Monthly Archives: January 2021

Research Bulletin, October 2020

Hello all,

Well, it’s still a strange world for us all at the moment. Here’s my monthly update in case there’s anything new here that might help or be of interest to you. This month has been mostly works-in-progress rather than shiny new ‘outputs’.

1. Sian Vasey

Sadly, Sian died this month, a very good friend of many of us. Tributes have been given in DNS and in Facebook, and when the time is right we can start to think in detail about her legacies. One aspect I’m interested in is her work as a disabled TV producer at ITV then at BBC. I feel that the representation of disabled people in ‘the business’ has improved in front of the camera more so than it has behind the camera – the crews – where most of the jobs are. I’d welcome any thoughts, whether private messages or public postings.

2. Rachel Hurst Library

As well as kindly donating her extensive collection of files to the Disabled People’s Archive, Rachel has also kindly donated her personal library of books – 13 boxes of rare treats. I’ve added another three boxes of books to that set from Lorraine Gradwell, Pam Thomas, and myself. It’s far too soon to say where these will end up finally, so they are being safely stored meantime. Ideally it would be in a public reference library, but no-one is underestimating the cuts and pressures that local authorities face at the moment, from the pandemic but also from 10 years of austerity cuts. The news yesterday of further planned cuts within Manchester City Council do not bode well for us all.

3. BBC documentaries

I seem to have become a (willing) props department for two documentaries being made for BBC Two to be broadcast next year – some DAN drinking mugs with “Piss on Pity”, and some original UPIAS documents from the archive boxes.


4. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

It was a pleasure to be asked whether one of my photographs of disabled activists campaigning at a march could be used for a banner on the website of the new Disability Research Group at the University of Strathclyde.

5. International Day of Disabled People (3 Dec)

Nothing is yet finalised, but lots of work is underway in Manchester to produce the usual packed programme of events as an entirely digital experience this year. Happy to be playing a small role in the background.

6. Nothing About Us Without Us and PHM

Similarly not yet finalised, lots of work underway with the People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester to continue with a physical exhibition for 2022, plus some virtual items in the meantime. Also (no promises) some very early discussions on whether the exhibition could also be toured across England including London, as well as across Greater Manchester.

7. TV in 1980s

I’ve had an interesting chat last week with a TV producer in Manchester who first came across GMCDP in the 1980s and from there worked with the Hearing Voices Network. The work was sadly abandoned mid-production by BBC at the time because another channel (C4) was also interested.

Stay safe,


Research Bulletins, back copies:

Research Bulletin, January 2021

Hello everyone, and a Happy New Year

Thank you everyone for your kind comments about these research bulletins, a year old next month, and on the calendars.

It was only a few weeks ago when we were sending cards wishing each other a better year in 2021 … seems a slow start, to be honest.

1. A BBC2 documentary early next week

On Tuesday 19 January, 9pm, BBC2, (and Weds 11.30pm) there is the broadcasting of the documentary "Silenced: the Hidden Story of Disabled Britain". Look out for some interviews with the likes of Alia Hassan, John Evans and Jane Campbell. I assisted in the background with some research. I’m told disabled people encouraged the producers to also interview people in the north of England … we’ll see.

2. Ian Stanton

By some good chance someone asked me in December what songs I might have from Ian’s recordings, which got me searching some old home-made CDs to find some cover versions he had recorded, including one of "Fairytale in New York". It was lovely to be able to circulate it, a true gift.

3. Handwriting, 83 full pages of

There are some jobs you just put to the bottom of the pile. In 2016 I was sorting through the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s archive boxes in a storage unit in east Manchester. The collection had grown over the years, and with it had grown a combination of spreadsheets and some loose handwritten sheets listing the contents. Eighty-three sheets, which I didn’t really want to type up. Again, an enquiry from a friend took me back to these lists. The spreadsheet has details of about 5000 items (rows) in the archive, and the loose sheets probably has another 2000 or so.

The use of AI (artificial intelligence) to recognise handwriting has got better in recent years. My hope was to find a program which would process all the pages at once, but after some emails to academics in the USA I had to make new plan. There is some very good stuff out there, but it has been purchased by private companies. One academic had written an interesting paper, but couldn’t help me because the commercial funders of the research forbade it. For example, consider how companies such as Ancestry can process so many millions of handwritten certificates of birth, marriage and death.

Eventually I found a phone app called "Handwriting Recognizer" which performs quite well. Most OCR (optical character recognition) programs only work with typewritten and computer-printed characters. There is also ICR (intelligent character recognition) and HCR (handwritten character recognition) which can process handwriting, some better than others. The app I used allows three free pages a day, then $1.49 a month for unlimited use. But it does still mean taking 83 photographs, processing each one, and then emailing the result to add to a document. Most research is basically admin but dressed up to feel better.

So I’m now in the process of correction a 120-page Word document which is maybe 70% correct at the moment.

The final product is maybe best called a list of the archive, because a catalogue would have more details. However, it can be very helpful in narrowing down which box to look in for a photograph or a magazine half-remembered. I also like just to browse these types of lists, but that’s me.

4. Access All Areas

This month a book has been published, written by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder, on diversity in the TV industry in particular. I saw there interview on Channel 4 News and was impressed that LH knew the statistics on how many (so few!) disabled people are currently employed behind the scenes. I’ve written a review of the book, please follow this link:

Stay safe, April or May onwards should be better,


For earlier editions of this bulletin please see –

Access All Areas (a book review)


This book starts with Lenny Henry’s comments upon leaving the BAFTA TV Awards ceremony in May 2013, abruptly telling a journalist that it was, “all White on the night”. It continues with the story of the campaign to get diversity included in the BBC Charter, and then in creating the Ofcom criteria for monitoring the diversity performance of the BBC. It describes the ongoing campaign for a UK tax credit for diversity in film and TV production. It concludes with the launch in March 2020 of the Media Diversity Centre at Birmingham City University. Both authors are professors there, and LH is also the Chancellor (a position like the chair of governors).


Although the book has a “Manifesto” at the end, for me it didn’t cover some of the most interesting points in the text.

The starkest of these was the harm said to be done by ‘special’ training courses, boot camps, leadership development opportunities and such aimed at disadvantaged groups. LH describes the career harm done by such courses, looking at how trust, social capital, and a deficit model within TV companies decides who gets green lit. In short, these courses mark someone’s CV as remedial and cause later career difficulties. A case study shows the drop in salary that was found. By contrast, the best TV companies at promoting diversity were those with a very good general or universal training culture across the organisation – developing staff and not just consuming them.

A second key point was that diversity wasn’t a useful umbrella concept for action. The points about intersectionality are made but without the theory. For example, the authors say that things only start to get better when specific actions are put in place, with their example that improvements for disabled women are needed rather that assuming that an action to assist women will automatically apply also to disabled women.

The authors are more explicit with structural inequalities and with racism. Based on national statistics, they describe a TV and film industry in the UK which is controlled by a demographic found in only 3% of the population, yet still we talk about diversity and minorities whereas the disadvantaged people together are actually a substantial majority.

They state that they are giving their work within the new Media Diversity Centre five years to see if it is effective, and their plan is to use it as a base for new research rather than for campaigning or publicity. An early part of the work programme is trying to prove the wider economic benefits of a diversity tax break (ie it doesn’t just get gamed and trousered by the company owners as some Treasury officials say they suspect).

Two standouts for me:

“However, when it comes to diversity in the media industry it can feel like we have no institutional memory. I cannot remember a time in my forty-plus-year career when women, Black, Asian and disabled people have not been actively fighting for a bigger place at the media table to tell their stories and have their voices heard.
Yet, when I talk to senior industry figures in their fifties, sixties and even seventies, who have been at the front line trying to increase diversity in television, I am amazed how consistently they feel that the present policies rolled out by broadcasters are either repeating the same mistakes or failing to capitalise on what has happened before.” (Henry and Ryder, 2021, p147)


“… it is a very personal confession, but a confession that I know a lot of people from ‘diverse’ backgrounds working in television can relate to.
A lot of the time, at work, I am lonely. Very lonely.”
  (emphasis in original) (Henry and Ryder, 2021, p118)

Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond
Lenny Henry & Marcus Ryder
Faber & Faber, 2021, 181pp, £7.99
ISBN 978 057 136 5128