Are You Having A Laugh? – TV And Disability

Tonight the BBC screen what they describe as “a humorous and irreverent look at the way disability has been portrayed on TV over the last 50 years.” The show is narrated by actor David Walliams and will look at popular disabled figures from soap opera to sitcom. ATV Network researchers assisted with this show, so they provide their view on the programme.

Crossroads, ATV Network 1973 (large image) 1964 (inset)

 

 

Tonight the BBC screen what they describe as “a humorous and irreverent look at the way disability has been portrayed on TV over the last 50 years.” The show is narrated by actor David Walliams and will look at popular disabled figures from soap opera to sitcom.

 

“From Sandy in Crossroads to Brenda in The Office, we’ll see how the subject has been done well, how it’s been done badly and how box ticking and the odd token wheelchair has helped this process. We look at the astonishing journey from Ironside to Cast Offs, Monty Python to The Office and Little Britain.” The BBC say.

 

The show features talking heads Stephen Merchant, Ben Miller, Mat Fraser, Kiruna Stamell, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Ash Attala, Dom Joly, Jimmy Tarbuck, Julie Fernandez and Frencesca Martinez.

 

The show also will look back at the way we used to see disability on our screens and how that compares with what is on there today.

 

Maud, Coronation Street“It’s a slightly directionless tour around the archives from the Spastics Society appeal of the 1960s via Joey Deacon’s appearance on Blue Peter to Roy’s hysterical abuse of a disabled toilet in The IT Crowd” says television critic Julia Raeside, The Guardian today.

 

ATV Network researcher, who hunted out some clips of Sandy in Crossroads for the programme comments: “They’ve asked for ‘good’ Sandy clips, which we provided a list of, however whenever I see the words “humorous and irreverent” you wonder if that’s just a cover for taking the mick out of these disabled figures. We’ll see.” He adds, “They were also looking for the episode of Coronation Street from 1997 where Maud Grimes managed (somehow, we’ll never know) to get from the ground floor of her house to the upstairs – unaided – in her wheelchair.” [Maud, pictured left]

 

 

Crossroads, produced by ATV Network, aired on ITV from 1964 to 1988. Sandy Richardson – played by the late Roger Tonge – became the first long-term wheelchair bound soap opera character. Sandy had appeared in the Midland Motel based soap from episode one, but was left unable to walk after a car crash in a 1972 storyline. The story also made a change in the real world when ATV founded the Crossroads Caring For Carers scheme, which is still running today helping familes of disabled and terminally ill people across the world.

 

Roger, as Sandy, remained with Crossroads until his death in 1981 from Cancer. The soap, set in the fictional village of Kings Oak, wasn’t afraid to tackle social issues and over its near 25-year run became home to many television firsts. While Coronation Street was cosy and almost verging on sitcom, Crossroads questioned society and rasied oftern taboo issues; such as in 1969 when following a series of racial riots in Birmingham producer Reg Watson introduced their first long-term black actress, Cleo Syvestre.

 

Of course Crossroads’ most famous disabled character (mental disability) was Benny Hawkins [pictured, right], who was “a child in a man’s body”. Played by Paul Henry, in his 30s when Benny was at his peak, Hawkins was the farmhand with the mind of a 8-year-old. Such was Benny’s popularity, when he was wrongly accused of murder the nation started a “Benny Is Innocent” campaign with posters and banners hanging from University buildings to radio stations.

 

In more recent times Emmerdale took to adding a touch of the devil into disability when, following the infamous 1993 plane crash, Chris Tate was left unable to walk. Despite this, it didn’t change Chris – he continued to be a backstabbing, ruthless businessman.

 

Are You Having A Laugh? – TV And Disability airs tonight at 9.00pm on BBC 2