Sunday, November 30, 2014

This year the BBC's Children in Need appeal took place on Friday 14th November 2014. A strange thing happened on CBBC that evening. Shortly before the channel closed at 7pm, Pudsey Bear went into the presentation studio where Katie Thistleton and CBBC's resident bully, Hacker T Dog were on air. Hacker shouted at the top of his voice: "Pudsey, get out, you're not welcome here, you're gay."
Katie, Pudsey and Hacker in presentation studio (14/11/2014)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Having just read a Commentary piece by Jack Andraka in I thought some people would be interested in an email sent by myself to the Controller of CBBC, Cheryl Taylor, on 11th August 2014. I have not received a reply from Ms Taylor -
To Cheryl Taylor, Head of CBBC 

Dear Cheryl, 
I'm not sure if CBBC will be making any more series of Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom, but there are quite a lot of scientific geniuses who haven't yet had their own programmes, and I had an idea which you might like to consider. 
Some of the featured scientists seem to have been selected to help promote equality - for example Caroline Herschel instead of her more illustrious older brother, or Elsie Widdowson rather than her colleague Robert McCance. To my mind that's a perfectly reasonable policy considering the discrimination women have had to put up with over the years. And there are still some very important women who shouldn't continue to be overlooked; most especially the extremely significant contribution Rosalind Franklin made to the discovery of DNA. Many feel Rosalind was treated unfairly by the male-dominated scientific elite. 
However, it's not only women who've suffered discrimination. Alan Turing was a gay man whose contribution to the world could hardly be underestimated. Alan might have achieved even more had his life not been cut short on account of persecution by the authorities. It's regrettable that the Absolute Genius programme about him failed to tell kids that he was gay. And in the context of CBBC promoting equality, it just seemed like anti-gay bigotry hasn't yet been overcome. 
So here is my idea: Over the weekend I was watching speakers at the Wikimania Conference in London. One of the more inspiring speakers was a young man called Jack Andraka. He is 17 now, but about three years ago he developed a brilliant and inexpensive method of detecting pancreatic cancer at an early stage. He is now working on two or three new projects, including making the test work with other forms of cancer. Up till now the Absolute Genius series has only included scientists who are no longer alive but, as far as I know, there is no reason not to include a living genius. In fact it might well inspire more young people to get involved. And there's one more thing about Jack Andraka - he is an out gay man, so a programme about him could help put right the failure to mention that Alan Turing was gay in series 2. 
Thanks for reading. 
Kind regards,

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Last week's CBBC programme about 13-year-old Leo was introduced by Katie and Dodge T Dog. -

Katie: Now, as part of our 'Bye Bye to Bullying' week on CBBC, we have a brand new episode of My Life coming up next. It's all about Leo, who was born a girl, but lives his life as a boy. We follow the highs and lows of his journey as he tries to apply for a new passport - one which may officially recognise him as a boy. Here's Leo's story.

There's a brief summary of the programme in my previous blog entry. The documentary makers went to some considerable trouble to explain the concept of transgenderism, using coloured graphics to illustrate the points being made. We were shown pink figures wearing dresses but with blue-coloured brains, and blue figures with pink-coloured brains.

Trans people in diagrammatic form

Some very important issues were omitted - in particular the documentary failed, as CBBC usually does, to consider the issue of sexual orientation. Bearing in mind that the number of young people who are LGB is somewhat greater than the number of trans people, it was unfortunate that the producers didn't appreciate the need to carefully explain the difference between being gay/bisexual and being trans. I have attempted to raise this issue with Kez Margrie but, as yet, haven't heard back.

On Wednesday 19th November Katie was joined in the CBBC presentation studio by Tallulah Greive, who plays Lauren on Millie Inbetween, and by CBBC bully, Hacker T Dog, ironically wearing a 'Bye Bye to Bullying' T-shirt -

Tallulah Greive and Hacker (19/11/2014)

Katie introduced Our School as part of CBBC's anti-bullying campaign. Approximately five minutes of the programme dealt with homophobic bullying - an issue also covered on the previous evening's Newsround bulletin.

In the Our School episode Jessica and classmate Libby have been called names by an older boy at Conyers School. They report the incident to Year 7 Manager, Mr Livesey. Apparently the boy had tried to insult Jessica by calling her a lesbian.

Jessica: .... who cares if I was a lesbian, it wouldn't interfere with my life. I wouldn't be upset about it.

Mr Thoburn (narrating): As Year 7 are about to find out, using "lesbian" or "gay" as an insult is a serious kind of bullying. ... The School have invited Shaun Dellenty, a Deputy Head from another school, to talk to Year 7 about what happened to him when he was their age.

Shaun Dellenty told the Year 7 assembly that he realised he was gay at a fairly young age. And at secondary school he got bullied right from the very first day.

Mr Dellenty: During my time at secondary school I was spat on, laughed at, punched, kicked, hit, pushed, and I was told that I would go to hell. All of that by the time I'm your age. How do you think that might affect somebody - a young person, how do you think that might affect them?

After the assembly the kids talked about what they'd heard.

Shaun Dellenty taking a Year 7 assembly at Conyers School

Mr Thoburn: The assembly has really got the Year 7's thinking, and the discussion carries on in tutor time.

We then saw Class 7AG discuss discrimination and being called names. The teacher, Mr Glendenning, asked the class never to use the term "gay" in a derogatory sense.

Jessica: If you get name-called, that's a sign of bullying. I would just go and see your Deputy or your Head Teacher, tell them what's happening ...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Life: I Am Leo is a documentary about the steps Leo Waddell is taking on his journey to be accepted as a boy. It was broadcast on Monday as part of CBBC's contribution to Anti-Bullying Week 2014.

The documentary begins with a 'video diary.' Leo introduces himself and the rest of his family - his mum and his sister, Daisy.

Leo: .... There's something about me that means I haven't always been accepted as Leo. In most ways I'm like an average 13-year-old boy apart from I was born in a girl's body. Although people saw me as a girl, I always knew I was really a boy.

Leo says he wants people to see him, the way he sees himself - as Leo.

We see Leo help his mum make a cake, and chatting about what he remembers from his days as Lily - the name he was given at birth. We're shown old footage and photos. Leo tells his mum that wearing a dress and having long hair didn't feel right. He says he hated looking like a girl so one night, when he was 5-years-old, he cut his own hair short.

Leo: By the time I was nine, I didn't understand why other people couldn't see I was really a boy, and it used to make me very angry. ... Gender, to me, is what you feel inside - not what you were born with like, what you are on the outside. It's what you are on the inside.

The documentary then goes on to talk about boys' and girls' hormones and bodies.

Leo: Our bodies are full of chemicals called hormones. There are some hormones for boys and other hormones for girls. Most people's hormones, brains and bodies all match, so they know they are definitely a girl or a boy. But some people feel they've been born in the wrong body. .... Although I have a girl's body, I know inside I am a boy.

Jack is one of Leo's best mates, who regards Leo as a boy.

Jack: I'll support you, like, whatever you want to do.

But Leo isn't accepted by everyone. He's been taunted by chants of Lily, Lily - which brought back past bad memories.

When someone calls Leo 'she' it upsets him. His mum and dad helped him apply to change his passport to reflect his new name.

Leo goes to meet Stephen Whittle at the House of Commons, because that's where he helped to change the law for transgender people. Stephen was also born a girl, and has worked really hard for trans people to be accepted. He said it was awful at first in the '70s - you were the lowest of the low. They set up 'Press for Change' to lobby parliament to change the law. Stephen wished Leo 'good luck.'

While in London Leo chats with his 10 year-old friend Kai, who was also born a girl. He explains that the only difference between them and a 'born-male boy's life' is that they're trapped in this awful body and they have to go through loads of medical stuff. Kai says it's not just a phase.

Leo's mum has been really busy getting his passport changed so he can get that 'magic M for male.' We see Leo getting new photos for his new passport.

Leo flies to Scotland to meet Natalie. Kai's and Leo's families were accepting, but Natalie's were not so accepting - Natalie was born male but says she was 15 when she knew she was a girl. Her immediate family sent her to counsellors, and thought it was just a phase. So she moved out.

Leo was lucky because both his family and oldest friends were accepting. He's given hormone blockers which he has to inject himself. Knowing that without these injections his body would change into a woman's scared him. Dr Polly explained it -

Dr Polly: The blocker is an injection that someone has every month which pauses the body and stops it from carrying on to grow up into a man or a woman.

The blocker gives Leo and his doctors more time to decide about what he wants for the future. If he stops the blockers his body will continue develop as a woman's body.

Leo: Although I'm pleased to be prescribed the injections, they do really hurt! .. Oh, it's agony.

Leo: Not everyone agrees that the treatment is a good thing. ... Some people think it's not right to give them to children.

The documentary includes some of the ways the press have reported the story, as well as his appearance on This Morning, where he met Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Leo said he thought he might be in love with Holly.

Leo visited the passport office in Peterborough. He's anxious about his new passport because he wants other people to view him the way he sees himself. The documentary ends with a delighted Leo getting his 'M' for male.

Yesterday's Daily Mirror reported that Leo plans to have his eggs frozen so he can have children even after he has gender reassignment surgery as an adult. According to his mum, Hayley, "at some later date when he’s in a relationship, and they want children, they will use donor sperm to fertilise the eggs then implant them into his partner."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Today is the start of Anti-Bullying Week.

I first raised the issue of homophobic bullying with Joe Godwin in an email on 23rd July 2009: "... A particular concern of mine is that the BBC is not doing enough - or in fact anything at all - to counter the problem of homophobic bullying at school. ..."

On 26th September 2010 Mr Godwin emailed me:

.... Since we last corresponded on the subject of homophobic bullying in schools, you may be interested to know that I've been meeting with senior civil servants and the Children's Commissioners to see what CBBC can do in this area. I have further meetings planned in the coming weeks. ....

However after years' of silence CBBC Newsround has, this morning, finally got round to tackling the problem. And this is the reason they gave -

Martin: .. today we're reporting on homophobic bullying. That's because this year the government is giving £2million to schools to deal with it.

Why was it necessary to give a reason for tackling this form of prejudice? And, as far as I know, receiving a government grant has never been a pretext for CBBC covering any other form of bullying.

The real way CBBC could help is by making children's drama properly inclusive. So far not much has been achieved on that front.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yesterday, Newsround asked kids what they're you doing for Children in Need. So it was a good opportunity to remind some of the people in charge of CBBC that I'm still waiting to hear back what they, themselves, are doing.

I'd previously asked Sue Nott, whether homophobia in other countries might affect the way British children's programmes are made. Polish TV, for example, seemed unhappy that Benny had come out as gay at the end of series 2 of Wizards vs Aliens. Benny, of course, returned to America at the end of the second story in the series 3, and it's not clear if we'll ever get to see him in romantic situations akin to the hetero relationships Tom has with girlfriends such as Chloe and Katie.

I've also been waiting to hear back from Kez Margrie, executive producer of the My Life: I Am Leo documentary. I mentioned that, although the My Life series has covered trans and gender-nonconformity, it has yet to deal with kids who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. I've asked Kez if that is likely to change.

Anti-Bullying Week starts on Monday, but CBBC got in early with this morning's (Saturday's) Friday Download anti-bullying edition with all sorts of advice on the subject. The show, introduced by three members of One Direction, included this -

Shannon: CBBC is putting on a few different programmes this week that they hope will help. Bullying can take several different forms; one of the most common is name-calling. So in next week's episode of Our School the students discuss how important it is to use the word 'gay' in the right way.

A short clip from next Wednesday's Our School was played in which Mr Glendenning from Conyers School asked his class if they'd ever been called names - everyone in the class put up their hands. He asked the class to promise never to use the term 'gay' in a derogatory sense. The Friday Download anti-bullying Special also included a clip from the previously mentioned My Life: I Am Leo documentary, which goes out this Monday, 17th November.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Some excerpts from this morning's Andrew Marr Show, in which Benedict Cumberbatch talked to Marr about his acting roles - including that of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (12A) which is on general release in the UK from 14th November 2014

Andrew Marr: .. during the Second World War vital work was done behind the scenes by those who decoded intelligence on German military plans. The mathematician Alan Turing was at the nerve-centre of the codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park. And a thrilling new film charts how he broke the German Enigma codes. Recently I asked the film's lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, before he announced his marriage engagement, if he agreed that Turing was one of the most important men of the 20th century.

Benedict Cumberbatch: I really do agree. The father of the modern computer age, a man of brilliant theoretical thinking. Somebody who thought philosophically about maths, and the application of machines beyond just his Universal Machine but into the world of full artificial intelligence.

Andrew Marr: And he broke the German codes, and it said at the end of this film that he ended the war two years before it would otherwise have ended and saved 14 million lives by doing that. What's the basis of truth in that?

Benedict Cumberbatch: I think huge. I think the rate the war was going and the amount of fatalities and waste of life was on the increase. It was a siege in this country at that time. What it meant by cracking the code was then being able to place all of the shipping movements, all of the planned attacks, and be able to span that out. Whether it be Luftwaffe raids, whether it would be a U-boat raid, and basically to be able to see on a map the reality of what the Germans were planning to do ahead of when they were going to do it. And then, of course you can't act on all that information without giving the game away that you've cracked the codes. But they then had this onerous task of feeding the information through certain channels to therefore, who knows, supply some people with the truth and keep some hidden. And as we now know, Coventry, which was rumoured at the time and until very recently rumoured to be known of, was definitely known about.

Andrew Marr: And they let it burn because the alternative would be letting the Germans ..

Benedict Cumberbatch: We let the entire city burn with thousands, hundreds of thousands of people dying in order to win the war. Which is just an unfathomable moral conundrum.


Andrew Marr: And Turing himself - now it has been said by some critics of this film, that the gayness has been glossed over in some way - that he's not gay enough in the film.

Benedict Cumberbatch: I don't quite know what that means, because to me, you know, his sexuality is very very clear in the film. We don't show him in bed with anybody - we don't show anyone who's heterosexual having a moment of sexual intimacy in the film.


Benedict Cumberbatch: The specific importance of his sexuality in both history and in the film is the fact that it was denied. That it was criminal - criminalised by that society at that time. And that he was punished, after saving the democracy and government that was in power by that democracy, for his identity. And I just hope that, you know, this film is about his achievements, about his life, it's about his loves as well, and it is about his sexuality. And it's a very very strong part of his identity ...

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Anyone wanting to be the next Director of BBC Children's only has until 25th November to apply for the job. The current Director, Joe Godwin, has often described being in charge of the BBC children's department as "the best job in the world," so why would anyone voluntarily relinquish that position in favour of what is likely to be a boring and dull desk job as head of the BBC Academy?

What qualities will the BBC be looking for in their next Director of BBC Children's?

I imagine they would want someone who is prepared to discuss ideas with colleagues and the public and not be too bossy or secretive. But equally important will be a willingness to move with the times and accept the full diversity of the audience - not just some aspects of diversity. At the present time, it might also be advisable to look for a person who does not have a long history working for the corporation.

Director of Children's - job application at BBC's Career Search website

Monday, November 03, 2014

Anthony Horowitz is doing the media rounds again, probably with the intention of promoting his latest book. He's popped up on Question Time, CBBC Newsround and Radio 2's Book Club.

Horowitz has been accused of being a homophobe and a right-wing bigot, both of which he's denied. But with regards to the former accusation, let's look at the evidence.

In 2007 he wrote a piece for the Daily Mail in which he lamented "political correctness" had made it difficult for him to create new villains. It seems Horowitz thought that a villain, in order to convince, has to be gay or from some other traditionally disadvantaged group. As far back as the mid-1980's one of his nastier characters in an episode from Robin of Sherwood, Philip Mark, is gay.

But despite his obvious awareness that some people are gay, when he took part in a Q & A session for Newsround in 2010, his response implicitly denies the possibility that gay or bisexual people exist.

The final, and most convincing evidence comes from a 2013 TV debate about equal marriage. Horowitz appeared strongly opposed to marriage equality, stating that "a marriage involves man, woman and God." He claimed that wasn't his own view, but immediately went on to state that that is what it is. Just as confusing was his comment about tolerance; he took the view that we have forgotten how to tolerate intolerance.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Imitation Game (12A) will be in UK cinemas from 14th November. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. One of the film's supporting actors, Keira Knightley, appeared as a guest on last night's Jonathan Ross Show (ITV1) -

Keira Knightley on The Jonathan Ross Show - 1st November 2014

Jonathan Ross: ... OK, so let's talk about The Imitation Game. Cos you've got two films out - one is out this Friday; one's out the week after. And this couldn't be a more different kind of film, could it?

Keira Knightley: No. It's about Alan Turing. So it's the story of the breaking of the Enigma Code, and Alan Turing and Bletchley Park. So yeah, it's very different and obviously with what happened to Alan Turing - I didn't know any of this. I sort of, I'd read articles about him about five years ago when they tried to get him a pardon. But he was a very brilliant mathematician who came up with theories that broke the Enigma Code in the Second World War, but was prosecuted for being gay and chemically castrated by the British government, which then led to his suicide. That doesn't give anything away. Well it does - kind of, doesn't it.

Jonathan Ross: But it doesn't really ..

Keira Knightley: It's kind of a story that's very much out there. So, yeah, it's very different from ...

Jonathan Ross: What's remarkable, though, when you think about it, cos you know that is shocking and it's a horrible story to hear happened. But it happened not that long ago in the grand scheme of things.

Keira Knightley: No, not that long ago.

Jonathan Ross: That's what's remarkable.

Keira Knightley: Yeah, and I think, you know, particularly because of the secrecy that's still around what happened, or well was around Bletchley Park until very recently, his place in history as far as one of the grandfathers of the Computer, as far as his place in the history of the Second World War, and in gay rights, you know, been has sort of lost. So I think everybody involved certainly wanted to be a part of trying to get that story to a wider public.

Jonathan Ross: It's a remarkable story from our comparatively recent history. But it's also a story which, I think, everyone should know - everyone should know about this man and what happened. ....

The Imitation Game - IMDb