See Hear gets first deaf series producer in five years

William Mager William Mager has worked on See Hear since 2003

See Hear, BBC Two's programme for the deaf community, returns for a new series in September. Award-winning film-maker William Mager has just become its first deaf series producer since 2008.

In an email Q&A, the Bristol-based producer explains See Hear's raison d'ĂȘtre and outlines plans for series 33.

Nicki Defago: I've just been looking at the See Hear website and it's great. As a sighted and hearing person I'd be interested in viewing films made for the programme, but I haven't watched See Hear before. Do you ever feel disappointed they don't get a wider audience?

William Mager: I don't feel disappointed that See Hear isn't watched by millions each week. It's not that kind of show. It's public service broadcasting at its very best.

It's a programme that serves a broad community of deaf and hard of hearing people, which is a linguistic and cultural group, as well as a group that's defined medically by deafness.

We do get casual hearing viewers drawn into the programme and they find it a rewarding watch.

Going all the way back to its debut in 1981, it's averaged around half a million viewers, and this figure's stayed surprisingly consistent, especially considering we're now in our 33rd series as one of the longest-running programmes in the UK.

Why is it called See Hear?

See Hear refers to the way deaf people "hear" with their eyes through lipreading, seeing visual sign language, reading subtitles and so on.

Is there a mix of hearing and deaf staff on the programme?

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It's really important our audience feels represented in a positive way ”

End Quote William Mager Series producer

Yes - and the balance is pretty good at the moment.

We aim to have representation of deaf and hard of hearing people at all levels of production, from researcher to director.

We've got some really good hearing staff who completely "get" the programme and the way it's put together, alongside some really talented deaf directors and producers, like Caroline O'Neill, Sam Dore and Ted Evans.

What are some of your favourite See Hear moments and what can we look forward to with you as series producer?

I've worked at the programme, on and off, since 2003 - I've also been at Watchdog, Crimewatch and The Culture Show - but I've done some wild and crazy stuff on See Hear that you wouldn't get to do on any other show.

I've been in a tiny fishing boat pointing a camera at a deaf man swimming the English Channel. I've filmed a deaf paramedic riding at 120mph through the streets of London. I've also seen our presenters thrown out of planes while signing their opening link for us!

I would love more interaction. These days, it's useful to get feedback from the audience. Whether they loved or hated a programme, I really want to know.

We're hoping to make that easier for people by creating a new Twitter account alongside a more active Facebook page, and most excitingly of all, we hope to launch a new See Hear news site on BBC News Online later this year.

You're the first deaf series producer to be appointed to run the programme since Terry Riley left the BBC in 2008. What can a deaf series producer bring to the role that a hearing person can't?

Terry's impact on deaf television is huge. A lot of deaf people wouldn't be working in the media today without him and the opportunities he created in his time at See Hear.

It's important to have that basic judgement of what makes a story suitable for See Hear, and how you tell that story in a way that's appropriate to our audience. It's really important our audience feels represented in a positive way and we give them their voice.

Film-making is challenging enough for anyone, with its pressures and deadlines. Does being deaf make it harder - are there any concessions like longer turnarounds for shooting and editing?

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See Hear is a cultural and historical record of the last 30 years of deaf life”

End Quote William Mager Series producer

Many things on See Hear are done differently to other programmes. Some people arriving on the team get that really quickly, others take a while to understand it.

The biggest challenges are following the rules of deaf television - we have to frame and edit to be sympathetic to seeing and understanding sign language users on screen.

It's complicated and daunting - but at the same time really simple if you remember that key phrase, "through deaf eyes".

What do you think about the BBC's recruitment of people with disability, given recent statistics suggested it had fallen short of its targets on staff disability representation?

The BBC's always had a strong record as an employer of diversity.

However in recent years, with the impact of cuts made by DQF among other things, that has sometimes made it harder for some executive producers to take a chance on sending a deaf or disabled director on a shoot, or promoting them to a position of responsibility.

I know that Toby Mildon - head of the BBC Ability forum - is working to change that with meetings with Danny Cohen and Tony Hall.

I hope the BBC can find a way to reaffirm its commitment to equal opportunity employment over the coming years. See Hear is a model for how that can be achieved.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

See Hear is a lifeline to many deaf people who feel isolated. It represents the experiences and views of a group that's often ignored, or invisible in wider society.

It's also a cultural and historical record of the last 30 years of deaf life - and ultimately it's enriched and entertained many generations of deaf and hearing people, young and old.

See Hear returns on Wednesday 18th September at 10.30am on BBC Two, and will transmit weekly until March. It is also repeated on Tuesday nights and is available on iPlayer.

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