World Down Syndrome Day remembers Nina of Crossroads
Today is the 8th year of World Down Syndrome Day, a global awareness event which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. To mark it, we remember Nina Weill soap opera’s first downs actress.
Nina starred in ITV’s teatime saga Crossroads in 1983-84 gaining much press coverage and television news reports on the arrival of the ground breaking development. Crossroads may at times have suffered from strange plots (although tame by today’s standards) and occasional ropey scripts and acting – however it often ventured into storytelling other sagas steered well away from at the time. A groundbreaking streak which lead to the British Film Institute describing the soap as ‘ahead of its time’.
In the sixties rape, unmarried mothers and interracial relationships were all part of the goings on at the Midlands’ most infamous motel.
“Crossroads, unlike other soap operas, has a strong and active social conscience, illustrated by the topical and often controversial subjects it covers” – Central Television press release 1984.
In 1983 it was Nina who made the headlines of News at Ten when she was cast in the daytime saga, which reached 16 million viewers three times a week. In the storylines we saw the daily life of Denise Paget, played by Carry On actress Margaret Nolan, and her daughter Nina Paget. Befriended by some of the Kings Oak villagers, including Sharon Metcalf (Carolyn Jones) and Benny Hawkins (Paul Henry) the plot covered bigoted views and unfavorable remarks made towards Nina by ignorant villagers, which reached a head at a village hall meeting to discuss the opening of a special needs school.
Eventually Sharon decided to leave her job at the motel and become a special needs teacher. The story was praised by the press, the parents of downs children and MENCAP.
Secretary General of MENCAP Brian Rix, brother of Emmerdale actress Sheila Mercier, told ITV News at the time he felt the plot would educate and change the view of many through the portrayal of the character in the story,
“Nearly a quarter of the population watch Crossroads… we believe through this dramatic form – Soap opera or not, it is after all drama – the case will be represented cogently and clearly.”
Adding, “It backs up our contention that mentally handicapped people should be used in real life situations…. I’ve no doubt many millions of people will now look on many handicapped children, and adults hopefully, will look on them with far greater favour than in the past.”
Central noted that thousands of letters of support arrived at their Birmingham studios concerning the storyline, as well as thousands of pounds worth of toys which were donated to MENCAP.
Producer of Crossroads at the time, Jack Barton, recalled later, “It was never a chore for me or the people I worked with to make the series. We loved it, that’s why it hurt when people slagged us off. My aim was to make viewers happy, to help them while entertain them.”After all these years I still derive satisfaction from the fact that there’s a four-bedded unit in a Birmingham hospital for people suffering from kidney disease that Crossroads founded, we also started Crossroads Care, the world’s biggest respite charity following a long running storyline with two wheelchair user characters. We gave Downs Syndrome children a sense of pride when we showed a downs child and gave an idea what her life was like. Parents wrote in to say they held their heads up high after we did that.”
Now with World Down Syndrome Day each year the voice of people with Down syndrome, and those who live and work with them, grows louder. The event – lead by Down Syndrome International – encourages people all over the World to take part in activities and events to help raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in communities.
“The internet is a powerful tool for raising awareness and we encourage people to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day through your own websites, blogs and social networking sites. However, we want to create a single meeting place where everyone can share their experiences and advertise their activities.” – DSI
More information can be found at that ‘meeting place’; www.worlddownsyndromeday.org.