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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 10:22 GMT
BBC soap gets disabled character
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

Photo of Ron Chandran-Dudley
Ron Chandran-Dudley is spending a week with BBC World Service
A disabled character created by a blind listener from Singapore has just joined BBC World Service radio soap, Westway.

Ron Chandran-Dudley, 69, won a competition to create a new character for the drama serial, and came up with Zoe Chan Li-Fen.

Zoe - played by actress Wendy Kweh - is a 27-year-old Chinese-Singaporean physiotherapist who also practices traditional Yi-Ching reflexology and massage.

She is already treating patients at the west London health centre which is the setting for Westway.

Like her creator, Zoe is also blind.

Mr Chandran-Dudley - who is spending a week in London as a guest of the Westway team - said that the character borrows her name from his late daughter whose name was also Li-Fen.

Common misconception

And Zoe was the name of her favourite cat.

We wanted to be able to have that conflict coming into the health centre
David Hitchinson, Westway Editor
Mr Chandran-Dudley said the reason for giving Zoe a disability was to help correct a common misconception.

"Usually people believe that people with disabilities are recipients of charity, recipients of service and care and not providers of these," he told BBC News Online.

On his travels around the region Mr Chandran-Dudley had come across several visually-impaired people in China and Japan working as physios and masseuses.

He concluded that this was a suitable profession for Zoe.

A long-time fan of the soap, Mr Chandran-Dudley also thought it was time that someone from the Far East was reflected in the programme.

Photo of Wendy Kweh
Wendy Kweh loves playing Zoe
"I felt we had not touched upon the Far East and South-East Asia - that's my part of the world, and Wendy's."

He wanted to embody in Zoe's character a combination of western medical practice and traditional Chinese medicine.

Mr Chandran-Dudley's decided that Zoe came from a long line of Chinese medicine specialists who emigrated to Singapore from China just after the communists came to power.

Westway editor, David Hitchinson, said the appeal of the new addition to his cast was to be able to explore the differences between western and Chinese medicine.

"We wanted to look at alternative medicine - we wanted to be able to have that conflict coming into the health centre," he said.

Wendy Kweh says that she is attracted to Zoe's feisty and independent spirit.

Ron was incredibly detailed when he imagined this character and I gleaned a lot from that
Wendy Kweh
"She's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in," she said.

Kweh read widely before taking on the role of a blind woman.

And she said that Mr Chadron-Dudley had been very specific in his description.

"Ron was incredibly detailed when he imagined this character and I gleaned a lot from that."

"The rapport between us has been fantastic - we've found loads to speak about."

When he returns to Singapore, Mr Chandran-Dudley plans to write a play about the Japanese occupation of his country which he hopes will interest the BBC.

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