Friday, 17 August 2012

Not Quite The Best of Men

It's usually me losing my temper on this blog, but this week I am handing over the ranting rights to Martin Jameson. Martin is an experienced writer, producer and director who has worked in TV, Theatre and Radio for many years. Recently he has written for Holby City, Casualty and Emmerdale. He too was at the BBC TV Writers' Festival session about the representation of people with disabilities which I blogged about last month. Last night he watched Lucy Gannon's BBC 2 drama 'The Best of Men' and he wondered whether the BBC should be putting their money where their mouth is. I agree.


A Rant
Martin Jameson

Don't get me wrong, I found lots to enjoy in Lucy Gannon's script of The Best of Men - the little known story of Dr Ludwig Guttman - pioneering spinal injury doctor who instigated the Stoke Mandeville games, the forerunner of the Paralympics. Funny, insightful, heart warming... Eddie Marsan was fantastic - and will surely win, or at least be nominated for a BAFTA and well deserved it will be too.

But hang on a bloody minute....! What on earth is the BBC playing at? Both 'disabled' leads were played by non disabled actors. Ok... so Rob Brydon's there because he's a 'name' and will draw in an audience (not enough of an excuse in my book... work harder BBC - sell the show on having honest disability casting please). But then the other lead is played by George Mackay, also able bodied.

So the justification there would be that there are flashbacks and dream sequences where the character, William, can walk. Well, in my not so humble opinion, not only were those sequences dispensable but even if one felt they were absolutely essential, both would have been achievable with non disabled body doubles.

Again, don’t get me wrong, both Brydon and MacKay gave excellent performances, but… but… frankly I think it's a disgrace. The paraplegic actor David Proud was sitting around in MacKay's shadow with barely a line to say. In my professional opinion David would have been more than capable of playing William. Not as well known, but there was nothing integral to that that part he couldn't have done as far as I could see. And he would have been great. Obviously I can’t speak on David’s behalf, and on his blog he says he was honoured to be involved.  I’m sure he was, but this viewer, this writer would have wished for him to have had a much higher profile.  Surely he should have been much more than ‘involved’…

And then...AND THEN.... some of us were at the BBC's TV Writers Festival in Leeds last month. One of the key sessions was about 'Changing the Face of TV Drama', about challenging the invisibility of disability and disabled actors on our dramatic TV screens, and guess who was on stage, leading the panel?

Lucy Gannon that's who... saying that it was up to us as writers to make sure we wrote good parts for disabled actors, that they were included naturally within the drama. No mention of the fact that she'd just written a major BBC drama and actually she had written it in such a way that it gave the production team a get out to cast non disabled actors in those key roles.

As someone who has worked hard to include disability in the mainstream drama (i.e. soap) that I've written over the years, and don't tend to have the kinds of opportunities to mold change that Lucy has as a writer, I now find this to be hypocritical and jaw dropping. Ok... it might have been completely beyond her control, but I would like to know that she at least TRIED to fashion the script to at least give some disabled actors an all too rare opportunity to take the main stage here.

By failing to think this through, the BBC has cast itself in the role of the out-dated Dr Cowan, the disablist villain of Lucy Gannon’s script, unable to trust disabled actors with the lead roles in their own story. 

Given the content of the piece, and in the year of the London 2012 Paralympics… it’s a bit bloody ironic.


  1. In the spirit of fairness interested readers should perhaps take a look at Lucy Gannons's BBC Writersroom Blog.
    I really do hate to say anything negative about a fellow scribe, but for all the reasons outlined in my original blog, let's just say... i'm disappointed.

  2. I agree entirely Martin. The basics of having that story and not using disabled actors is bad enough, but to chair a panel, and spout equal opportunities rheteric whilst being in the middle of a production which ignored the same, is shameful.

  3. Fair point, but in the end the director wants to cast the actor who they feel will give the performance that expresses the role in the way they desire. Plus, actors are people pretending to be something they're not. Isn't it possible that if you select exclusively from a pool of actors with the disability depicted, the production team won't find the specific type of performance they're after? Disabled actors will get work in that case, but the end result may not be any better than with a cast that isn't disabled. Should we have to choose between successful artistic decisions and raising the profile of disabled actors?

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  5. Well at least they may have tried their best in doing there jobs. Still a nice try for the effort.