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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007, 08:37 GMT
Disability drama breaks new ground
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of two wheelchair basketball players
All of the disabled characters are played by disabled actors
A 10-part series about a wheelchair basketball team - with disabled actors playing all of the disabled characters - starts on CBBC on Wednesday.

Desperados took almost a year to make and stars paralympic wheelchair basketball player, Ade Adepitan.

Other disabled characters are played by untried actors, many of them recruited from real-life basketball teams.

BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, says Desperados is "hugely important" for the Corporation.

The drama features Adepitan as coach, Baggy Awolowo, who is desperately searching for new players for a junior wheelchair basketball team.

The action is fast-paced and the dialogue slick.

For producer, Ewan Marshall, the series has to have a broad appeal for it to work at all.

"The vast majority of our audience will be able-bodied and it has to work as a kids' drama - the characters and the themes apply to anybody," he told the BBC News website.

Marshall first had the idea of basing a drama around a wheelchair basketball team five years ago.

Back then, he planned to use adult characters but the project was never commissioned.

"When I was asked whether it would work as a children's series I said I thought it would."

Casting challenge

He was always determined to cast disabled actors in the role of disabled characters - anything else would, in his opinion, have resulted in too many compromises.

"With disabled actors, you'll get a better job. Also, I personally find it offensive if able-bodied actors are playing disabled people."

Marshall's biggest challenge was to find the cast for Desperados - 15 or so speaking parts for disabled actors and actresses.

Before any of the scripts were written, auditions were held to see whether there was enough raw talent with which the production team could work.

Photo of Ade Adepitan and wheelchair basketball player, Charlie
The team is coached by paralympian, Ade Adepitan

"Even from the first audition, we were pretty confident that we could go ahead," said Marshall.

Among those recruited was David Proud, a 23 year-old actor who had to turn the clock back nine years to play the part of Charlie Johnson.

Proud's character is not only a mixed-up teenager, he is also coming to terms with a recent spinal injury that has left him paralysed from the waist down.

"Being a teenager is difficult time, but having a disability thrust upon you at the same time is quite a major event," said Proud.

His only experience of acting was taking part in school dramas and an A-level in theatre studies.

The BBC sent him for coaching so that he would be ready for a major on-screen role.

Disability rights campaigners often accuse broadcasters of either ignoring or stereotyping disabled people on TV.

In this respect, according to Mark Thompson, the series breaks new ground.

"It demonstrates it is possible to create a drama that has disability at its heart yet is funny, uplifting and fantastically positive."

"It also shows that we can attract new, disabled acting talent to television drama."

Desperados starts on Wednesday January 31 at 17.30 GMT on CBBC. It will also be shown on BBC One later this year.

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