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No relief for children who stammer on Red Nose Day

| 21.03.2011

Lenny Henry in Red Nose Day spoof of King's Speech.The British Stammering Association feels the sketch by Lenny Henry, spoofing a scene of The King's Speech, was inappropriate in its context - a show that is designed to raise money for disability is not the place to mock people with disabilities. Comic Relief might say it was meant to spoof the film but no-one who does not themselves stammer can tell us how to feel. If that kind of sketch had been shown on the Frankie Boyle show, I doubt we would have complained as bad taste is what one would expect when switching on the telly to watch that.

It wasn't even the usual mimicking of a stammer (a la Arkwright). It was boorish and bullying: "Oi, get on with it, I haven't got all day". Many of us will have experienced this - we may have a good job, we may hold a degree, have a good education and, yes, a sense of humour, but we can get the impatience, the looking at the watch, the 'I haven't got all day' from any shopkeeper or ticket clerk any day.

BSA have had many responses from parents of stammering children who have raised money for Comic Relief. And so they sat down, as a family, to celebrate their child raising £37.50 for Comic Relief and the first thing they hear is his stammer being mocked and, as one Mum said to us, in exactly the same language the bullies in his school use every day. Following this, we have had stories about youngsters cancelling their participation in the school play the following Monday morning because they don't want to get laughed at; of a speech therapist telling us of a teenager who is desperate to hide his stammer and who, after lengthy therapy, had finally agreed to let the therapist talk to his teacher only to pull out on Monday morning, of a speech therapist telling us of months of therapy required to coax a person who stammers out of mutism because he stopped speaking when his line manager tapped his watch whenever he talked - and there are many more where these ones comes from.

And, finally, we complained because - while we're sure there is no malicious intent - stammering is far too often the invisible disability (and yes, it is a disability). And it never *occurs* to anyone that it might be hard to live your life when talking is hard. Just as it never *occurred* to Lenny Henry or to Richard Curtis that this might be about stammering. Or it never *occurs* to the teacher that the stammering child might have a problem. And because the child who gets up in the morning and faces the school with courage every day in the full knowledge that what's waiting for them is the ritual humiliation of the register, of reading aloud in class, of the bullies in the playground deserves better than this.

That doesn't mean we're po-faced. It doesn't mean we can't laugh at ourselves. It doesn't mean we have no sense of humour. There's over 700,000 of us in the UK and some of us feel that it's only a joke, let's move on. Normally we would. But not with this one.

Norbert Lieckfeldt, BSA Chief Executive

You can see the film clip on YouTube.

Some video reactions:

A mother of a 16 year old teenager who stammers expresses her (and her daughter's) anger at Lenny Henry's introduction to Red Nose Day:

Jan, as a speech and language therapist and someone with a longstanding and deep involvement with the BSA and BSA Scotland, expresses her disgust at the way stammering was portrayed at the opening of Red Nose Day 2011:

Fiona, a speech and language therapist, invites Lenny Henry to meet some of her school-age clients who stammer and see for himself the impact his sketch will have had on their lives:

Scottish BSA member Campbell talks about his impression of Lenny Henry's performance on Red Nose Day: