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IT was 23 February, 2009, and Cerrie Burnell remembers the story in the Evening Standard well. “Dozens of parents,” she read, “have complained to the BBC that a disabled television presenter is scaring their children.”
That presenter was Burnell. I wish I could say it is the worst, most shocking thing you will hear in Silenced: The Hidden History of Disabled Britain (BBC, Tuesday, 9pm), but Burnell is just getting started.
Born in 1979 without the lower part of her right arm, the writer and actor had never faced such blatant prejudice until she appeared on television. But she knew many others had, so she set about exploring that history, which turns out to be her history, too.
Pembrokeshire Murders; Bradley and Barney Walsh; Ben Fogle, Kirsty Wark, reviews
Burnell begins her story pre-industrial revolution, when disabled people were largely looked after, if they were looked after, by family. Then the mass migration from the countryside to the city began in search of work. The able-bodied won the competition for jobs, leaving disabled people to be sent to the workhouse along with the rest of the poor.
After a while, official thinking changed. Disabled people would be moved en masse to the countryside and kept away from public view. Out of sight out of mind. Many of them were sectioned and had no choice about it. Then came another change of mind. Instead of separating disabled people from society, why not rehabilitate or “fix” them, whatever it took? One woman tells Burnell how her childhood was spent in hospital having her bones broken and reset, over and over.
Thankfully, thinking changed again, and this time it was disabled people pushing for reform. So begins the long fight for independent living and civil rights. This section of Burnell’s film is as heartening as the earlier section of the film is depressing. As one contributor reminds viewers, the struggle is not over yet. Whether it’s austerity or Covid, disabled people in Britain and elsewhere continue to get a worse deal than others.
One of the joys of this outstanding documentary is seeing Burnell being righteously angry at the treatment of disabled people down the years. It is not all anger, far from it. She is funny, empathetic, a great listener, so much so that I’m amazed this is the first film I have seen her fronting. A check on imdb shows she that as well as being on CBeebies she has been in EastEnders and Holby City. More work her way, please.
Scots actor Morven Christie returns for the second series of The Bay (STV, Wednesday, 9pm), which is just as well as she was the best thing in the first season. That began with a jawdropper of a plot twist: police family liaison officer, played by Christie, has sex with stranger only to find out he’s involved in her next case. As in The Replacement, where she played a paranoid mother-to-be convinced her stand-in was after more than her job, Christie is a dab hand at rescuing the riper type of drama. Not that this applies to her best work in Peter Bowker’s always wonderful The A Word. In it, Christie plays Alison Hughes, mum to young Joe, who has autism. Three series are available on iPlayer if you have yet to see.
I seem to recall the last Springwatch coincided with a lockdown. Now it is time for Winterwatch (BBC2, Tuesday onwards, 8pm) and here we all are again, stuck indoors while nature does its thing, even if its thing is going to sleep for the winter. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.
Cometh another lockdown, cometh Michaela Strachan being unable to travel from her home in South Africa to Scotland. The rest of the gang will be turning out though, led by Chris Packham from his New Forest backyard. If you should ever get restless waiting for the owls, foxes and other creatures to appear, counting how many layers Packham wears in each episode is a popular way way to pass the time.
Pity the previewer who has to cover President Biden: The Inauguration (BBC/STV, Wednesday, 4pm). Given Covid restrictions, this inauguration was always going to look like no other. Normally, the handover of power pretty runs like clockwork, to schedule, with few surprises and plenty of pomp and ceremony.
This year, giving the recent storming of the Capitol, who can say with any certainty how the day will play out in DC?
The main networks will pick up coverage for the swearing-in and the speech by new President Biden, the one in which he is supposed to set the tone for the next four years.
After that, the current commander-in-chief is meant to formally bid goodbye to the new President and First Lady, but Donald Trump will leave town before the ceremony starts.
Inaugurations are always should see events. This one, for reasons good and bad, will be unmissable.