Kara Tointon: Don’t Call Me Stupid – Dyslexia and Yoof TV

Ah, BBC3. Its target audience is largely those aged from 16-34 years old. It’s the Radio 1 of the telly world. Your correspondent is 26 years old. However, your correspondent would rather eat a cement sandwich than watch pretty much anything on this “television channel” (the majority of its output means those quotation marks are thoroughly deserved, the fabulous Being Human excepted).

This makes me cross. True, there may not be that many serious documentary-loving twenty-somethings. However, if you’re going to insist on having a channel that is meant to be somewhat more “yoof”-orientated in its outlook, you should try and cater for all of your target audience. I admire the BBC in this respect – BBC3 may have once been BBC Choice but it had a similar yoof (yes, I’m sticking with this, however annoying) programming remit and began in 1998, 3 years ahead of the allegedly more trendy and hip Channel 4’s equivalent E4, which then didn’t move over to Freeview until mid-2005. The BBC have given itself not just a T4-style slot but a whole channel for yoof – surely there must be somewhere to accommodate young persons who don’t feel particularly enthused by “Snog, Marry or Avoid?” (shudder)?

Thank goodness, then, for “Kara Tointon – Don’t Call Me Stupid”. Ignore the typically hysterical documentary title. Although, yes, it is basically “Her From Strictly is Dyslexic – Oh DEAR”. But this very thoughtful little programme is also far more than that. Despite its annoyingly-repetitive pop soundtrack (unlike the BBC music and sound folk, as much as I like Corinne Bailey Rae’s excellent second album The Sea I also have other CDs in my house), the show is surprisingly grown-up. We learn that whilst Tointon was relatively fortunate in that she was diagnosed with dyslexia whilst at the early stage of primary school, her dyslexia still profoundly affects her life on many levels.

There are so many things to like about the programme. A large part of this is Kara Tointon herself. Despite her dyslexia causing her genuinely significant difficulties in reading and comprehension, Tointon comes across as articulate, warm towards her fellow young dyslexics and honest. Whilst cynics amongst you (hi Dad! I’m live on the internet! *waves*) will point out that she has most likely been paid by the BBC in some way or another to make this documentary, she shows real bravery in revealing just how tough it makes things such as learning scripts compared to her fellow professionals (nicely illustrated by Tointon and her former Eastenders co-star Ricky Groves re-learning their final scene together).

The programme itself is a bit of a star as well. It’s nicely shot but not indulgently so. Yes, it uses cartoony graphics, but in a really helpful and clever way that shows how words can jump off a page and appear brightly lit to dyslexics.

One could argue that were Tointon not 27 years old, photogenic and a star of Eastenders, Strictly etc, the documentary wouldn’t have even got past the reception desk. There may be some truth in this. For once, this doesn’t bother me – a star like Tointon is somebody young people are far more likely to relate to and the programme is in my view good enough to be shown in schools. It’s the type of thing Channel 4’s now sadly seemingly-defunct Schools strand would have once shown. It relates to young people in a way that doesn’t patronize or pander to lazy yoof stereotypes. Sure, Tointon wears white jeans and compares having an MRI scan to a sunbed. But she’s also passionate about helping fellow young dyslexics and clearly has a great relationship with her supportive and lovely family.

I really enjoyed this. I never have thought I’d type these words but well done, BBC3 – more of this sort of thing please.

Posted by Velocity Girl

4 Comments

Filed under Documentaries

4 responses to “Kara Tointon: Don’t Call Me Stupid – Dyslexia and Yoof TV

  1. saffronatstudy

    ‘Yoof TV’ is all about not being ‘Kid TV’. So BBC 3 may claim to be aimed at 16-34 year-olds, but a lot of its content is actually aimed at those 14 year-olds, like my daughter, who would rather die than be caught watching CBBC! It’s a bit like that teen magazine from MY yoof, ‘Just Seventeen’. You had to be five years younger to appreciate it… Like you, I hate ‘Snog, Marry or Avoid’ but I have to admit that, unlike my lectures, it has succeeded in convincing my daughter that inch-thick foundation really isn’t very attractive. I missed this dyslexia documentary, but there have been a number of other BBC3 gems that justify the channel’s existence: ‘Blood, Sweat and Takeaways’, ‘Mum, Glamour Models and Me’ and ‘Cherry has a Baby’. A recent episode of ‘The World’s Strictest Parents’, in which two wayward teens were sent to spend time with professional foster parents/adopters in Florida, had dispelled everybody’s stereotypes by the end of the programme – whether of gay parents, spoilt little rich girls, teen dads, or even its own type of reality TV.

  2. Velocity Girl

    Hullo, cheers for commenting!

    Agree that “Yoof TV” doesn’t = “Kid TV” – and whilst I agree with you that the fact it can also include 14 year-olds where they aren’t perhaps well-catered for elsewhere is a thoroughly good thing, I still stand by my point that BBC3 tends to a) miss the top end of its 16-34 range pretty consistently and b) stick with a type of programming that assumes a certain narrow range of interests amongst its audience. I think, given there’s a whole channel there with plenty of hours’ worth of broadcasting time, it could show a far wider (and indeed better) range of programming than it currently does.

    However, you’re right to pull me up on BBC3′s increasingly excellent specialism in documentaries. It is certainly a far better channel in that sense than it was even a year ago and I was certainly a bit lazy in my stereotyping of it in that sense.

    Having said that, I don’t think the channel helps its cause very much (and indeed doesn’t do a lot to dispel people such as me from stereotyping it) by giving its excellent documentaries such utterly sensationalist and ridiculous names and this will continue to annoy me! Mind you, BBC3 is far from alone in its repeat offending…

  3. H. Dodd

    In relation to ‘dyslexia’ I found the programme to say the least unhelpful.

    There was little evidence in it that Kara Tointon is infact dyslexic. We only have the fact that she was ‘diagnosed’ with this 19 years ago ? how accurate was this in those early days.
    Her brain scan was normal-except it showed she needed to make more effort-probably normal if you haven’t made it since the age of seven, and so what, if you do need to ! When does ‘more effort’ come outside the normal range on the scan measurements, even when comparing with a few other individuals on the chart.
    I noticed her few problem words in reading were all ones we acquire as ‘whole word learning,’ after we’ve learnt to read at a basic level and come as we read more.
    Her ‘white gaps on the page’ were probably filmed in exaggeration on your program. I don’t remember her saying that words jumped all over the place, as you portrayed on the page. Who knows what she really saw on a page, there was no evidence.
    Who doesn’t use different memonic schemes to learn a speech if we have poor short term memory ? Some of us write things out and recite the lines for hours. Does that mean we are dyslexic?
    She was disorganised and forgot where she put things? How many of us identify with that ! No that doesn’t wash either.
    Her parents raised her as a dyslexic child from the age of seven, but was intensive reading practise instigated to get to the heart of the matter and see if she would improve? She was certainly encouraged and supported to be an actress, thus overlaying the reading difficulty, rather than her being encouraged with self discipline and self management. This would promote the ‘dyslexia picture’ Tara has of herself. This is of course, no criticsm of the parents, who did their very best, on the information they were then given

    I believe at one point in the programme the fact that there were different types of dyslexia was mentioned, but this was not developed.
    Would these types be from mild to severe and what degree of this condition supports a disability? I believe people with dyslexia disability can claim all sorts of disability allowances, both money and otherwise (bus passes, computers, extra time in public exams etc).
    At the end of the programme I thought perhaps I should be tested, explain how complex things always have to be explained to me three times , slowly (when others get it first time), why I often have to read a page again in a novel because I’ve already lost the plot, why I had to slave over Maths and most subjects at school, why I’m always in a muddle and losing things. No I don’t think so, as I ended up with two Science degrees. Still many a good doctor is dyslexic too, so perhaps I could be !
    No, I do not believe your portrayal of Kara Tointon was a responsible one.
    A programme on serious or varieties of dyslexia could have been easily have been made, disability demonstrated where this occurred, and advice given to those who were having similar problems to Tara, without implying that these problems indicated dyslexia. Your film will only served to show that a large proportion of the population could get themselves labelled as being dyslexic , (as are many to a very limited degree), instead of understanding how they can improve themselves in general, if they have a reading or other associated problem.
    I offer these comments as a sincere response to the programme. I should be delighted to learn of any other evidence or pointers towards what truly being dyslexic means. I had hoped the brain scan would demonstrate this, but it was unconvincing, likewise the memory tests. The visual tests demonstrated a mild aberrant sight problem, which was easily resolved for Tara Did you know it is statistically normal to have some sort of sight aberration anyway ?!

    Yours sincerely
    Mrs H.Dodd

    • pauseliveaction

      Thanks for all your comments, Mrs Dodd. It’s clearly a subject you know a lot about. Unfortunately we didn’t have anything to do with the making of the programme and just reviewed it as a viewer. You may want to contact the BBC about it. There’s more information about the programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vy8c7

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