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Why tonight’s Silent Witness story is just what the industry needs

Disabled people and their stories rarely appear on TV or in films. Then, when they do, non-disabled actors are often cast to play the roles. That’s why we’re so excited about the latest Silent Witness story which will be broadcast on BBC One tonight and tomorrow.

The story – One Day – is told across two episodes and tells the story of Toby and Serena who are both disabled. They’re played by actor Toby Sams-Friedman and Rosie Jones, a brilliant comedian in her first acting role.

The story is gripping and emotional and while it’s billed as a story about hate crime, it also shines a light on a variety of issues that disabled people face, not to mention the seeming lack of urgency when it comes to addressing those issues. It also features an incredible performance from Liz Carr, a regular on the show.

Our helpline team were consulted on the script and on Tuesday, we were lucky enough to attend a screening of the episodes at BAFTA. In the Question and Answers that followed, we heard from Tim Prager who wrote the episode and actor Liz Carr. Afterwards we also chatted to Rosie Jones, who plays Serena in the episodes. Here’s what they had to say.

Rosie Jones:

“I wanted to do it justice for all the disabled people in that situation”

I come from quite a higgledy-piggledy background because I actually started behind the camera working in comedy and entertainment. Then I decided to do stand-up comedy, and along with that comes acting. I went for this role and somehow with no acting experience, I got it! So yeah, it’s my first acting job but I really enjoyed it.

The story is incredible, it’s hard going and it tackled a lot of tough subjects. I was quite worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. But actually, I wanted to do it justice for all the disabled people in that situation. It’s incredibly important to tell this story, we need to make people more aware. And it’s so important that disabled actors are playing the roles. You can get the best actors but they don’t know what it’s like to be disabled. I do and hopefully I bring something to the role.

A women stands in a doorway looking worried
Rosie Jones, as Serena, in the first episode of One Day

Tim Prager, writer: On hiring disabled actors

“Just do it”.

I’ve known Toby since he was a little boy, I’ve watched him grow up, so it was easy for me to write that character. I have a son with cerebral palsy so it was easy for me to write Serena. What I was hoping to do with it, is to demonstrate that there is a place for all of us. That’s it.

There needs to be a will to tell stories about all sorts of people. Liz has been on the show for 6 years. The critical issue for me was that she was in it and she was a regular in it. There will always be a disabled character, whether [the story] is about disability or not. We’ll just put them in it because they can do other jobs.

[As a writer already in the industry], I’ve laid down the gauntlet and said I’ll work with disabled writers and bring them up to a technical skill level that makes them available to work on mainstream shows. And that’s what needs to happen, we need to get to a place where [all] people write all the shows that people watch.

It comes down to people saying, okay enough, let’s do it, let’s do it now.

Liz Carr, who plays Clarissa in the series:

“You’ve got the right people telling the story for a change”

It was so important [to do this story] because I don’t think that, other than on something like Panorama, I don’t know that we’ve seen some of these things on TV before.

These episodes are expressed as being about disability hate crime and really, they’re about the value we place on another human being.

Tim, comes at it from a place of experience as do we, as disabled actors. When we say ‘we should have better representation on TV’ it gets a bit boring – these episodes show why. And you’ve got the right people telling the story for a change.

There are lots of disabled people, people who championed this kind of episode and it’s a celebration. I guess the issue is, there’s so much to be done and we want it done now, I’m so impatient. Disabled actors have got to get more experience so we get there.

The performances across the board in this episode are stunning. The more we do it, the more people who work with us realise that this isn’t so bad.

Silent Witness One Day will be on BBC One at 9pm tonight – Monday 29 January – and tomorrow.