As a child I loved Children’s TV. Among my favourite characters were Mr Bump, Super Ted, and Rachel in Grange Hill (played by Francesca Martinez) and the thing all these characters had in common was that they were identifiably ‘different’: Mr Bump – poorly coordinated, Super Ted – rejected in the opening sequence because ‘they found something wrong with him’ and Rachel ‘wobbly’ as the result of cerebral palsy.
I’ve written before about how important it is to see your experiences reflected on screen and I believe this is essential with children’s programming. And it’s not just TV. Books, radio and magazines matter too. The character I most strongly identified with was Clumsy Cleo (21 minutes in) from a story-telling tape I had. I liked her so much I even started a Clumsy Cleo Club at school.
I want all children to see people who look, sound or move like they do being successful in all sorts of roles, and to know that all possibilities are open to them. So I was thrilled to address delegates at the Children’s Media Conference this evening on the issue of “Making it happen” when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation.
This launch event took place at the Crucible (another big reference from my 1980s childhood when I spent a lot of time watching TV with Mary, my snooker-loving child-minder). It was packed with over seven hundred people from the children’s media industry.
I shared with them the shocking statistic that that 67% of British people, in a survey conducted by Scope, felt uncomfortable talking to disabled people. It was very exciting to talk to a group of professionals who are perfectly placed to make a significant contribution to catalysing much-needed social change in this area.
After I spoke I quickly whizzed round to join the audience for the keynote address by author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay.
Lemn’s speech was moving, thought-provoking and essential. He discussed migration, race, representation, and his experiences growing up in care. He dedicated his talk to the amazing Play School presenter Floella Benjamin and described the importance to him as a child of seeing a face on TV that he identified with.
I’d had no idea beforehand what Lemn would say and he’d not known what I would talk about either, so it was striking how similar the ideas and messages were.
Over the next few days the delegates at this conference will be pitching ideas, making deals and shaping the future of children’s television. I very much hope that the importance of increased visibility of difference will stick firmly in their minds. It’s through this that discrimination can be broken down, and progress can be made towards real equality.