A powerful new drama from the BBC, Then Barbara Met Alan, will explore the true story of the battle for disabled civil rights in Britain in the 1990s.
It’s no secret that in the world of film, there’s a mighty long way to go before people with disabilities are accurately represented on screen. In 2015, for instance, a report found that a pitiful 2.4% of characters in the top 100 Hollywood movies who spoke or had names had a disability.
When it comes to television, however, stories of people living with a disability are slowly but surely coming to the forefront, with hit shows such as Sex Education and Special platforming characters in unique and compelling ways.
It’s encouraging, then, that the BBC are ensuring the real world is better reflected in the media with their forthcoming drama, Then Barbara Met Alan.
Previously announced with the working title Independence Day? How Disabled Rights Were Won, the drama is inspired by the remarkable true story of the people behind an irrepressible campaign of direct action that led to significant gains in the battle for disabled civil rights in Britain.
Here’s everything we know about the new series, including the plot, cast and release date.
What is the plot of Then Barbara Met Alan?
Written by multiple Bafta winner Jack Thorne (Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, His Dark Materials, The Virtues) and award-winning actor-turned-writer Genevieve Barr (The Silence, The Fades), Then Barbara Met Alan is based upon the real life story of two disabled cabaret performers, Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth, who met at a gig in 1989.
The pair became the driving force behind DAN - the Direct Action Network, whose fearless and coordinated protests pushed the campaign for disabled rights into the spotlight.
Who is in the cast of Then Barbara Met Alan?
Then Barbara Met Alan tells the battle for disability rights through the eyes of its two protagonists, activists Barbara Lisicki (Ruth Madeley) and Alan Holdsworth (newcomer Arthur Hughes).
Earlier this year, Madeley spoke to Stylist about bringing Lisicki’s story to the small screen, and the legacy of her fearless campaign for disabled rights.
“I’ve known about Barbara’s work for a very long time,” she said. “Never in a million years did I think I’d get to play her, she’s so special.
“I think it’s really important that more people know about her because so many people still don’t. She blazed the trail to make sure that disability rights were taken seriously. And to make sure that disabled people have choice and rights, with everything that they do in life. I was a child when this was happening, and knowing my rights as a disabled woman are down to her is huge.”
Madeley, who was “eight or nine” when the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995, also reflected on the progress of disabled rights.
“With disability, and we feel it now, everything is a fight,” she continued. “Absolutely everything. To get every drop of what you are entitled to as a human being is a real fight. You often find that with disabled people they have a resilience you couldn’t even imagine otherwise.”
The actor is hopeful, too, that the show will bring awareness to the hidden injustices that disabled people contend with on a daily basis.
“I’m really passionate about disability representation on screen because it’s so far behind what it should be. I think not only would it have been incredible growing up to see a show like this with disabled actors telling disabled stories but it would also be massive learning curve. It’s a huge part of British history that a lot of people don’t know about.
“I’m always excited to see disabled stories told on screen because I know the 12-year-old me would have loved to have seen that. Now 12-year-olds will see it.”
Is there a release date for Then Barbara Met Alan?
There’s no official release date for the show yet, but we’ll update you as soon as we hear word.
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.