried the hope through to completion: why can't I play for my team? Logic says I can and so I will. A friend chides him, saying 'you can't get things just by asking!' 'Can't you?' Neil replies. 'I can.'

This same naive logic even saved a life. At the university he talked a student out of suicide by saying to her, 'we've all got to go sometime love, but why've you got to go now?'

But the show was not all about shimmery dreams coming true. When Neil's mum dies he withdraws from the world and recedes into a depression until friends - and Gary Lineker - pull him back out.

This programme was quirky, joyous, beautiful and sad and, in amidst the incredible story, is a lesson for how to live life. Neil shows us that chance can create opportunities but you often have to nudge chance along, saying 'well, why not? Why can't I be happy? Who says I can't?'

I cried through most of Marvellous. It showed me how constricted my life is and I desperately wished for just a fragment of Neil's hope and courage. I once had a breakdown which led to an absurd fear of leaving the house. Even now, two years later, I'm not fully recovered.

Just last night I had to be coaxed into leaving the flat for a toddle to Sainsbury's. I was reluctant to go outside so my boyfriend had to dangle my new winter coat in front of me, saying the walk would give me a chance to wear it.

So I often have to be cajoled into going out and there are days spent fighting back panic where I'm convinced my boyfriend will die, that I will get cancer, that someone will come to the door to attack me. Hours are lost trying to reason myself out of it: nothing bad will happen if I cross the road for some milk. David is a careful driver. No-one is coming to the door. Time vanishes in this dark reasoning and if I only had the pure naive logic of Neil I could say 'You daft bird! Just go and get your milk.'

Yesterday, baking bread and planning a trip to Berlin, I felt glad. Then I caught myself daring to feel gladness and had to go and sit down to convince myself it's OK to have a nice life and that I won't be required to pay for it in some terrible way.

It's all right to bake bread and go to Berlin. I repeated it like a silly mantra. It's OK to bake bread and go to Berlin. Yet there's always the fear that if I wander off into happiness, there will be payback. Something terrible is biding its time just over the horizon and being happy will rouse it. It'll crush me for daring to bake bread and go to Berlin.

So what an idiot I am! Neil would shake his head at this and say 'Just decide to be happy. Stop wasting time worrying. Bake your bread and go to Berlin.' Or, as his choir sang throughout the show: 'Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think!'

I need to cultivate this naive logic. Perhaps we'd all benefit from some of it, the kind of logic which strips away worries about money and status and 'what will the neighbours think' and just confronts you with 'Do you want to be happy? Well, off you go and do it. It's later than you think.'