25 March 2012
Richard Downes reviews 'We Won’t Drop The Baby', featuring disabled comedian Laurence Clark and his family and finds a four-fold joy. The documentary is part three of BBC1's Beyond Disability Series.
In the build up to the documentary ‘We Won’t Drop The Baby’ I thought the programme was about the interaction between Laurence and Adele Clark and narrator David Tennant. It is not. David Tennant isn’t in it. You hear his voice, but if you give the story the attention it deserves, you wouldn’t know he was there.
My only complaint is about the critics desire to write David Tennant. I have already mentioned him three times myself. However, the series to date, has been built on the idea that celebrities are the disability story. Our loves, our losses are told in an unfriendly media.
The Clark’s story concerns the joy that comes from the birth of a child, the joy of beating the barriers the NHS creates and the joy of adapting family life to include the new member successfully. The filmmakers do this extremely well whilst also revealing the hidden stories of disabled people.
Adele Clark dreams of having another child and giving the baby a natural birth. Laurence feels reluctant. He is happy as they are, but manages to turn his trepidation into a joke. He says his big worry is that they will have a Tory.
To understand the story of the Clarks we are asked to know the background of their own births. We are asked to tolerate the news that Cerebral Palsy is not hereditary, that their conditions arose from the failures of the NHS around their births.
That Adele and Laurence survived and became rounded adults is in no small part down to the strength of their own mothers who feature strongly. You hear about their hopes and aspirations for their children. They are as good as anyone else and they will live to celebrate an ordinary life with partners of their own. The mothers did not get this wrong, though we could argue about the language. Neither will the Clarks get the development of their children wrong. The young, dramatic, Tom Clark, their first child is ample proof of this.
However, it will not be achieved without overcoming barriers from the attitudes of the public who will question how the impregnation was achieved, whether IVF has bought around another miracle. The public and their masterful professionals will continue to give verdicts, set limits to what we can achieve. In doing this we observe a secret joy in the filming, where NHS staff are caught on camera and have no idea of what to do.
The final joy arrives in watching the Clarks and their full set of relationships. There love for one another is clear. It is shown in loving looks, hugs, comforting words, small acts of kindness in passing the tissues, the truths that they have already told Tom, how they seek to involve him.
Laurence’s mother talks about them in terms of admiration for trying their best to do what they do and achieving it in their own way. She also manages to balance the dilemma of wanting to help but not helping and keeps her own anxieties at bay whilst Laurence and Adele make adjustments to show how they will parent. Adele and Laurence finish their time on camera by denying how special they are - claiming only to be living their lives. So, it falls on me to put the kibosh on these final words. Laurence and Adele are as special as anyone else. He is a father and a professional comedian who takes a droll look at life. She is a woman, lover, mother, wife, enabler to Laurence.
I have seen Laurence recently. Jamie’s birth is already in his show. As are the failures of the NHS (I will see him in his new production Health Hazard). He also celebrates the importance of having a film crew with him to note his families travails with the NHS. Unusually, a film crew has done a very good job indeed in telling disabled people’s stories. Well done!
BBC 1 documentary 'We Won't Drop the Baby' is available on BBC i-player until 11.15pm on Sunday 1 April