Here’s my first report for 5 News, exploring the idea of a Paralympic Legacy and what it means to disabled people.
It was an amazing day working with great people, and fingers crossed they ask me back. Watch this space.
I must admit I haven’t been updating my website as much as I should have recently. I’ve been really really busy, but I had to tell you all some amazing news. On Wednesday July 29th I am starting on a three day course at the BBC, training to be a weather presenter. The course got loads of publicity as it was especially looking for disabled people to take part, and the right wing press went a bit ape over this as they said it was positive discrimination. Well, yes it is and I think it’s about time. Disabled people are still pretty invisible from our TV screens, unless they are talking about being disabled, and this is course is part of drive from the BBC to change that. All I say is bravo Auntie Beeb. Now I’m not sure I will end up with a job at the end, as I don’t exactly look like an stereotypical weather presenter, but the new skills will be fantastic.
Presenting the weather is a real skill, and one that if you do it right makes it look much easier than it really is. You have to get across loads of information in a fun and entertaining way, in a really short space of time and all live.Doing my audition was scary but by Friday I will have the skills to be a weather presenter. So watch this apce for news. Fingers crossed eh?
I spent the weekend encoding and uploading a pile of old video clips from my TV presenting career, as well as editing a new showreel. I’ve now got that online too, and here it is….
What was really weird was having to sit and watch myself presenting, especially as the clips span a period of nearly ten years. I normally never watch myself, but I’m kind of glad I did. Not only because there is no way I will ever get any work with out a showreel but because it gave me a chance to actually realize I wasn’t half bad. Now I won’t blow my own trumpet too much. Just not me, but I do think that perhaps I was a bit too British in my past reticence at actually watching to work I did. Yes, of course I was a bit embarrassed at seeing yourself the way others see you and as I am always sure I am in need of a diet, I thought it was easier to do the whole “I never watch what do darling” thing that so many media types do. Now I have had to watch myself back as I coping hour of VHS tapes onto my computer, not only did I like what I saw but I also could see what I was doing wrong. If only I had made myself watch in the past I would have got even better at my job.
But this isn’t what I wanted to blog about. Something that struck me while I watched the most recent of my box of VHS tapes was how almost all of it revolved around disability based stories. Yes of the stuff I did with From The Edge had to be, as it was a disability magazine program, but also the news stuff, and some stuff I didn’t upload. But it was really good stuff. Fun items that would have been enjoyable to watch whether or not the viewer was disabled. Some pieces were thought provoking, some just light, some campaigning and some very political. All really good. Well written, filmed, edited and presented… watch it, don’t get too big headed there. But most of all what struck me was the language. It was so great to watch a good few hours of TV about disability and not hear “brave”, “courageous”, “tragic” or any other of the standard disability words… other than in the two items on the use of language of course.
It crazy to think that the oldest of these items was filmed in 1999, yet the media industry has gone backwards in it’s portrayal of disability. With the Paralymics coming up, and all the media gearing up for a frenzy of coverage I just hope they remember how well it used to be done. Whatever each Paralympic sports person achieves, they aren’t brave or courageous. Just bloody good at sport, after years of training and effort. Let’s hope we manage to get to enjoy coverage that avoids the standard clichés in 2012. And if anyone involved in making that coverage needs any help or guidance, take a look at my showreel. And if you need a presenter, give my agent a ring… please!
I regularly run a session of disability awareness training for various companies, and am about to venture into training for media companies. I got the gig after I passed on some comments about language and disability to a TV production company. But before I begin advising them, I must admit I find myself filled with self doubt. You see I wonder if am out of touch with how disabled people feel about the way the world sees them now.
When I began my career in broadcasting, I lived a life where I was always the only disabled person in my social group. There was one other guy with a disability at my high school, but he was year or two younger than me so we didn’t really know each other. Other than that I was always not only the only but the first disabled pupil at all of my schools and colleges. I knew no other disabled people, and knew nothing of disability politics. This did get me in some trouble during the early part of my career. I got in deep doo-doo when I fronted the London area’s coverage of the ITV Telethon in 1992. I had no idea that disabled people were so against charity events like this, and truly thought that I was striking a blow for disabled people by showing that we could give to charity instead of always being the ones who received. This mistake really effected my career, and even today I get people calling me a “traitor” for being involved with Telethon.
This violent response, which included being spat at and physically attacked on occasion, led me on a quest to understand the politics of disability. I tried to get an insight into what was meant by disability politics, and asked my most ardent attackers all about it. I still remember a lift journey with Vicki Waddington that opened my eyes to why everyone was so upset with me. The time I spent working with the BBC’s Disability Programmes Unit was what really educated me about the subject, and allowed me to reassess how actions and words all have political implications when dealing with disability. Well that is actually true of most things, but when you are part of minority it is doubly true.
This was around the same time as the move away from the use of the medical model of disability towards the social one. Gaining an understanding of the differences between the two models made disability politics become clear to me, and I promised myself that from then on I would only be involved with projects that I felt were valid. I feel that I have always kept true to that promise. More than that, I began trying to help the able bodied people I met within the industry to see why there is more to ” doing disability” than just having us on screen.
Anyone who is disabled knows the feelings that comes from watching a program that includes disability, only to find that it also contains one of the stereotypes or clichés of disability too. There’s the “brave” cripple, the “super” cripple, the “tragic” cripple, the “angry” cripple or the “evil” cripple. We’ve seen them all, whether in factual output or dramas and soaps. For the able bodied people involved in making or watching the programs they just see good stories, with loads of all the ingredients that they feel make watch-able TV. But for anyone disabled, we see a continuation of all the attitudes and stereotypes that create the barriers to us being seen as equal. There have been moves to create guidelines for program makers. I was part of the team that created the BBC’s Producer’s Guidelines on Disability way back in the 90’s, but when I spent a period working there in 2008 I was shocked to find they were no longer used. So how can the people in the media be expected to know when they are getting it wrong?
Well this is where I thought I should do something. I found myself having to contact the teams behind any project that I thought had got it wrong. I soon learnt that no one wanted to make TV that portrayed disability negatively or even incorrectly, and it was always done through ignorance. But not always through the ignorance of able bodied people. Many shows had asked the advice and input of disabled people, some well known disabled celebs. But it seemed that they had been fine with the things I had found troublesome. I even found that on the Open University psychology degree that I enrolled in a few years back, that when the course covered the identity of disability it was taught from the medical model, which by the was well out of date. More shocking to me was the audio that came with the course had four well known disabled people discussing their disability and how it effected them medically, with almost no mention of what I thought was the globally accepted social model.
So before I begin advising media companies that they should start being aware that what they shoot, how they shot it and what they say about disability must all fit within a set of rules that strictly adheres to the social model of disability, I must ask you all dear reader, am I right to do so? Do you care if the media has stories of brave disabled soldiers climbing mountains, or TV shows about tragic disabled kids battling their condition, or dramas with angry, or depressed or evil disabled characters? On a purely selfish level, I know that by criticising the industry and what it does I may burn a few bridges, and I will freely admit I don’t want to put the final killing shot into my on screen career by trying to change the way the media portrays disability if most of you feel it isn’t that important. If you would rather just see disabled people on screen, no matter why they were there or what they were saying then I will stop my crusade. I am sure we would all like to see more disabled people in the media, but I think we know that this is coming soon, with the commitment to the 2012 Paralympics. I just wonder if we need to be fighting to make sure they get the chance to be doing and saying the right things too. If any of you have feelings about this topic please add our comments below. It might stop me committing career suicide, or spur me on to fight to make our screens represent the real experiences and desires of disabled viewers and educate the able bodied ones at the same time.
As I hurtle towards my 45th birthday, I’ve had a weird week. I wonder if I might be about to hit my mid-life crisis. Let me explain.It began with a visit to my chemist. While queuing to collect a prescription, another member of the queue turned to me and said
“You live in the same street as me. I see you wheeling up and down the road… oh and of course I saw you on TV” That’s nice, I thought, still being recognised.
“Yeah” I said.
“You used to be more handsome back then” was then next comment.
“Nah” I replied “Just younger”. We went back to queuing and smiling at each other. My smile hiding just how much a throw away comment can hurt.
Now fame is weird. Once people feel like they know you, which is one of the side effects of being let in their home via their TV screen, they feel they can say whatever they like to you. Can you imagine going up to someone in the street and informing them that they are looking uglier than they used to be years ago? No, neither can I. Yet it happens all the time. A few months ago while in Boots (I seem to spend too much time in chemists – although this time it was for hair care products, which I obviously spend a fortune on) a woman said hello and then informed me of how fat I had got. OK I know I’ve spread with age, but she was… huge! So surely she must know ow it feels to be called fat by strangers. Yet fame meant this was fine.
When I was at the peak of my celebrity, way back in the 90’s, I had all manner of problems. People would just come up and insult and even attack me or even worse, attack my loved ones. I even had a stalker, who threatened to kidnap and rape me. Nice. The most annoying thing was that all the time I was presenting the TV shows that meant the public felt they owned me, I was being paid well under the going rate. (Too many TV companies had the attitude that disabled talent deserved less pay. In a business where people can get paid £100,000s per show I was lucky if I got £100s per series. I would have earned more if I stacked shelves in any famous Supermarket) So I couldn’t afford the security that I really needed. Hence way I started going to private members clubs and the like. To be safe.
But why, if fame was so bad, did I continue? Why am I still fighting to get back into the media world? Well fame has it’s up side too. No it’s not all models and parties, although there were a few. The best thing about fame is being taken notice of.
For ages now I have been trying to get Camden council to wake up to it’s responsibilities around access for disabled people in the borough. This week the local paper, the Camden New Journal, ran a story about experiences and my blogs on the issue. Since the article, I have been contacted a councillor who wants to start up a committee to examine what an be done to improve Camden and it’s access. Now if I wasn’t “Mik Scarlet – Broadcaster and Journalist” would the local paper written the story and would the council have taken notice?
And that’s my mid-life crisis. I feel I am at a cross roads in my life. The media always focus on new talent, as the current search for presenters to work on the Paralympics demonstrate, and I could never be considered “new”. I have had to take years off from working to recover from my spine surgery back in 2003, and even though I feel I am ready to go back to work, will I be able to get back into an industry that everyone knows is almost impossible to break into? Especially if you already used to be in it! The other factor is do I want to anyway? As I have already said, fame is no picnic, and the rewards are not always that great.
I know I have gained many skills through my time as a musician and broadcaster that would apply to many other professions. I keep asking myself is it time to grow up and stop seeking a way back into the media. Are the rewards of fame worth all the hassles?
So what would you do, dear reader? Do you think there’s a Mik shaped hole in your TV viewing? Do you think I should fight to fill it, or go out and get a real job? I really need your advice.