Busy, Busy, Busy!

At the launch of Disability Sheffield

At the launch of Disability Sheffield

It’s been a crazy couple of months. It started with a trip up to Sheffield to speak and compere at the launch of Disability Sheffield. It’s really great to see so many of these disability led organizations springing up all over the country, giving disabled people a real voice and ensuring we support each other as we fight to achieve equality. Met some great people and hope to go back in 2014.  The Midlands is a hot bed of disability activism for sure.

Telling it like it is at Imperial College

Telling it like it is at Imperial College

Next I gave a speech at Imperial College London as part of their Disability History event. We tend to forget that alongside disabled students, colleges and universities have many disabled staff and this event was to launch the Imperial’s disabled staff forum. Another superb event, run by some really committed people for the benefit of everyone at Imperial. It made Diane’s day as she always wanted to go to Imperial to study Physics. I hope that in the near future I will get the chance to work the Diversity team there, both with the staff and students. One of their big aims for next year is to get more people to identify themselves as disabled and you all know what a fan of disability pride I am… so watch out.

Waiting to see Mr Jones

Waiting to see Mr Jones

Then Diane  and me took some time out for some fun, and went to the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire to see Howard Jones. I was invited by the man himself after we got on so well when I interviewed him for my BBC3CR radio show. I was really looking forward to it, both as we deserved a bit of fun and as it was Howard’s 30th anniversary in the music biz. Synthpop heaven! Sadly the Empire access is pretty poor and before the show got the hits section we had to leave. I won’t bore you with the exact why, but I do wish venues wouldn’t just sit on their laurels and think that temporary access provision that made them legal when the DDA came into effect nearly 20 years ago will suffice forever. I have heard from loads of other disabled gig goers that they also have had problems with the venue. Come on 02, you could make this venue amazing. I am available if you need any advice!

Outside the SIA offices in Milton Keynes

Outside the SIA offices in Milton Keynes

The crazy thing is that only a few days earlier I popped up to Milton Keynes to attend a training session on taking out Equality Act cases. Run by the Spinal Injuries Association and given by disabled lawyer Jonathon Fogerty, it gave everyone who took part the knowledge of how to use the Equality Act to our advantage. I plan to write a fuller blog about what I took away from this day later on, but for now all I can say is The Equality Act – Waste of Space! I am also unsure if you can sue a venue like the 02 Empire as they do have access, it’s just crap.

All smiles at NCCA Xmas drinkies

All smiles at NCCA Xmas drinkies

We were then invited to a Christmas Drinks party at the Langham Hotel on Regents Street for the NCCA as they celebrated the cycle ride across the country by their special Santas, delivering presents to children currently fighting or who recently fighting Neuroblastoma. As this is the type of very rare cancer I had as a baby, and as the charity is also based in Camden, it seemed we were destined to work  together. It was an amazing night, made even more magical when the Santas delivered presents to one survivor and her sister.  It was blissful to see two wonderful little girls (pictured) tearing open the wrapping paper to get at the gifts within, and even more joyful to see their happiness at what they got. And it was only December 2nd! It also made me remember how lucky I am to have beat this cancer, especially as I did it back in the late 1960’s!

Outside the Beeb

Outside the Beeb

Lastly I learned my lines and got myself all ready to attend a special casting even for disabled actors at the BBC. Organised by the Equity Deaf and Disabled Members Committee, the Creative Diversity Network and the broadcasters, it brought together disabled actors and casting directors in an attempt to show how much great disabled acting talent there is out there. It’s a common claim from the broadcasting industry that there isn’t enough disabled talent, and so the DDMC decided to show that was not the case. With the help of Equity staff and the CDN we put this event together so hopefully in the future we will start to see more disabled people in TV dramas. Maybe even me eh? I should also say I am very proud to be the chair of the DDMC at the minute. Another passionate group of disabled people trying to make the world a more equal place.

With Christmas coming up, I doubt things will be letting up either. I do have something else to announce to the world, but that will happen on Monday.

And with that I am off to put my feet up, before it all goes crazy again…..

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Bye, Bye Beardy

sansbeard005

After sporting a goatee for many years, of varying lengths, shapes and colours (thanks to beard dye), this morning I took the step of saying goodbye to the beard. Now this may not be the biggest news you’ve heard this week, but it’s going to make getting ready in the morning easier for me. No more fighting to shape my bit of stubble so it matches on both sides (symmetry is vitally important). And of course I can stop worrying about the fact that my beard is going nicely grey.

I have just returned from spending a week representing disabled performers on behalf of Equity’s Member’s with Disabilities committee at two conferences. I am the co-chair of the committee and so I gave speeches at the Equity ARC and the TUC Disabled Workers Conference on the issues facing disabled performers. It was a real honour to be there and to carry on my work on behalf of the people who elected me.

This weekend Diane and myself are off to Cardiff. I am writing a travel article on visiting the city, which is somewhere we have wanted to go for ages. Then, to kill to two birds with one stone, we are visiting a wheelchair company called Roma to do an article on a new wheelchair they are about to launch.  I saw the Vida Active at this years Naidex and thought it looked amazing. It has some really new ideas in it’s construction and you get measured in the totally new way. I won’t say more until I’ve tried out the process, but the guys at Roma promise me the same kind of experience that those lucky enough to be buying a sports car have. So I am looking forward to some first class treatment. I do like that.

The biggest news here at Scarlet Towers is the fact that this evening Di and me are having our first Spanish lesson. For years we have been visiting Barcelona, and while Diane has learned enough of the local lingo to get by, I have always been struck dumb and kept my fingers crossed that whoever I was (not) speaking to spoke English. Well no more! So we have decided that before we go back later this year I WILL be able to speak a bit of Spanish. I shall keep you all posted. Hola.

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Oh no not again! – Jonathon Creek loses it’s magic

Both Diane and myself are big Jonathon Creek fans and so we were most happy to see that he was about to make a come back tonight. We both sat back ready to spend an evening looking out for clues with the BBC’s floppy haired magical detective. But it soon became clear that alongside the mystery that we were meant to unravel there was another one that might have been missed by most viewers, but one with a more obvious answer.

You see as soon as Rik Mayall wheeled into view, my heart dropped and the game was afoot. “But what is the mystery you speak of Mik?” I hear you ask. Well it why has the BBC’s casting department seen nothing wrong with getting a non-disabled actor to “crip up” and play disabled, yet again. I began to watch closely, trying to seek out those hard to spot clues that might give me the answer. As the show rolled along I started to wonder if the reason was that at any minute Rik was going to jump up and walk. Oh yes, that must be it! HE was the one who was to blame for the shenanigans that Jonathon was trying to make sense of. That must be why the BBC and the JC production team had made such a faux pas. It was going to be the hidden twist and the wheelchair was all a ruse to throw the viewers off the fact that Rik was playing the villain. The minutes ticked by and I became absolutely sure. It just must be the answer… but no, I was wrong. As the credits began to be squashed to one side by information of what was coming next across the Beeb, I sadly knew that I had just sat through another example of just how out of touch the media still is when it comes to disability.

If we ignore that ridiculous idea that there exists a I-Pad clamp that can be used as a weapon by a man who is meant to be paralysed in such a way that he can only move one finger (I won’t say too much in case you missed it and want to enjoy poor writing at it’s best), at no point during Rik Mayall’s performance did anything happen that made it essential that a non-disabled actor was cast to play the role, either through the portrayal or script. In fact it was only that he was a returning character that apparently had been shot and paralysed while JC was off our screens that could be said to be why it had to be Rik.

But the big mystery that this show needs us to solve is why not introduce a new character who was really disabled, both in the drama and in real life? I know of so many truly talented disabled actors who could have nailed this role, including little old me. Not only would have brought a reality to the role, but it would have shown that the BBC is really committed to the idea of Integrated Casting, which all the industry says it is signed up to.

Integrated casting is where disabled actors may be cast to play characters that are not written as disabled and so their disability will not be mentioned in the piece. Now in a way casting a non-disabled actor to play disabled could be described as integrated casting, but in truth it is not. This form of casting is designed to try to mirror the real world, and to get more disabled talent onto our screens. But it was also meant to be the next step that the media took after ensuring that only disabled actors played disabled roles.

In fact casting mistakes like tonight’s just demonstrates that when it comes to disability the BBC is still in the place it was back in the 60’s and 70’s with the portrayal of Black and other ethnic minorities. I shall just say “The Black and White Minstrel Show“. It is just as offensive to most disabled people to see yet another job that should gone to one of us going to someone not disabled, no matter if they are a “name” of not. How will there ever be a big name disabled actor if we never get the roles? How can we ever get to prove ourselves as actors if we never get the roles? How can we even think of going into the industry if after so long campaigning to make the people who cast TV drama to cast disabled people to play disabled people we still never get the roles?

There is no excuse for tonight’s casting. Whatever those involved say it was just plain wrong. It belittled the show, it belittled the viewers and sadly it made me think considerably less of Rik Mayall. As someone who I have worked with in the past, on the show Wham Bam Strawberry Jam; also for the BBC, I would have hoped that he might see that taking the part was wrong. Even if he wasn’t fully versed in disability politics surely it must feel wrong, or at least weird, to play disabled?

In my heart I would hope that all professional actors would see it was wrong to play disabled but no. It’s still seen as fine and might even win them an award or two. So this is a plea to all my fellow members of Equity, the actors union. Please stop taking these roles. If you stop, then the casting directors will have to cast the talented professional disabled actors out there and you will have played a part in making a real change in our society. You will have helped to create a new type of image of disabled people. One that shows we can work, and work in a professional manner, as well as ensuring that when we do play a role we can work with the writers and directors to create a character that is realistic and true to the experience of all the disabled people viewing.

Come on BBC, and every other production company out there, no more. Make tonight’s Jonathon Creek go down in history as it’s the last time you do this. From now on, if the role written is for a disabled character then only cast a disabled actor.

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