Channel 4 asks 'is it ok' to treat disability programming differently?


Broadcaster announces new programmes across a range of genres

At an event to celebrate the fundamental shift that has taken place in the portrayal of disability on television, Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer, Jay Hunt made a number of announcements including major new and returning peak time series featuring disabled presenters or contributors with a disability.

Arthur Williams, who Channel 4 trained as part of its 2012 Paralympic ‘boot camp’ of new presenters and who played a major role in anchoring coverage of the Games, will front major new factual project The Wooden Wonder. As part of the documentary, pilot and plane-enthusiast Williams will discover the truth about the unsung hero of World War Two – the Mosquito – and will fly the only airworthy example of the plane in the world.

Ade Adepitan, presenter of peak-time coverage during the 2012 Paralympics, is also confirmed as a new reporter for Channel 4’s award-winning foreign affairs strand Unreported World as it returns for a new series in April. Within the series Ade, who has also recently presented Dispatches, will travel to Cuba to investigate why some of its top sports stars are still defecting to the US.

Fellow stars of the 2012 Games, Adam Hills and Alex Brooker will be returning alongside Josh Widdicombe for a second full series of the acclaimed The Last Leg after launching with huge success into a Friday night slot on Channel 4. There will also be a second series of I’m Spazticus – the prank show written by and starring disabled people.

Hit series The Undateables, which follows the journeys of several extraordinary singletons in search of love, will also return to Channel 4 in 2014 for a third run after a critically acclaimed second series which was watched by over 3.5 million viewers.

The event follows the news that Channel 4 has been awarded the UK broadcast rights to the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and celebrates the part that the channel has played in terms of changing attitudes to disability with programming through the years, from the likes of Walter and Born to be Different, through to 4 Goes Mad, My Beautiful Face and How to Build a Bionic Man.

Speaking at the event, Jay Hunt said: “To steal a phrase from The Last Leg, we have been asking if it’s ok to treat disability differently – to escape from the idea that disability issues are niche.”

“Whether it’s the millions whose attitudes have been changed by The Undateables or the brilliantly funny prank show I’m Spazticus which let disabled people own the gag for the first time, we have been daring to take real risks to transform our coverage.”

“Channel 4 has also gone further than any other broadcaster in putting disabled presenters at the very heart of what we do. Two disabled presenters fronting a Friday night entertainment show shows how far we have already come. It isn’t tokenism – it’s about great presenters telling amazing stories in every genre from current affairs to history, science to entertainment. It just so happens those presenters are disabled.”

As part of its commitment to launching new disabled talent, Channel 4 invested over £600,000 in identifying and training and developing ten new reporters and presenters with disabilities for its coverage of the 2012 Paralympic Games, and a further £250,000 across the following two years to help develop them across a range of television genres. As well as the roles for Williams, Adepitan and Brooker, a number of those presenters are exploring new opportunities at Channel 4 and with other broadcasters and production companies including Jordan Jarrett Bryan, who is working as a sports reporter for Channel 4 News, Martin Dougan who has recently presented for Newsround and is filming with I’m Spazticus; and Rachel Latham, who is working with a number of production companies on new production developments and presenting opportunities.


Notes to editors:

The Wooden Wonder – full details:

One Second World War aircraft influenced modern air combat more than any other. And yet it doesn’t adorn stamps or take part in Remembrance Day fly-pasts. It wasn’t the Spitfire, the Hurricane, or the Lancaster Bomber. But it was involved in some of the most successful raids of the war, protected more of its pilots than any other plane in bomber command, and was flown by some of the greatest of the Allies air aces. It was so effective it made Hermann Goering “yellow and green with envy” – lamenting that “they (the British) have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set - then at least I'll own something that has always worked.”

Even more surprising, the De Havilland Mosquito was a plane the RAF didn’t want at first – because it was built by its obstinate designer out of plywood. It was made by workers more accustomed to turning out sofas and pianos than bombers. Sceptics at first described it as ‘Flying Furniture’. Yet soon the critics were silenced. The way ‘the Wooden Wonder’ was designed and made turned it into a template for the most modern, high specification combat aircraft fighting today, from the F-18 Hornet to the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Now pilot, plane-builder, C4 Paralympics presenter and Mosquito-enthusiast Arthur Williams is going to celebrate the most unjustly unsung hero of the war – a plane nobody wanted but ended up being more important than any other more famous fighter flown in the war. He’ll discover how the ‘Wooden Wonder’ went from an improvised, ungainly joke to being the most effective combat plane of the war – and find out how its descendants are still defending Britain today.

To do this, he’s going on a journey to see how the Mosquito went from its conception as an ultra-fast but unarmed light bomber to being used for every combat role from reconnaissance to anti-submarine attacks; from night-fighter missions to high-profile tactical raids (they once flew into Berlin and knocked out the central radio station on the 10th anniversary of Nazi rule, incurring Goering’s jealous outburst in the process).

Arthur will dust down the Airfix models he made of the Mossie as a kid – it’s his starting point for asking what was so special about the plane’s design. And, in his workshop where he’s currently restoring a 1940s plane – he will uncover the secrets of aircraft construction in the period. He’ll track down and meet surviving furniture makers who built the Mosquito, to find out how a plane made from birch and balsawood, with no guns, could be flown so successfully against the armed might of the Luftwaffe. He’ll build a section of the plane himself – and discover in the process how the wings of the modern Airbus have their roots in the Mossie’s designs. He’ll tell the story of the raid that made its name – an attack on Gestapo headquarters in Oslo – where four Mossies had to fly a mere 100ft above the North Sea to avoid detection, before bombing buildings at rooftop level. The raid was so extraordinary that the next day the MoD had to reveal the existence of its new secret weapon to the world – the Mosquito.

Finally, Arthur will fly in the only airworthy Mosquito in the world – a plane recently restored by an American millionaire - to find out first hand why this plane was so beloved of its pilots – and generations of romantics who always root for the underdog.

Ultimately, Arthur will return the Mosquito to its rightful place as one of the most innovative and important aircraft we’ve ever made.

Research – Paralympics helped change perceptions of disability:

Audience research carried out for Channel 4 by BDRC Continental and YouGov immediately after the Games revealed the impact of the 2012 Paralympics on perceptions of disability and Paralympic sport in the UK. The findings included:

- Two thirds of viewers (65%) feel the coverage of the Paralympics has had a favourable impact on their perceptions towards people with disabilities.1

- More than four in five Adults (82%) agreed disabled athletes are as talented as able-bodied athletes, rising to 91% among those who had watched Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics.2

- Almost two thirds of Adults (64%) agreed that the Paralympics is as good as the Olympics, rising to 79% among those who had watched Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics. 2

- Two thirds of viewers (68%) felt the coverage of the Paralympics has had a favourable impact on their perceptions to disabled sport. 1

- Around two in three viewers (69%) said this is the first time they have ever made an effort to watch the Paralympics, while half (50%) said this is the first Paralympics they have ever watched. 67% said they watched more than they expected to.1

- 80% of viewers enjoyed the fact that there were disabled presenters on screen in Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympics1 and almost three quarters of the audience (74%) agreed that they enjoyed the matter of fact discussions about disability.2

- Three in five viewers (61%) saying they understand the 'Lexi Decoder' classification system.1

- More than four in five viewers (83%) agreed they know more about Paralympic sports and over four in five viewers (83%) agreed that they are more familiar with disabled athletes as a result of watching Channel 4's coverage.2

1. A BDRC Continental daily survey for Channel 4 of 1833 viewers, representative of UK adults - undertaken between 29th August and 6th September 2012

2. A YouGov Plc survey: total sample size was 1027 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6th - 7th September 2012 . The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Channel 4 broadcast almost 500 hours of coverage across the 2012 Paralympic Games, an increase of 400% on the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. In total, the Paralympics coverage on Channel 4 was watched by 39.9 million people - equivalent to 69% of the population; with an average of 14.6 million (25.4%) viewers tuning in every day.

The opening ceremony was watched by a peak audience of 11.6 million viewers - Channel 4's biggest audience in over 10 years - with Jonnie Peacock's gold medal win in the T44 100m on attracting the biggest ever Paralympic sports audience in the UK with a peak of 6.3 million viewers.

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