Matt on the Box: BBC3’s Defying the Label Season, Britain at the Bookies and Married at First Sight

by | Jul 27, 2015 | All, Reviews

Welcome back to another Matt on the Box as I look back at a week which left me lamenting the fact that BBC Three will soon be banished to the online wasteland.

That’s because the channel pumped out an entire season of shows devoted to showing what life is like for young disabled Brits in 2015 which was subtitled ‘Defying the Label’. The season started with arguably its best programme so far that being fact-based drama Don’t Take My Baby. Based on real-life cases, Jack Thorne’s one-off film focused on Anna (Ruth Madeley) and Tom (Adam Long) who had recently had a baby despite both of them suffering disabilities. Anna suffered from a degenerative illness that should have killed her long ago whilst Tom, who acted as her carer, was gradually losing his eyesight. The drama followed the couple as they were assessed by a panel of social workers to whether or not they could provide adequate care to their daughter Danielle. Thorne allowed us to sympathise with both Tom and Anna as they struggled to deal with the fact that the time they spent with their daughter would be monitored and assessed by a panel of strangers. This sympathy made us will the couple on as they finally got Danielle home and also kept us on their side as the visits from social worker Belinda (Wumni Mosaku) became more tiring. At the same time neither were painted as angels with tiredness causing both Tom and Anna to launch insults at one another during one of the drama’s most poignant scenes. As somebody who wasn’t aware of the hoops that disabled couples have to go through in order to get their children home, Don’t Take My Baby was an eye-opening experience. The fact that this was a drama rather than a documentary allowed for that extra bit of emotion and one of the most memorable moments of the piece for me was when Anna and Tom left the hospital with an empty baby carrier. Both Madeley and Long were fantastic throughout as they gave realistic portrayals of two young disabled people who’d fallen for each other. This uncompromising drama thankfully had a happy ending of sorts as Anna and Tom finally got to keep Danielle however you got the impression that this wasn’t the case for a lot of other couples in the same situation, a fact which to me is truly heartbreaking.

Tuesday saw BBC Three air Me and My New Brain a more straight-forward documentary albeit one focusing on a unique aspect of being disabled. The programme’s centred on 26-year-old snowboarding instructor Charlie Elmore who had suffered a brain injury during a routine jump in 2011. Although Charlie made a full physical recovery, her brain was never the same and on her return to work she discovered that she could no longer perform in the same way that she once could. Retracing her steps she met the doctors and physical therapists who’d helped her get a full recovery even if she was never the same again. As Charlie had booked herself out of hospital, she’d never undertaken any kind of mental examinations that patients like her usually take after a serious brain injury. I found it fascinating to learn just how Charlie’s injury had changed her and these tests also explained why she was struggling in her new quest to become a ski instructor for the disabled. It was also revealed that a lot of Charlie’s close relationships fell apart following her accident and she lost touch with many of her friends before the accident. Just like with Don’t Take My Baby, Me and My New Brain opened my eyes to a world that I previously hadn’t considered. As this was a BBC Three documentary it didn’t concentrate too long on the scientific reason behind the changes in Charlie’s brain but instead looked at the emotional impact. We heard from several other brain injury survivors aside from Charlie the most memorable of whom was Hannah. Hannah had collapsed whilst shopping and hit her head on the pavement and when we first meet her she’s still struggling to get her speech back. I found Hannah’s story particularly fascinating as we were able to see the effects that her injury had had on the way she communicated. While I don’t think I was emotionally invested in Me and My New Brain as I was Don’t Take My Baby there was still a lot to take away from the programme. Most of all I found all of the subjects to be remarkable youngsters who were already striving to make the best of their lives following their brain injuries.

The next documentary in the season looked at the way in which young disabled people are physically and verbally attacked simply because of the way they look. The Ugly Face of Disability Hate Crime was presented by actor Adam Pearson whose condition neurofibromatosis 1 causes tumours to grow on his face. From the start of the documentary it was clear that Pearson was somebody who was comfortable in his own skin however he wasn’t comfortable with the way people reacted to him. His tales of being bullied at school were quite harrowing as was the fact that he was still being abused online as a comment on his YouTube page attested to. Pearson set out to discover why disability hate crime wasn’t treated as seriously as religious or race-related hate crime. At the same time he tried to get YouTube to delete the hateful comment, however they felt that it was perfectly acceptable. I personally think that the subject of disability hate crime was a little too large to be properly covered in one single programme. Where the documentary was at its best was when Pearson was front and centre of the action as he proved to be a witty and likeable presence. One of the most fascinating parts of the documentary saw Adam come face to face with a group of people who had just taken a test that garnered their instant reactions to people with disabilities. After meeting and chatting with Adam, the group retook the test and scored lower than they previously had done. This was really eye-opening and seemingly showed that people’s prejudices can easily be resolved if they just take the time to get to know people. Although I did feel that The Ugly Face of Disability Hate Crime could have done with more than just one primary voice, I still liked the manner in which Adam presented and researched the piece. I would love to see a follow up in a year’s time to see how his fight against disabilism is going but I have a feeling that this isn’t something that the new look online BBC Three would ever do.

The final programme of the Defying the Label Season’s first week was the opening instalment of Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant. This programme takes young disabled people between 21 and 24 and attempts to find them a carer of the same age. All of the carers are currently out-of-work and the aim of the show is to not only get them a job but to find those they care for somebody who they can relate to. The first programme saw three people on the lookout for new carers however, of the three matches made, I felt that only one would last the course. This relationship was between 21-year-old Jasmine, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, and kooky musician Emily. The pair shared an easy relationship and Emily seemed to have no problem with the more intimate areas of her new job. The same can’t be said for Essex girl Denny Lee who struggled to cope with the toilet-based aspects of caring for Michael. Michael, who was paralysed from the neck down following an accident, seemed to give Denny Lee the benefit of the doubt but by the end of the week she’d already given up on her new job. The oddest pairing was definitely of strait-laced budding author Francesca and crude brain-damaged stand-up comic Josh. Josh’s main reason for wanting a carer of his own age seemed to be so that he could get more girls however Francesca didn’t ever strike me as much of a wing-woman. Indeed, it did feel at times as if the pairing of Josh and Francesca was more about providing the viewers with entertaining situations than it was about finding the right carer for the budding stand-up. This feeling left me rather uneasy as it was hard to judge whether Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant was trying to manufacture certain situations for entertainment value rather than presenting an opportunity for these youngsters to find them new carers. Therefore I found it hard to really enjoy the programme even if I thought the friendship between Emily and Jasmine was rather sweet. Although I’m not sure if my feelings are more than justified I’m not sure if I’m going to tune in to the concluding part of Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant which I found to be the weakest of the four programmes from the Defying the Label Season.

Ultimately I feel that the Defying the Label Season showcases the unique voice that only BBC Three offers. Although I think that the themes in Don’t Take My Baby would strike a chord with a mass audience I sadly can’t see it airing on either BBC One or Two. It pains me that programmes that can both educate and entertain a younger audience such as those that BBC Three aired last week will probably not be made when the channel heads online. I do have my fingers crossed that the other BBC channels will continue to make programmes in a similar vain to those in the Defying the Label Season but I won’t be holding my breath.

Whilst the channel that the BBC are banishing online was producing emotional drama and thought-provoking factual offerings, BBC One stuck yet another fly-on-the-wall documentary in a primetime slot. Britain at the Bookies focused on betting chain Coral concentrating equally on those at the top and those at the ground floor. Unlike BBC One’s recent KFC documentary, Britain at the Bookies as at least got an entertaining character as its centre in the form of Huddersfield Coral Manager Tony. Tony is a colourful character who has run the shop for over twenty years and takes pride in everything from clean windows to properly hung copies of the Racing Post. Whilst Tony is a jovial figure he’s also a business man and therefore you can see him take pleasure from the news that a rival betting shop is closing down. I’m not quite sure what message the documentary is trying to send because, when focusing on Coral’s employees, Britain at the Bookies has nothing but praise for the brand. But at the same time there’s a message that gambling can lead to a person’s downfall and that if you’re too successful at it then you get cut off. This is certainly true in the case of Stuart, who uses most of his benefit money to play the slot machines in the majority of Huddersfield’s various bookies. But it is only after he loses most of his money that he decides that he shouldn’t gamble anymore and instead invests his benefits in a pair of Primark shoes which obviously help him to secure a job as a chef. Conversely we meet another man who has made thousands of pounds from odd side bets but as a result is seeing his online account being shut down. Whilst I can never say I was bored while watching Britain at the Bookies it does feel like a programme that is at least fifteen years out of date. Although I understand that BBC One doesn’t always air the highest quality of programmes during the summer I do feel that they could do better than this. Indeed, especially during the story involving Stuart, Britain at the Bookies felt like a programme that would be more at home on Channel Five than BBC One.

Finally we turn our attention to Channel 4’s Married at First Sight, which finished its three episode run last week. Like most people I was initially sceptical about the programme’s concept however as the series progressed I kind of warmed to the idea. I think this gradual acceptance of the programme can primarily be attributed to the two brave couples who signed up for the experiment; Kate and Jason and James and Emma. After watching the second episode, which focused on the weddings themselves, I was convinced that the much more physically compatible Jason and Kate were the couple more destined to last the course. This theory continued into the final episode where Jason and Kate couldn’t take their hands off each other during their Dublin-based honeymoon. On the other James and Emma, who clearly were fond of each other, were still struggling to find that physical intimacy. However, appearances can be deceiving and as the couples moved into their flats it appeared as if Jason was getting cold feet. These cold feet soon became positively Arctic as he essentially cut off all contact with Kate and she finally removed her wedding ring after discovering that he’d signed up for Tinder. However, James and Emma’s relationship was much more of a slow burner and they seemed to take to cohabiting more than Kate and Jason. As I’m a big sucker for a love story I was glad to see James and Emma’s relationship progress even though it was odd to think that they were already married. Thankfully they decided not to divorce and even though they’re living separately they’re still together which at least justifies the many weeks that the programme’s experts spent trying to find the ideal match for 1500 singletons. Despite the fact that they successfully matched up one couple, the experts are seemingly still in a job as a second series of Married at First Sight has already been announced. Despite my scepticism about the initial concept of the show, seeing James and Emma’s happiness makes me glad that another couple may get the same experience even if I think anybody who signs up for the show must be a little bit crazy.

That’s your lot for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for more of my telly thoughts and I’ll see you next time.

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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