Stammering is not funny
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The mimicking of stammering in the BBC sit-com "Still Open All Hours" is offensive and misleading
I am not against stammering or any other disability being used in fiction in the correct context. On the contrary, it can raise awareness. However, it is wrong to use what is at best an impediment, at worst a disability, purely to make people laugh, as it is any disability.
I complained to the BBC complaints department and ultimately to Ofcom and - as I expected - my appeal was not upheld. However, there were a number of questions I asked that did not get answered, For example, does the BBC consider it acceptable for disabilities to be used purely to make people laugh? I also used examples of the mimicking of other disabilities asking if they would be considered acceptable. As they did not answer, I told them I took it as a "no." and suggested the reality is that it would not be dared to be done because of the outcry there would be.
Others who stammer and those close to them know what a distressing thing stammering is for many and the devastating effect it can have on your life, affecting such things as career prospects, social life and even relationships. It caused one person to commit suicide. The British Stammering Association gets phone calls from many in distress, including mothers' of children who stammer in tears because they feel they are to blame for their child's condition.
Most importantly, with regard how stammering is portrayed in the sit-com is the fact that because of widespread public ignorance about stammering, many see it as funny so people who stammer get made fun of and in particular children get bullied. The sit-com is confirming that misguided perception. The BBC's defence was that the mimicking of the stammering by the character Granville of the character Arkwright, from the original series, "Open All Hours," is not making fun but a sign of affection as they were close. Any decent person who was that close to someone who stammered would not do it because they would realise the distress it caused. The reality is that it is being included to make people laugh - at a disability!. The BBC also argued that it is not Arkwright who is being made fun of but the other characters as Arkwright is putting one over on them. Again, the fact is it is to make people laugh and in that context it is sending the false message that stammering is nothing.
That type of mimicking is just the sort of thing a child who stammers might be getting at school, which would be extremely distressing for him/her. Indeed, one person who wrote in the British Stammering Association's magazine explained that as a teenager he found the original "Open All Hours" too distressing to watch. Also, putting across stammering as funny is going to encourage bullies. Of course not all children and teenagers are bullies and some as a result of watching might in innocence interpret stammering as funny, thus try to joke with a child or teenager who stammers meaning no harm but causing distress, which is unfair on both. The BBC's abysmal response was that they could not agree because it is not a children's programme. The fact is that it is a family type programme on before the watershed and the BBC confirmed viewer figures indicate some children and teenagers watch it. It would particularly have the wrong effect if they are watching with their parents, also laughing at stammering.
The BBC's general justification was that the sit-com is not satirising stammering but merely continuing on from the popular original series. I did not complain about the original, "Open All Hours" because I am not normally a great comedy viewer so was not aware of it until watching it by chance ironically shortly before the late Ronnie Barker passed away. However, having seen it I made a point of watching "Still Open All Hours," to see if the stammering continued. Yes, the stammering in the original series was wrong for basically all the same reasons.
I feel strongly about this not just because I stammer myself but because I run a support group and I see people in all sorts of difficulties because of stammering, from not being able to form relationships, being held back in their careers, including through prejudice, lacking a social life and girlfriends/boyfriends because of fears of how people will react to them, and doing everyday things like talking to bank staff, solicitors, making public transport enquiries, avoiding phone calls, even buying a round at the.pub. I also have dealings with the Dominic Barker Trust, a charity set up by the parents of Dominic Barker, who committed suicide at the age of 26 because of his stammer.
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