Transcript: 'I hope they'll make masks with cut-outs for lips'
This is a full transcript of I hope they'll make masks with cut-outs for lips as first broadcast on 23 April 2020 and presented by Simon Minty and Beth Rose.
SIMON -Hello, and welcome to Cabin Fever. If ever there was a time we felt like we were living through a film now is it. And I bet you're watching even more TV than ever before. This week we've got quite a treat for you in the form of an award winning screen writer who's already shaping the likes of 'EastEnders' and Beth's favourite, 'Casualty'. I'm Simon Minty. I have hearing loss but I'm not proper deaf, and also I'm short; I have a form of dwarfism.
BETH -Hi, I'm Beth Rose. I'm non disabled, I'm the token on this podcast, and I'm recording this in my living room in West London. Also, happy birthday, Mr Minty.
SIMON - Thank you very much. I am here in the same place I was on my birthday four days ago, in a little office area in front of the computer screen. I did more quizzes on my birthday. Our guest today is Charlie Swinbourne. We're a bit low on staff and budget, could you introduce yourself? That would be really helpful.
CHARLIE -Hi, I'm Charlie Swinbourne and I'm a screenwriter, director and a journalist. I'm the editor of 'Limping Chicken' and I'm all the way up in Yorkshire in a village with lots of countryside around. And it's very nice to speak to you.
BETH -That sounds really nice, but before we get any further why is the blog called the 'Limping Chicken'?
CHARLIE -It's a really long story, and I get asked that question so often that I really wish eight years ago I'd chosen a different name for it. It was to do with a BBC Three documentary about a deaf girl who was going to her first day at university and her notetaker left halfway through her first lecture because her chicken had a bad leg. Deaf people all over social media, they put loads of memes out, and at the same time I was about to start this website and I wanted to give it a name that wasn't too dry, I wanted to give it a memorable name. But of course now I've got to live with the consequences of my decision.
BETH -You know what, it's a bit like BBC Ouch, it's a bit Marmite. People are always like, why is it called that?
CHARLIE -Yeah, it's memorable, and I think people do sort of like the name.
SIMON -I think that bit of not having deafness in the title, I can see that, because you might get the casual reader. A bit more detail. So fans of access detail, we're using a video link to speak with Charlie today because Charlie uses sign language which I can't do but he will do lip reading as well. What has self-isolation been like for you?
CHARLIE -One thing I've noticed is that if I'm walking around the village with my dog then it's a bit harder to hear the people that do talk to you because occasionally people will say hello and just that two meters distance I'm really struggling to pick up sort of anything. You know, this is the deaf life, you sort of guess what people have said, but I do think overall from a deaf perspective there's something interesting about the fact that we are often socially distanced. And things like right now people can't go to the cinema, they can't go to the theatre, so in a strange way hearing people that I know, I've sometimes got the sense that they're understanding a bit of maybe what the deaf or disabled experience is like.
BETH -How is the two meter rule and facemasks impacting? Because if you lip read, I mean that must just really cut everything out.
CHARLIE -Absolutely. I do use the hearing that I've got. Because I'm partially deaf I wear hearing aids, but I certainly depend on lip reading, and that's a worry that I have if I had to go into intensive care, or even to go to the hospital for any reason and people were wearing masks. And there has been talk of clear masks. People have been developing masks that you could still see the lips through, which I really hope they're still to come about, but it's a really big issue.
SIMON -When I first saw those clear masks I didn't look properly and I thought someone had just cut out that bit. And then I thought well what's the point of that? I hadn't realised there was clear plastic around the lips. I love this. Are there new sign language terms for different bits of Covid? Have some been developed?
CHARLIE -Absolutely, yeah. The sign for Coronavirus, it kind of looks a bit spiky. Your fingers are spread out and they go round your other hand. Often many signs are quite descriptive, and it's amazing how you find this new sign that you've never seen before and suddenly you're seeing that sign all the time.
BETH -With something like a global pandemic does the sign become international? So rather than having British Sign Language, American Sign Language, does it just develop on Facebook or something so everyone is using the same sign?
CHARLIE - I think it's quite likely that other countries are using the same sign, because often that does happen.
SIMON -On a more general level, Charlie, how is the deaf community getting on? What are rumblings and how is lockdown affecting them?
CHARLIE -I think it's a bit like the wider world really where some people are enjoying aspects of lockdown, while also coping with the negative side of it. I know people who feel like they're busier socially than they've ever been, and because deaf people are obviously spread out throughout the country and all of a sudden everybody's congregating on Zoom - I've been to a surprise birthday party on Zoom - and you see all these familiar faces that you've known for years but you've never really had 20 people on a Zoom conversation.
And the funny bit is when you're signing with people on it and it's in gallery view, so you've just got all the boxes on the screen and people try and talk to you but you're not sure if they are trying to talk to you because they're kind of waving at you and multiple boxes are having one conversation but then suddenly it'll widen out into a group thing where maybe one person's mainly talking and everyone's listening to them. I guess on a normal Zoom chat there'd be one person speaking at any one time but there is that possibility when you're signing of having these multiple conversations.
SIMON - And also a lot of the video chats, whoever is speaking is highlighted to show but if there's no noise then no one's specifically highlighted.
CHARLIE -Yes, so what's quite funny is because there's no one speaking suddenly the box gets highlighted when the dog barks or the kettle's boiling. So the positive side is there's a lot of interaction where people do feel like they're maybe interacting even more than usual in some cases and so some of the isolation might even be less than normal in that sense.
But I think on the negative side, when you think about deaf people around the country who maybe at work they're with hearing people, they're going to a deaf club or meeting up with deaf friends in person, that does have a big effect on deaf people as well, because signing on a screen in 2D is not really the same thing. When you're really with deaf people you're really aware of their facial expressions, their physicality. So that's all kind of gone and I certainly know deaf people who are very, very social who are finding it very difficult.
SIMON -And whether you're hearing or deaf, you're right, there's all those subtle things that are important to the communication. It's taken me about three or four weeks to realise it, and why I'm so exhausted from doing video calls. You allude to it, we know there's discontent within the deaf community that the daily government briefings that we've all seen at five pm, they're carried live on TV for the whole nation, but they don't use sign language interpreters. So what is that about?
CHARLIE -Yes, so this is a really big concern for deaf people about the lack of interpreters being beside government minsters in England during those daily briefings. And I say in England, because in Scotland there has been an interpreter next to Nicola Sturgeon, for example, or other Scottish politicians or officials. And in many other countries you see sign language interpreters next to their leading figures. And so deaf people who are at home, you don't have that English level because sign language is their first language. They have access to the full information, which is really critical information that we're getting.
So in the beginning with the government briefings there was no interpreter at all, then a campaign began and a deaf woman called Lynn Stewart-Taylor, she was campaigning on this with a hashtag called #WhereAreTheInterpreters, and she really got everybody galvanised, people were sending out tweets asking their MP, asking why were they being excluded from this communication. So by the end of the week there has been an interpreter who's been on the BBC News Channel, but that interpreter's been added by the BBC, so when these broadcasts are then repeated, or even when they're shown on BBC One for example there isn't an interpreter there. So it depends on people having to find it, and none of that's idea.
SIMON -Could you not go and get a newspaper? Or there's plenty of other ways. Is that not okay?
CHARLIE -This is something that comes back a lot when you make these kind of arguments which I've spent a lot of my career dealing with, which is that deaf people who use sign language as their first language who often have faced many educational barriers, their English level in many cases is lower than the typical person. But ultimately they wouldn't pick up a newspaper and get the same amount of information. They could try and read it but there are deaf people who don't have that level of English.
So sign language is their first language, it's the language that they use in all their communications. So when they go to the doctor for example or they need sign language interpretation, when they engage with any situation where they need really precise information, full understanding of it, they will need a sign language interpreter. And it's for those people that the interpreter is needed.
And so this is the discussion that you have so often with people who just say, "Well, can't they watch the subtitles?" But if your comprehension of English is lower then you're not going to get all the information. And additionally, when you look at live subtitles on these broadcasts they're verbatim which means it's not really being done to be read, and additionally those live subtitles have many mistakes.
SIMON -I now want to do a bit of the what about-ery. So what about people who need something in a different format because it's hard to understand? What about the others?
CHARLIE -Well, I think there is a point that you would ideally have everybody in our society having access to this really, really important information. I think the difference with deaf people is they are deaf so they do not have access to spoken language. You know, you might have people from other countries where some people would make the argument, well those people could read the information in their own language. I mean I would say that everybody's important, I don't want to marginalise anybody. From a deaf perspective you've got deaf people who through no choice of their own do not have access to that information, and I think that is where there is a little bit of a distinction to be made.
SIMON -Is it partly that sign language, the structure, is completely different from written language? I read somewhere about you're only getting emergency information in French and you only speak English. Is there a correlation?
CHARLIE -With sign language being a distinct language of its own it doesn't follow the rules of English. I suppose a way of describing it might be that it's visually led, so if you were to try and write down words in sign language in English and follow that order it often wouldn't really make much sense. But in the visual language, BSL, as we see it, it makes perfect sense and it's described very richly. But initially those certain words in English just aren't in the sign language, they're just not needed.
I suppose that is a good way of understanding it, is if somebody was very, very skilled in French, that was their first language, and they knew a small amount of English would they then be able to access all this information fully? Well no they wouldn't, because they would need it in French then to fully understand your obligations as a member of our society at this time you do really need that information in the language that you understand.
SIMON -Beth, you're spoken to the legal team about this case, so what are the details?
BETH -I have. Well, what started as a hashtag,
#WhereAreTheInterpreters, has actually morphed into a legal campaign. So it's quite involved so I shall go through it. From that hashtag that has morphed into a crowdfunding project to raise money for legal action. The firm Fry Law, which specialises in disability cases, has taken it on and they are taking a two-prong approach to this, because they believe it's so important.
So, Fry Law is arguing that the lack of interpreters breaches The Equality Act, and that's there to protect people from discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Specifically, they're arguing the government has failed to carry out any sort of equality assessment when they were planning these daily briefings and therefore they're discriminating against anyone who is deaf.
As is said, there are two approaches. Approach 1: The team has applied for a judicial review. That's where a judge considers the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body, rather than the rights and wrongs of what that decision was.
So, so far that legal team has asked the government to provide them with two documents: the Equality Assessment showing they considered all access needs when they were planning the briefings, and a formal agreement between No. 10 and the BBC. And as Charlie said, the BBC News Channel is providing interpreters for the press conferences. Fry Law want that document because they want to know the government sought an agreement and that it will remain in place for the duration of these briefings.
However, the judicial review relies on the £15,000 crowdfunding being secured within the next few days as they need the money in the bank in case they lose the case and then have to pay the government's legal fees.
If the money isn't secured, Fry Law is then going to move on to their second approach, and that's to file for individual damages, which basically seeks compensation for a lack of service on a case-by-case basis. And one of those cases is that of someone who's become known as AK. Now he is 85, lives alone and has no internet access, so he only found out about the lockdown when his daughter was able to sign that information to him.
So that's the legal side. The government obviously has its own thoughts on this, and I actually phoned No.10 yesterday, the first time in my entire career, and this is the response I got:
"It is vital that public health information reaches everyone across the country. We have established British Sign Language interpretation at the daily No. 10 press conference via the BBC News Channel and iPlayer, available on all TV packages as part of Freeview, and we are working to ensure greater replication of this signed interpretation across a wider range of media channels."
So it's all very technical. But on a broader level, Charlie, if a signer is on the BBC News Channel is that not good enough…?
CHARLIE -I don't think it is good enough because you then have this footage being repeated on various news clips through the day, where those key phrases are being sent out and there isn't an interpreter next to this minister who's speaking at that time. In other countries what you see, and I think this is best practice, is actually having an interpreter within the shot. And you can still do that with the social distancing.
And in that case every time that footage is repeated you see the interpreter and deaf people will get that information. What you're doing is you're depending on people, not only watching the BBC, but watching the BBC News Channel at that point to get that information, whereas I think the way you should do it is make it accessible whenever that footage is seen across all these different networks and programmes.
BETH -I think one of the other arguments is it should be the government perhaps that provides this service and not a third party, i.e. the broadcaster and BBC. So I think that's one of the crucial elements of where they feel The Equality Act has been breached.
CHARLIE -Yeah, I think that's a really big part of this. I mean, these briefings began with no interpretation at all. It was only after the campaign began that then by the end of the week BBC News started putting the interpreter on themselves. So the government hadn't given this any thought, and what you're in is, you know, a completely critical situation where people are being told to restrict their lives in a way they've never been restricted before. And when people are left out in this situation they're at greater risk because they're potentially being unaware of what their obligation to respect social distancing is.
SIMON -I read a piece a little while ago where they were saying, "Give us the right information then us, as deaf and disabled people, we can be part of the solution." Without that you are not only isolated but you can't get involved in the national effort as well.
CHARLIE -Absolutely. I think what we really want is for deaf people to be part of society, to be part of the community. Amazingly we've got these deaf individuals like Lynn Stewart-Taylor and they've taken action to help the community at this time. So it's not only this hashtag, Lynn's set up several Facebook groups offering the right kind of advice for people so that people aren't relying on just general videos on Facebook, which sometimes have misinformation in them.
SIMON -Let's move on from politics and Limping Chickens. Charlie, you've been developing a career in writing for film and for television.
CHARLIE -Yes, so alongside my journalism, for the last ten years, 12 years or so I've been writing scripts and trying to tell stories, often with deaf people in them. That's been something I've been really, really passionate about. It began with a short film I made called 'Coming Out' which is on YouTube about a deaf boy trying to persuade his mother that he's deaf because his mother's in denial.
And it sort of took off really and since then I've developed into writing kind of half hour dramas. I've made a sketch show called 'Deaf Funny' which I won an RTS Yorkshire Writer Award for, which was something I never expected. And probably just in the last year or so I've been able to move into the mainstream a bit more and start telling some of my stories for some of the BBC's programmes, which has been an incredible experience.
BETH -Because you were in the first ever Writers Access Group weren't you which is part of the Writers Room which the BBC has which supports screenwriters. So tell us a bit more about them.
CHARLIE -A group of deaf and disabled writers who, we all had to interview to get our place on the Writers Access group, and then from probably the autumn of 2018 all of us were meeting once a month and we'd meet different people from the BBC who'd give us a talk about what they did. So BBC Radio, Children's BBC, Continuing Dramas, and it was amazing, because I think, certainly for me on a personal level I was making a lot of stuff for deaf people and probably working in a section of the community which is a little bit cut off from the wider film making or TV making. So when I met all these people it started to feel a bit like oh, they're real, normal people who you could talk to and you could email, and it made it all feel a lot more accessible.
But also at these groups every month, so for me I would have a palantypist who was typing everything up so I could follow it. But there were other people with different access needs, so all our access needs were completely looked after. And then as time went on I made contact and gradually sending out these scripts then opportunities started to come up. And I was also very lucky to be mentored by 'EastEnders' Executive Producer, Jon Sen, who was very supportive and I was then able to go to a story conference for that and end up pitching my own story which they took. So that was like an incredible thing.
SIMON -What's that story?
CHARLIE -So the story is obviously of the moment and it's a story about Ben Mitchell becoming more deaf, because Ben Mitchell was born deaf so he's deaf in one ear but he then loses more of his hearing. And the aim of my story was to bring in a deaf character to the square. So I pitched my story to about 30 writers in the room, a very nervous sort of experience. I look back and I still think, god, how did I do that? But I told them the story and I was then asked lots of very interesting questions, you know, "Well what about this?" and, "How would that work?" and then they decided they would do the story. So for the last sort of six months or so I've been in touch with them, I've read storylines, given feedback and scripts in some cases. So I've been involved in that way.
SIMON -I watch it from time to time and I have seen it, it's really visible, and also they play with the sound, they artificially make it muffled and different. Was that part of the deal for people to really understand what was happening?
CHARLIE -Absolutely. So from the beginning I wanted to give the audience a sense of how deafness can affect people, but then also coming into it we have a deaf character who has always been deaf. So the character of Frankie will be played by a deaf actress called Rose Ayling-Ellis and I think Frankie will introduce Ben to a different side of deafness, a different perspective on deafness. So I think we're hoping to tell different sides of the deaf story.
SIMON -But that's very smart, because typically if someone becomes disabled the narrative was the tragedy, the woe, the difficulty, the fury and we always said, yeah, but once you've had it for a while you adjust. So you're bringing in the character who's already living with it and can show that there is life after becoming disabled or becoming deaf.
CHARLIE -That's right. I think that's really important because deaf people experience deafness in very different ways, and I certainly grew up in a deaf family and my parents were always proud of their deaf identity. They were very positive and happy to be deaf, as I am. And so I do think it's really important to give that side of it.
I think the team have been incredibly supportive. And I should also say that what I pitched was two or three pages of story which then it changes a bit, there's a lot added onto it, it becomes a story told over weeks and months.
BETH -And as we said at the beginning you're also writing for 'Casualty' which is my particular favourite. So what stories have you got going on there?
CHARLIE -Myself and another writer on the BBC Writers Scheme, Sophie Wooley, we met somebody who at the time worked at 'Doctors' who then moved to 'Casualty' and she said to us, "Would you like to come and talk about a deaf character we've got? The nurse, Jade." So we went for the day down in Cardiff and talked about all these deaf stories and all of Jade's sort of history as a character and we developed a story which then we were commissioned to write together.
So we wrote this episode, and actually what's really special about it is it's very much from Jade's perspective. So we really do get into Jade's mind and we hear the world at times as she hears it, and it has some sign language in it, it has some really emotional moments, and I think you'll be pleased to know it also has quite a big stunt. And I should also add that as well as having two deaf writers there is a deaf director called John Maidens who directed the episodes. And it also stars another deaf actor called Sophie Stone. So you've got an episode with five key deaf people involved in making it, which is a deaf episode, and I think that's hopefully a really strong message for the industry.
BETH -How does it work? As we were saying earlier, sign language as a language is very different to English. The structure, the grammar. So for you what's it like when your career is based on dialogue, and writing dialogue, in English?
CHARLIE -That's a really good question because I've spent many years writing dramas, comedies for deaf characters, and often when I'm writing their dialogue I'm writing it in a very clear way in English because it will then be translated into sign language. So when I wrote my 'Casualty' episode along with Sophie one of the things that I really enjoyed but also had to learn about was writing more spoken dialogue for the first time. But I also had to slightly adjust to it, because deaf communication's often quite direct so I found that some of my early writing, maybe I was writing it a little bit too obviously so I was then able to write these spoken dialogue scenes and I really, really enjoyed it.
SIMON -I would bet that you will have your own series or drama or something soon and everyone will go, well Charlie, he's an overnight success. But you have worked so hard for so long. But in terms of today and lockdown are you really disciplined?
CHARLIE -Thank you so much for your kind words, Simon. Yes, it's a big change at the moment. I guess early in my career I knew people who maybe had certain conditions actually that almost gave them like a ticking clock and they had to get on and do stuff while they were still well enough. I guess I really admired those kind of people, but I did kind of take something from that a bit which I just think you do have to try and make things happen.
As I've worked I've always thought well, what's the next thing I can try and make, and hit my deadlines? I think that's a huge thing. But probably the first couple of weeks of lockdown were two of the hardest weeks of writing I've even done because my kids were at home and I was feeling so wrapped up in the news I found it so hard to think about my story because my story also just felt really irrelevant that I feel like as a family my family adjusted a bit, my kids got into the routine. The main thing that I've done at the moment to make it work is I've just been waking up super early, half five, six o'clock, and I've done two or three hours of writing before the kids have really got out of bed. And the rest of the day doesn't feel as stressful.
BETH -Lockdown is maybe prime time for people who have maybe wondered about giving writing a go. They're kind of at home, they haven't got a commute maybe, they can sort of start thinking, there's plenty of things going on to spark a story, so what are your top tips to any aspiring writers?
CHARLIE -My main tip is always if you can do some writing, however much it is, it could be half an hour, it could be an hour, just get something on the page, because when you've got something you can then think about the bits you weren't sure about or the bits you don't yet have or you can just improve the thing that you've written. In a way the process of writing, of writing more and then editing it and then adding to it and changing it, you find a lot of the answers of how to tell your story through that process.
Sometimes you just throw away what you've done and it's heart-breaking but it's only by actually getting on with it that you can then start to progress. And don't be afraid to look for the opportunities that are out there for disabled writers, because Graeae have been running a monologue scheme. DANC, the Disabled Artists Network and Community, they've been running webinars.
SIMON -Beth, why do I think…? We've spoken offline and you have… You're writing something aren't you?
BETH -I am. I mean this is the first public outing of it, only a few people knew. It's not a screenplay. I'm trying to write a classic novel. And I don't mean classic in terms of classic literature, I mean just like writing a novel. And yeah, I think Charlie's right, it's just literally doing the writing, even if it's a few minutes. And sometimes what I've found is if I just give myself five minutes and once you've started the five minutes you kind of get into the flow and you're back into the story. But another way that really gets me motivated is you know you get all these inspirational quotes on Instagram? My favourite ever is 'you think you have time but you don't'.
SIMON -Yeah. Well you're giving me a shiver with that because it does kind of put it in perspective.
CHARLIE - Writing's hard work, it's like anything else. It's all a journey and if you were trying to become skilled at anything you would have to just work up towards it. and I think even the most experienced writers that I've met, they never seem to feel like they know everything. I think you have to give it a try and going for it and enjoying it for what it is.
SIMON -I think we have to wrap up this podcast so we can all go and get writing the great British screenplay. Thank you to Charlie Swinbourne and to Beth for coming on board this episode of Cabin Fever. Don't forget to check out 'The Isolation Diary', it's another Ouch original podcast which follows my regular co-host, Kate Monaghan, on her self-isolation journey with her young family. And I still can't believe Ouch split us up. If that's not enough for you, BBC Sounds has a huge back catalogue of content for you to check out. Keep in touch, tell us what we should be covering, how we're doing. You can get hold of us. It's BBC Ouch on Facebook. @bbcouch on Twitter and [email protected] Until next time, bye.