Just under three weeks ago I went to meet a team from Channel 4 who were embarking on an unusual project. They were looking for people with communication differences to announce some of their shows.
Before that meeting, I would’ve put ‘continuity announcer’ alongside ‘butcher’ and ‘living statue’ as jobs that my tics made it impossible for me to do, though of course I’m perfectly capable of making a clear, albeit biscuity, announcement. I just wouldn’t have expected any broadcaster to be brave enough to let me introduce their programmes.
But this project is part of Channel 4’s ‘Born Risky’ campaign, which is designed to highlight and celebrate the creative risks it takes. Over the next few weeks they’ll be experimenting with a number of different voices – including mine.
I first heard about the project through Tourettes Action, a charity for people with Tourettes. The idea of people with audible disabilities making continuity announcements intrigued me. Keen to find out more I headed to Channel 4 with Leftwing Idiot to meet the team and read some scripts.
They also asked me to prepare some intros of my own because scripting the announcements was another key part of the job. Doing that was important and exciting for me because a person’s true voice isn’t only the words they say – just as important are the words they choose (and in my case, the ones my tics choose too). Hearing the voices of disabled people isn’t just about getting used to different sounds – it’s also about being open to ideas being put over from new perspectives.
It shouldn’t be considered risky for a disabled person’s voice to be heard on TV, but at the moment it definitely is. While there are over eleven million disabled people in the UK, about 17% of the population, I’m certain the percentage of disabled people on our screens is a lot less than that. And examples of positive images of disabled people in the media are even rarer – with the exception of the Paralympics of course.
What appealed to me about the this project was that I and the four other new announcers, Alex, Katie, Luke, and Matthew, would undergo pretty much the same training and work in the same way as anyone else new to the job. We’d write our own scripts, conform to the standard guidelines, and deliver our own lines. This wasn’t about an ‘inspirational story,’ it was about doing a job.
I found writing scripts the most enjoyable bit. I loved thinking of fresh ways to introduce both the shows and Tourettes. Barra, a long-established continuity announcer for Channel 4, brilliantly guided us through the process. He worked with us over three days, sharing his expertise as we drafted and practised our scripts.
There were a few things that they did do differently, and most of them reasonable adjustments. For example, we’re being seen on screen, not just heard. This will give a clearer idea of what’s going on and explain why the links sound a bit different from usual.
Photo: Kuba Wieczorek
In addition, unlike regular continuity announcements, we won’t be broadcast live – this is great for me because it means I can relax, safe in the knowledge I won’t accidentally say something on air that I wouldn’t want to, or have a ‘ticcing fit’ and lose the ability to speak altogether… or tic so much that I run out of time to say what’s about to be on.
Recording the announcements was really enjoyable too. I loved sitting in the booth introducing some of the channel’s most popular shows. Look out for me from tonight when I kick off with an intro to Heston’s Great British Food at 9:00pm. I’ll only be on screen for about 20 seconds so pay attention!
Disability is normal. It’s something that many viewers will have personal experience of, so it feels completely right that this should be reflected in the people producing, presenting, introducing and performing in TV and radio shows.
Attitudes towards difference will only improve if it’s seen and heard a lot more. I hope that by sharing our voices, disability will become less risky and more visible.
Either way, Channel 4’s about to get a lot more biscuity.