Mencap’s Lord Rix Lecture – My ideas for TV bosses


I was invited to speak at Mencap’s second annual Lord Rix Lecture at the Millbank Media Centre on 25 November 2015 . You can watch my talk below – it starts at 28:48 – but if you watch it all you can hear John Harris, author and reporter at The Guardian, and our panel discussion hosted by Sarah Montague from BBC Radio4’s Today Programme.

Here’s the speech I gave if you want to read it:

This is a wonderful opportunity for me to express my thoughts on our industry, the Media,
and what it is like to be someone with a learning disability.

In the beginning of my career the stage managers and assistant directors were horrified when they saw me. How were they going to keep to a tight schedule with a central character played by someone with Downs Syndrome?

What happens is: we keep on schedule, we do good work… and I earn respect.
I know this because they tell me later. And now, they want to work with me again.

(Sorry if I am blowing my own trumpet, but to change things I must talk about what I know. However my experience is probably relevant to other industries.)

Lisa Evans wrote my first TV show. She then got commissioned to write my first professional play
“Once We Were mothers”. An 800 seater theatre.  In the round. A challenge.

The play was a success and a few years later, it got another production at the Orange Tree Richmond with me attached. The writer trusts me. I earn trust.

I am lucky as the press seem to like me. There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. I think more of these people should be involved with the media. I think we should have more positive reflections in drama and print.

On stage, I have played complex characters, who are (sometimes) happy and successful. TV is inclined to only have stories about the problems disability brings. The character is a “disability” not a “woman”. However, some writers who work with me go onto writing more complex characters.

Thanks Heidi Thomas for my character in “Call the Midwife”. And to Lisa Evans.

May I suggest to TV bosses: Think positive. Have faith in your writers. As my American dad says, “some of the best ideas come from left field.” I think that means don’t be conservative.

You like winners! You create winners by thinking differently.

A few words about developing new talent and changing public attitudes:

I would like to see more small parts played by people with learning disability. Where the character has nothing to do with disability. Perhaps the person in the newsagent our hero chats to every day. Or the receptionist who makes you smile. “Non-issue” roles. Just part of society.

One last thought: I had a young employee in a supermarket come up to me. Adam has a learning disability. He said, “Sarah you were brilliant yesterday, but you are not doing us any favours. Your characters are always helpless and sad. Please play a character with a job, a life and giggles.”

What could I say? I don’t rule the world. I am happy to work… but can I change anything?

I think if all of us work together we can.

Thank you to Mencap and to you all for being here tonight. Thank you.