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8 January 2010

Photo of a man wearing a red fez. He's got sunglasses on too. It is Andy Serkis's face. 104 FIlms

Andy Serkis wears dark glasses and a fez in his portrayal of Ian Dury for the biopic 'Sex and drugs and rock and roll'. Photo: 104 Films

Image: 104 FIlms

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll is the 2009 film of the Ian Dury story starring Andy Serkis in the role of the punk legend.

Like many in the disability community I was initially angry they didn't cast a disabled actor in the lead role. We've got used to saying that disabled people have to be played by disabled actors.

But I got to wondering what would have been topmost priority in Ian Dury's mind? Would he be turning in his grave, or would he have sanctioned using a known non-disabled actor who would give the role a bigger public profile?

Ian Dury was a politicised crip. He was open and proud of his disability at a time when no-one in the public eye would have considered setting their disability cards on the table. He often talked about himself in a mocking, confrontational way as a 'raspberry' - a piece of cockney rhyming slang meaning 'raspberry ripple' for cripple.

Ian Dury was an inspiration for the disability community - but he wasn't a regular on the disability circuit because he was too big a name. The persona he created was alluring, dangerous and sexy, with his razor blade earrings, drainpipes, pointy side-burns and brothel creepers.

I first saw him perform at the Streatham Odeon in 1979. A few of us were waiting at the back of the queue - realising as each minute went by that it was unlikely we'd get tickets - when suddenly Ian Dury happened to walk past. A feisty young woman-friend grabbed his eye, and before you could say Billericay Dicky he'd ushered us in, gratis, with his Cheshire cat smile - and we even got to see him briefly backstage after the show.

I didn't think of Ian Dury then as 'a disabled performer.' He created a persona much stronger than that. In fact it wasn't until 1981 that I realised he was a disabled person. It was when he released the song Spasticus Autisticus when asked to make a contribution to The International Year of the Disabled. The committee, who thought it was a good idea to ask Dury to write a song, must have cursed themselves something rotten.

The single was banned by the BBC - which was brilliant - because it made you want to listen to the words. It was only when I cottoned on to the line “I widdle when I piddle, cos my middle is a riddle” that it dawned on me that here was someone saying something radical about disability. At the time people hadn't heard those kind of sentiments associated with disability. The song was a cry of anger - but expressed only as Ian Dury could have expressed it - with humour and charm.

I think Ian Dury would have been pretty pissed off not have a disabled actor cast in his role. But in practical terms, finding someone with polio to play the part would be extremely difficult. And would casting a known, talented disabled actor like Mat Fraser for example - someone with a completely different impairment - have been any different from casting a non-disabled actor? Cripping up isn't quite the same as Blacking up. There are more complex questions about physique and physicality, related to impairment that come into play.

It is more important to have someone who will capture Ian Dury as the legend he was, rather than choose someone with his impairment, for the principle of it. Personally, I think Garry Robson would have done a very good job. He's got the physicality and the persona. But he wouldn't have stood a chance getting cast for a big budget film like "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll".

The point is that there is still a glass ceiling for disabled performers. No matter how high they climb they still don't get cast because of discriminatory attitudes.

Allan Sutherland recently told me a story about Ewan Marshal. In 2004 the BBC commissioned Marshal to make Every Time You Look At Me, starring Mat Fraser and Lisa Hammond. It didn't get massive ratings - but the BBC have another measure of recording the opinions of the people that did watch it. And it was a big hit with those who did see it.

However, at the subsequent meeting, a senior person at the BBC was asking Ewan for ideas. He started to propose another role for Mat and was told, "No, we've done Mat Fraser." If someone of Mat's charisma, talent and drive runs into that glass ceiling it is no surprise that aspiring disabled actors don't stand a chance.

Maybe we still have a need for the 'One in Eight' groups' 'Raspberry Ripple' awards ceremony, for good and bad portrayal of disabled people in the media. Ian Dury coined 'raspberry ripple' as an anthem. The question is, will Andy Serkis deserve one for playing him?

Whatever... I'm very excited about seeing the film. I hope to be eating my words when I do get to see it!

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll opens in London's West End on 8 January 2010

For more information about the man visit the Official Ian Dury website


Colin Hambrook

13 February 2010

I take it all back! I've just managed to get to see the film and I couldn't believe how brilliant Andy Serkis is. He plays the part with passion and intensity. I think even a disabled actor like Garry Robson - who often uses a stage persona that owes more than a little to Ian Dury (The Last Freak Show 1999) - would have been hard pushed to make a more convincing job of playing the lead role. It was a film with soul, that went to massive lengths to explore the disability aspect of Ian's life. It was such a shame the backers didn't realise how popular Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll would be. It was only on in the local Independent cinema for a short time. The cinema had to turn people away. There was a massive applause at the end.


19 January 2010

Excellent article. I can't wait to see the film and my opinion is that as long as Serkis gives a f*****g great performance, then I don't care that he's not disabled. At the end of the day, it's about hiring the best actor for the gig. And you can't deny that Serkis bears an uncanny resemblance to Dury and shares his charisma.

Interesting story about BBC and Mat Fraser. I can't imagine them saying 'well, we've done David Tennant now, so we don't need to do anything else'. Seems that broadcasters think that if they've done one disability thing a year, they've ticked the crip box and can get away with doing bugger all for another 12 months,

Kevin Rowan-Drewitt

10 January 2010

Great review Col - I can't wait to see the film too, only its like Norway here! Re the casting - I think it should have been open to all, disabled and non-disabled alike, and whoever catured Ian the best be given the part. I don't know if that was the case of course. (If it wasn't they are Blockheads!) Surely the film will draw crowds coz of who and what it's about? Surely (sorry to start 2 consecutive sentences with the same word!)only a really big name like Tom Hanks would put more bums on seats. Tom Hanks as Ian Dury - now there's a challenging role for him! Maybe I should have said Tom Cruise - he is about the same height as Ian was. Mash it up Harry!!!!

Penny Pepper

10 January 2010

I want the film to do well because Ian Dury deserves that to happen, and not just because Ian was an out 'Raspberry' - and please see my DAO blog page for my own very brief Ian Dury moment! I fully understand the dilemmas of little budgets, and not enough experienced disabled actors who may also be deemed suitable for the role - but were any tried?

I haven't seen anything other than clips yet but will try and see the film this week to comment more fully.

It would just be nice to think we're progressing on the 'cripping up' issue overall and I am not sure we are at any great speed.

isolte avila

10 January 2010

I think Garry Robson would have done a very good job. He's got the physicality and the persona. But he wouldn't have stood a chance getting cast for a big budget film like "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll".

Thanks Colin, they could have easily cast Garry. We have been saying for years that he would /is ideal for the part. And we should have all got on with it!

Hollywood could have been at least a bit authentic (the current BBC term for diversity action!). They could have done it ... they are just chicken, or lazy. We have just come back from a USA/ california conference part of it sponsored by BBC part by National Endowment of the arts talking about this .. Its all a bit depressing, as they dont seem to get it. Theres a long way to go in Tinsle Town. We should all just get on with it and work together

Bev Willis

10 January 2010

just to say as someone who is near to the production team that the film was very much NOT a big budget movie: in fact Andy Serkis was one of the main producers and the artistic integrity and vision to get the thing on was down to him and Paul Viragh the writer. To sustain a film like this in all the ways neccessary plus being an experienced actor who could manage to do it in the 5 weeks is phenomenal Whatever Ian Dury might have thought (and he could be contrary as you know) he surely would have applauded the fact his sentiments come over so wonderfully

Glenn Willis

10 January 2010

OK folks, what's more important here? Casting a disabled actor that no-one will go and see or getting a big name in that will attract audiences and get them to see the 'bigger picture' in terms of the disability?

My money's on the latter!

I went to see the film on Friday & I have to say that Andy's caught Ian's personality, humour & angst incredibly well. Let's face it, the film is about Ian's life, not just his disability. I'm fortunate enough to, not only have known Ian Dury, but also to know Andy Serkis. I think Ian would approve.

Go see the film folks. Make up your own minds!

Penny Pepper

10 January 2010

Thanks for this great piece Colin, it made me very nostalgic and sad. It also stirred such personal memories for me, that I will blog my own Ian Dury story. Please have a look there too!

As someone currently developing as a scriptwriter and film maker, I can say this old chestnut of casting goes on and on. Colin makes some crucial comments on the issue - you cannot simply put in any random disabled actor into an impairment-specific role. The whole issue of impairment has to come into play, and getting that right can be crucial to portrayal and development of the piece. I would never put a non-disabled person in a disabled person's role. However, I would not use someone who was crap, simple as that. It helps no one. Also I am loathe to write into my character's back story any minutiae about their impairment. Wheelchair user, Deaf person, should be enough, especially as I am the last person on the planet likely to be writing an 'overcoming tragic crippling with supportive doctor' type story!

I can also see that the lack of any ongoing chance to improve acting skills in film and TV roles means non-disabled actors are going to be cast in preference on that alone, though I don't think our quality actors get enough chance ANYHOW. It's back to the old chicken and egg situation. Let me write more guys! I'm more than ready. In fact I have a backlog!

I've seen some clips of Andy Serkis in this role and of course, he's captured Ian's mannerisms and all that. But I felt instantly irked by how he holds himself in an approximation of someone with an impairment. I am also tired of hearing reviewers saying 'Ian suffered from'.

But in the end, I hope the film does well because Ian deserves that.


10 January 2010

Wesley Nelson, a young disabled actor plays Ian in his younger years so it shouldn't have been too much of a leap for the producers to find a disabled actor to play him in later years. Although the guy they chose and who portrayed Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, was probably thought to bring in more bums on seats - and let's face it, that's what it's all about!

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