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Tuesday 3 December. The BBC has today unveiled a three-part plan designed to significantly improve representation of – and opportunities for - disabled people on and off air.


Today’s measures – unveiled on International Day of People with Disabilities – will create new opportunities, see more disabled people working on some of the BBC’s biggest programmes, and help disabled staff move around and up the BBC more easily.


We will be:


  • Launching BBC Elevate, an initiative to give disabled people with some industry experience the chance to work and gain further experience on flagship BBC shows including The Apprentice, EastEnders, Holby, Call the Midwife, The One Show, Who Do You Think You Are?, Ready Steady Cook and Pointless. Further shows to be announced.
  • Aiming to permanently shift the dial
  • Introducing a ‘BBC passport’ for staff with disabilities which records their needs and helps ensure they get the right support and can move smoothly between different jobs.


The announcement comes as the BBC hosts an event with ITV to mark International Day of People with Disabilities, focused on disability and the media, bringing together contributors from all the major UK broadcasters for the first time.


The work follows a major report carried out last year involving hundreds of staff which made recommendations on how the BBC can go further to ensure staff can progress at the corporation.


New programmes unveiled today include BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner confronting the challenges of suddenly becoming disabled; comedian and presenter Alex Brooker exploring what disability means to him; captivating new drama, But When we Dance about two people who both have Parkinson’s and share a love of dance; actor Mat Fraser curating a series of ambitious and challenging monologues on the theme of disability; and the return of acclaimed comedy series, Jerk.


Alison Kirkham, Controller Factual Commissioning, says: “We want to set the bar forever higher, for the entire industry, both with off-screen talent and on-screen representation. In the past the industry hasn’t always done enough to offer opportunities for disabled people and so has missed out on their talent.


“With the launch of BBC Elevate we want to ensure the BBC leads the way in enabling disabled people in TV to progress. By working with some of the UK’s biggest shows we are giving applicants a chance to develop their careers and enabling our flagship brands to benefit from their experience and talent. I hope that the legacy of this initiative is sustained, enduring change which creates a greater pool of disabled people working across the industry complemented by a richer portrayal of the lives and stories of disabled people on screen.”


Allan MacKillop, the BBC’s Disability Lead, who has been developing the passport with support from the disability staff network, BBC Ability since he joined the BBC earlier this year, says: “Introducing the passport is a major step forward in breaking down barriers and demonstrates both our commitment to career progression for disabled staff and to creating a more inclusive culture. And Elevate intends to make a tangible difference to the careers of many talented disabled people in TV who face some particular challenges with progression. We want to shift the dial for the longer term, and we are determined to replicate some of that across the industry.”


Clare Sumner, BBC’s Director of Policy and BBC’s Executive Sponsor of Culture and Career Progression for disabled colleagues says: “Today’s announcements show that the BBC is committed to making sure disability issues are recognised on and off screen. I am pleased that we will be offering disabled staff the use of the passport, which we know will make a real difference to individuals and play an important role in improving the culture at the BBC. Our ambition is that it will be embraced industry-wide through collaboration with our partners.”


BBC Elevate - Progressing disabled talent in TV production


BBC Elevate is a deliberate, concerted drive from the BBC to support disabled production talent into roles which genuinely grow their careers and accelerate change across the industry. The initiative expands on the BBC’s internal development programme for disabled staff and aims to create a greater pool of off-screen disabled talent regularly working across broadcasting.


Crucially, BBC Elevate will be talent-led, tailored to respond to the specific needs of individual disabled people who already have some experience in the industry. The aim is to unlock any barriers to progression and ensure off-screen disabled talent are reaching their full potential.


There will be opportunities for participants to work and gain experience across the BBC’s key shows including dramas EastEnders, Holby, Casualty, Doctors,Ridley Road, Line of Duty and Call the Midwife; from entertainment The Apprentice, factual content The One Show, Countryfile, Antiques Roadshow,Gardener’s World, Who Do You Think You Are?, Glow Up and Ambulance; comedies Back to Life, Famalam and  Ghosts; and further opportunities in daytime quiz and game shows such as Ready Steady Cook, House of Games and Pointless. Opportunities will be available across the UK including theNations and Regions. Additionally, some of the participants will have opportunities to work on the content being announced today.


The programme will be open for applications from today [Tuesday 3 December]. Further information can be found on the BBC Careers site here. 


BBC Elevate will build on the success of The Commissioner Development Programme and disabled writers Access group, both of which have had measurable success on and off screen.


Improving disability representation on screen


We are committed to reflecting the diversity of our audience in the BBC’s output and we already have a range of disabled presenters, actors and contributors involved in programming. However, next year we will be building on this commitment with a concerted drive to go further on representation.


Nearly one in five of the UK population are disabled and disabled audiences are heavy TV viewers. Almost three quarters of audiences believe it is important that disabled people are featured on screen whilst around half say there is too little representation of disability on TV (credit – BBC Pulse Survey).


Next year marks 25 years since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in November 1995 (and now set out in the Equality Act 2010), and we want to make a real difference in the quantity and quality of disability representation on television. The aim is to produce content in which disabled people are the storytellers, telling nuanced, authentic, raw and surprising stories, in their own voices.


This will be done in two ways. Firstly, there will be improved incidental and integrated disability portrayal in existing programmes and core brands. Examples include blind British broadcaster and entrepreneur, Amar Latif joining the line-up in the next series of Pilgrimage; actress and comedian Liz Carr delving into her family tree in Who Do You Think you Are?; disabled panellists on BBC Celebrity Mastermind and Would I Lie To You; disabled contributors on BBC One’s new show, You Are What you Wear; Paralympian Kadeena Cox features on BBC Three show, Eating with my Ex as well as other disabled contributors; and disabled family members in Eat Well for Less. In addition, Call the Midwife continues to spotlight disabled characters and actors in its storytelling; Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On returns next year on BBC One Daytime and iPlayer and will include one episode, called Second Sight, written by Mandy Revers Rowe who is blind; and there are disabled actors in the cast of continuing and new dramas such as His Dark Materials and Life and a new disabled actor in the cast of Silent Witness.

Secondly, there will also be specially commissioned new landmark content in 2020 and beyond and the return of popular series with disability themes and disabled characters at their heart such as Jerk, The A Word and There She Goes.

In addition, the BBC’s award-winning disability journalism strand, Ouch, will be supporting the initiative online, extending conversations on podcasts, through text pieces and on social media. 


Further commissions across television and radio will be announced in due course but confirmed so far are the programmes at the bottom of the release. All new commissions announced today will include disabled production members.


BBC Passport


A ‘BBC Passport’ will be rolled out for use by staff with a disability working at the BBC in early 2020. The BBC is committed to creating a culture of openness; launching the passport will aid disabled employees in having sensitive conversations with their managers, and help remove barriers to progression within the organisation.


The disability passport will be a centralised document, which an individual agrees can be used to inform managers about their disability so that when they move roles they have the support they need in place. It will help to inform and assist managers to facilitate a smooth transition between roles and provide adequate support or adjustments for individuals when they are in post.


Individuals who choose to use the passport will provide detail about the impact of any health condition(s) and any workplace adjustment(s) that have already been put in place. They can then use the document to discuss any changes in circumstances with their manager, either in their existing position or a new role.


The introduction of a ‘BBC Passport’ was one of the key recommendations made in the report on career progression and culture for disabled staff at the BBC published in November 2018, with the aim of raising awareness and creating a disability friendly environment within the organisation. 


The passport will operate alongside a range of measures designed to support disabled staff. These include additional training for managers, online unconscious bias training for all staff and an in-pilot reverse mentoring scheme for senior leaders.


Commissions being announced today as part of the initiative:




Frank Gardner – Being Frank (w/t)


In June 2004 BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner was shot six times by Al-Qaeda gunmen whilst reporting on growing terrorist activity in Saudi Arabia. One of the bullets hit his spinal nerves – at the age of 42 he was left partially paralysed in the legs, unable to walk and has used a wheelchair ever since.


Fifteen years later, Frank says he has never got used to his paralysis. In this deeply personal new film, he talks candidly about the challenges of suddenly becoming disabled and confronts the effects it has on his day-to-day life, personal relationships and the way he views himself. He wants to understand the way that others have responded when they have suddenly become disabled without warning or expectation of it, in a series of extraordinary encounters that will change the way Frank – and we – feel about disability.


The contributors Frank meets – from medical professionals to those newly facing life-changing disabilities – will help Frank tell his own life story. Keen to show us the truth about ‘being Frank', the film won’t shy away from the harsh reality of disability – but will also celebrate this unique figure, his warmth and humour, and the extraordinary life he leads today as Security Correspondent for the BBC.


Frank Gardner – Being Frank (w/t) (60mins) was commissioned by Patrick Holland, Controller BBC Two and David Brindley, Head of Commissioning, Popular Factual and Factual Entertainment and is being made by Curious Films’ Charlie Russell and Dov Freedman.

Alex Brooker – Disability and Me                             

This intimate and extremely personal documentary will see comedian and TV presenter Alex Brooker confront the true nature of his disability for the first time and attempt to unpack his disabled identity.

In order to do this, Alex will revisit key moments from his past that helped to form his relationship with his disability. Uncovering both joyful and difficult memories, Alex will try to pinpoint how he got to his current position of being comfortable with some aspects of his disability whilst being in almost denial of other elements.

Turning his mind to the present, Alex will explore what it means to be disabled in the UK today. Admitting that he knows he’s out of touch with what disability means for many people, Alex will immerse himself in the lives of disabled Brits around the country to see the reality of day-to-day life, disability support and prejudice.

Alex will also look forward to the future, addressing his fears around his own health and mobility, and exploring what options for support might be available to him.

By the end of the documentary, Alex hopes to have an entirely new perspective on being a disabled person and what role it will play in the rest of his life whilst the film will give an incredibly honest and refreshing insight into living with disability in the UK today. 

Alex Brooker – Disability and Me (1x60) was commissioned by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two and the BBC Commissioning Editor is Abigail Priddle. It is being made by Wonder TV where the executive producer is Sarah Trigg and the director is Pamela Gordon.


BBC Four Storyville - Locked In


‘Locked in’ is a feature length film about a life-threatening illness that is shot and directed by someone who is living with that condition himself.  What is it like for loved ones, friends and family members to go through this?  


Acute Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS)  is a rare neurological condition in which the body’s immune system turns on itself and in extreme circumstances can leave people ‘locked in’ – completely unable to move but with their brain continuing to function normally. Eventually, after weeks or months, the GBS usually stops and the paralysis begins to recede. Some people recover fully, some hardly at all, some die.


Director Xavier Alford has been diagnosed with a chronic form of the disease - known as MMN (Multifocal Motor Neuropathy) - one that progresses slowly over years rather than weeks and for which there is little chance of ever getting back to full health.


In this highly personal film, Xavier will meet other people at different stages of their recovery as his own condition worsens and he learns how to cope with a body that is failing him. He also seeks out those studying the disease both in the UK and abroad, discovering ground-breaking research into different treatment options.


Xavier says: “As the neuropathy takes hold of my limbs, and before it’s too late, I want to make a film about the illness I have. I am determined to shoot as much of it as I can and then find new ways of working when/if I can’t. I want to learn everything I can about the disease by giving a voice to people coming out of their rabbit hole as I head down mine. I need to make this film because I still can.”


Locked In is a Storyville film being made by Rolling Marble for BBC Four. It is being filmed and directed by Xavier Alford and the Executive Producer is Sacha Mirzoeff.




But When We Dance


‘But When We Dance’ is a touching and hilarious story about two people with lots in common – a great sense of humour, a love of dance and they both have Parkinson’s.


Written by Paul Mayhew-Archer who says, “People with Parkinson’s are also funny and loving and irrepressibly optimistic, and I know this because I‘m one of them. When I was first diagnosed, my neurologist, who is a lovely man, told me: ‘You seem to find it quite hard to smile’. Well, I thought, maybe that’s because you’ve just told me I have Parkinson’s.”


Producer Hilary Bevan Jones says, “But When We Dance is a captivating and unusual love story that Paul has written with warmth and wit. Tony and Emma have every reason not to fall in love – both live with a progressive disease that is currently incurable. But the experience of living with Parkinson’s can be mysterious as it can give as well as take away.”


Lucy Richer, Senior Drama Commissioning Editor and BBC Executive Producer, says: “Paul writes with honesty, humour and hope about an important subject which will impact on many of us in our lifetimes. We are very proud to tell this story on BBC One.” 


This is an important film that will touch so many lives. Parkinson’s UK estimate that every hour, two people in the UK are told they have Parkinson’s and around 145,000 people have Parkinson’s in the UK alone.   Although onset of the disease tends to happen in later life, it can also affect people from their 30’s onwards.  With award winning director Jonny Campbell at the helm, filming locations include the English National Ballet classes for people with Parkinson’s where romance first blossoms for Tony and Emma.


‘But When We Dance’ (1x90’) has been commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of Content and Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama for BBC One. It is an Endor Production - a Red Arrow Studios company - in association with Clearwood Films. It is written by Paul Mayhew-Archer and directed by Jonny Campbell.  Executive Producers are Lucy Richer for the BBC, Paul Mayhew-Archer and Ellie Wood.  It will be produced by Hilary Bevan Jones.   




Monologues (w/t)

Disabled writer and actor, Mat Fraser curates a series of ambitious and challenging monologues, all performed by someone with a disability.

Each 15 minute monologue will capture a pivotal moment or event that forever changes the central character. It will also challenge the idea that there is any such thing as ‘normal’. 

Using the model of the successful “Queers” and the BAFTA nominated “Snatches” (The Observer review described them as “genius”), Mat Fraser will find experienced award winning writers and performers and also emerging talent.

The monologues will be fiction but they will be based on factual research and lived experience and they will span the last 50 years of British History.

Mat Fraser says: “I’m thrilled to be curating this exciting, surprising, and revealing series of monologues around the disabled experience, for the BBC. Disabled voices have been shut out of mainstream TV drama for too long, and this is a chance to showcase some of the wonderful, inventive, funny, dramatic, sexy, and searing potential available.”


Monologues (w/t) 6x15 were commissioned by Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor BBC Four and Lamia Dabboussy, Executive Editor for BBC Arts and are being made by BBC Studios where the Executive Producer is Debbie Christie.


The Disordered Eye 


In this new film, disabled artist and filmmaker Richard Butchins challenges the importance of good vision in making great art. He suggests that visual impairments have contributed positively to the creation of art. From the renaissance to the present day, Richard explores how artists have fought a battle with poor vision and how it's gone unnoticed in terms of shaping the work of the great painters of the past. Richard feels these artists inadvertently paved the way for current artists to have the freedom to create regardless of visual challenges.


Examining the work of Rembrandt, Cezanne, Monet and Munch to the synesthesia of Kandinsky and some leading contemporary artists, Richard discovers surprising revelations about the effect of impaired vision on many painters of the last 150 years and beyond. The film also reveals how new scientific methods, progressive social initiatives and ground-breaking technology are shedding light on the lives of our most treasured masters, and opening up the art world to people who would never previously have been able to access it.


The Disordered Eye was commissioned by Mark Bell, Commissioning Editor, Arts and Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor BBC Four and is being made by What Larks Productions where the Executive Producer is Claire Whalley.




Jerk 2 (BBC Three)


Following the critically-acclaimed and award-winning first series, Tim Renkow is back. Having been previously forced to return to the US, he’s now enrolled himself on a post graduate course in London. Not that he has any intention of actually going. But a student visa means he can stay in the UK- where he intends to wreak more havoc. Milking the discomfort his cerebral palsy creates in others and pushing the boundaries of what he can get away with for his own amusement.


Ash Atalla, Executive Producer and Roughcut TV MD, said: “We’ve tried really hard to get rid of Tim Renkow. Unfortunately Jerk has been recommissioned and we now have to continue working with the self-proclaimed genius that he is.  You can’t win them all.”


Mat Steiner, Executive Producer and MD of Primal, added: “It’s great that there is a still space on British TV where being a Jerk can be rewarded. We are delighted!” 


Kate Daughton, Head of BBC Comedy, says: “We’re delighted to welcome back Tim Renkow’s outrageously funny JERK for a second series. Tim has a unique voice and an ability to take down his targets like no one else. We can’t wait to see who he sets his sights on next.”


Jerk (4x22’) is written by Shaun Pye and Tim Renkow, and is a co-production between Roughcut TV and Primal Media for BBC Three. It has been recommissioned by Shane Allen, Controller of BBC Comedy, and Fiona Campbell, Controller of BBC Three. The Executive Producers are Ash Atalla and Alex Smith for Roughcut TV, and Mat Steiner for Primal Media. It is produced by Roughcut’s Rebecca Murrell, and the Commissioning Editor for BBC Comedy is Alex Moody.


The series piloted as A Brief History of Tim in BBC Three’s 2016 Comedy Feeds, showcasing emerging new talent, before its first series was commissioned and aired in 2019. Series one won a MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Award for its representation of disability and was described by Ian Hyland as ‘the sharpest new comedy I have watched in years’ in a 5* Daily Mirror review. 


Jerk series two will film in 2020 and be a BBC Three boxset on BBC iPlayer. It will also air on BBC One.


There She Goes – BBC Two


Based on the real life experiences of writer Shaun Pye, whose daughter was born with an extremely rare and, to date, undiagnosed chromosomal disorder, There She Goes follows the day to day life of a severely learning disabled girl Rosie (Miley Locke), her dad Simon (David Tennant), mum Emily (Jessica Hynes) and brother Ben (Edan Hayhurst). Jessica Hynes recently won a Bafta for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme for her role in the show.


Series One which debuted on BBC Four last year chronicled the dual timeline of Rosie as a new born and age nine. The new series will be set around 18 months on and will focus on Rosie at the ages of three and 11.


The 5x30' series was commissioned by Shane Allen, Controller Comedy Commissioning and Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two. Written and created by Shaun Pye, There She Goes is a Merman production. The Executive Producers for Merman are Clelia Mountford and Sharon Horgan. The Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Alex Moody.


The A Word


Peter Bowker’s much loved family drama is returning for a third series on BBC One. As Joe (Max Vento) and his family navigate Paul (Lee Ingleby) and Alison’s (Morven Christie) divorce, Joe’s autism creates challenges as the family adjust. Joining them at the heart of this series are four actors with disabilities, whose stories explore the experiences of young disabled adults seeking to live independent lives both in the workplace and at home.


Leon Harrop returns as Ralph, whose surprise engagement comes as a shock to his mother Louise (Pooky Quesnel), and her partner Maurice (Christopher Eccleston). Ralph’s fiancée Katie is played by Sarah Gordy, star of celebrated play Jellyfish which transferred to the National Theatre after a sell-out run at The Bush. Both actors have Down’s Syndrome, and impeccable comic timing - and are joined by Joe Sproulle as Ralph’s best man for what promises to be the most joyful and explosive family wedding of the year. 


Joining them is Travis Smith, who returns as autistic teenager Mark, working at the gastro-pub for Paul. He confides in Paul his desire to join the army, and the story explores the challenges that his autism presents to following his dreams. 


The A Word is a Fifty Fathoms Productions and Keshet Productions UK production for BBC One.Executive Producers are Lucy Richer for BBC, Patrick Spence, Peter Bowker and Marcus Wilson for Fifty Fathoms Productions and Howard Burch, Avi Nir and Keren Margalit for Keshet International. Clare Shepherd is producing and Fergus O'Brien is the lead Director.


The Invictus Games


BBC One will yet again bring viewers coverage of the fifth edition of the Invictus Games held in 2020. 


The Hague in the Netherlands will host more than 500 wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women who use sport as a central part of their recovery process. 


The BBC’s eight days of coverage will combine coverage of the sporting competition in The Hague but also tell the stories of the participants and their families both on film and in the studio. 


The BBC’s coverage of the Invictus Games is produced by BBC Studios Factual Entertainment and Events for BBC One. The BBC Studios Executive Producer is Michael Cole, the Series Producer is Catherine Stirk, and Sarah Clay is the Commissioning Editor for BBC Entertainment.

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