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Best Of Men: Acting in a Paralympic drama

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David Proud David Proud | 09:37 UK time, Thursday, 16 August 2012

As an actor there are some auditions you are invited to where you want the part so much it's hard to control your excitement and nerves. For me The Best Of Men was one of those.

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Dr Guttmann (Eddie Marsan) begins to introduce changes at the hospital

I had known of Dr Guttmann ever since playing wheelchair basketball at the Guttmann Centre (now Stoke Mandeville Stadium) as a child.

The Best Of Men tells the story of how Dr Guttmann's work rehabilitating World War II soldiers led to the creation of the Paralympics.

I received the phone call to say I had got the part on my birthday and remember thinking it was like a little present from my Nan who I know is my guardian angel.

Jeremy is so far removed from any other character I have played. He has suffered a spinal injury in the war and is in a pretty bad way.

With the help of Dr Guttmann he recovers and we see him go from strength to strength. He develops a strong bond with Neil (Ben Owen Jones), the wounded soldier in the bed next to him.

As a disabled actor I rarely get a chance to do period dramas so this was a very special project for me.

Looking at the cast list of Eddie Marsan, Rob Brydon and Naimh Cusack I was just honoured to be part of it.

Private William Heath (George MacKay) and Corporal Wynne Bowen (Rob Brydon) playing wheelchair hockey

William (George MacKay) and Wynne (Rob Brydon) playing wheelchair hockey

We filmed for three weeks in Bristol and were all staying at the hotel together.

Strangely Nina Toussaint-White and Lacey Turner who I had filmed EastEnders with were also in our hotel for another production, along with all the contestants of Deal or No Deal, it was a really happening party hotel.

We all developed a very special bond having dinner together every night. Rob making us laugh, Eddie and Naimh telling us amazing anecdotes and my fellow actors George MacKay, Ben Owen Jones and I loving every moment.

On set our bond created a lovely atmosphere and that helped as some scenes were emotionally very hard to get through.

Tim Whitby's one of the coolest directors I have ever worked with and he smiled all the way through, his enthusiasm was infectious.

Jeremy is a quiet character and he is pretty out of it for the first part of the film, slowly he comes round.

Dr Guttmann (Eddie Marsan, 2nd left), Jeremy (David Proud), Sister Edwards (Naimh Cusack) and Will

Dr Guttmann, Jeremy (David Proud), Sister Edwards (Naimh Cusack) and Will

For a few scenes I had to pretend to be asleep and did actually fall asleep during one take, Tim woke me up and complimented me on being a method actor.

I thought that was bad until in the next scene Ben did exactly the same but started to snore, I was trying to nudge him and quietly say "Dude, wake up!" but it didn't work.

Of all the things I have worked on I am most proud of this, I've made some lifelong friends and helped to tell the story of a man whose legacy allowed me to be born into a world where being an actor is possible.

Eddie Marsan plays Dr Guttmann and he's mesmerising to watch and so down to earth, he has such respect for other actors and such a passion for his craft.

His speech about "I will not shield you from the realities of life" made me cry when we filmed it and makes me cry when I watch it.

That's all disabled people want, it's all I have ever wanted, the chance to face the same struggles as everyone else, to be equal, to be The Best Of Men.

More on The Best Of Men
Lucy Gannon on writing The Best Of Men on the BBC Writersroom blog.
Ludwig Guttmann, the doctor who invented the Paralympics on the BBC Ouch blog.

David Proud is an actor in The Best Of Men.

The Best Of Men is on Thursday, 16 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    A truly inspirational programme that lifts the soul and shows that we can and should challenge 'what's expected' in life sometimes. Well done to all involved in its production and what a great way to introduce the paralympics.

  • Comment number 2.

    Absolutely amazing - loved every minute!!!! I laughed, I cried - emotions ran high. FANTASTIC..... thank you. Great toc see something brilliant on the TV ..... just for a change!!!! LOVED EVERY MINUTE.

  • Comment number 3.

    This was superb drama with everyone taking part doing a great job. I wasn't aware of the Ludwig Guttman story. Thanks to Lucy Gannon for highlighting it.

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought this was the best of drama from the best of bbc showing the story of the best of men in the most inspiring way

  • Comment number 5.

    I have just watched The Best of men, and normally, I would not be sitting trying to find my round a website, but in this instance of watching the programme I just wasn't going to give up. Best Programme on TV in ages, and if I was down in the dumps earlier, after watching such a story and the terrific acting I am now smiling my little head off, Thankyou BBC can we have more of these programmes.

  • Comment number 6.

    Dr Guttman was a truly remarkable man who should rank high among the great men of the 20th century. My father worked as Clinical Photographer to him at Stoke Mandeville from 1945 till 1963 and witnessed at close quarters the developments that were inevitably simplified and telescoped for the fictional story of the film. The Stoke Mandevillle Games were an annual 'must' for the family right from the start in 1948.
    The Spinal Injuries Unit of the early days, incidentally, was in a collection of temporary huts - rather different from the country house of the film. But that doesn't affect the validity of the story as shown which caught well the change in attitudes resulting from the doctor's wonderful pioneering work.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank you all for the lovely comments. This was a very moving story for us all to be part of so thank you for taking time to comment. Thank you daphnie for finding this on the web site.

    Tom of Cluny, I'm glad you feel we caught it well. Dr Guttman was such an inspiring man and his life could inspire countless drama's. It's very interesting to hear from someone closely connected to his life so thank you for sharing that.

    From the entire cast and crew thank you for watching and we hope you enjoy watching the paralympic games.

    David Proud (Jeremy)

  • Comment number 8.

    Excellent drama - beautifully crafted and acted. It really portrayed the Olympic spirit. Pity the BBC don't think it is worth broadcasting the actual Paralympics on TV.

  • Comment number 9.

    I thought this was absolutely brilliant, I am so proud to be from Aylesbury where it all began! I remember being taken by my parents to watch the basketball at Stoke Mandeville and I still go now! I was in bits at the end of it, Dr Guttman and those first patients did so much to breakdown barriers and attitudes. It was simply wonderful

  • Comment number 10.

    I watched this last night and was amazed not just with the storyline but the sheer quality of acting talent on display. Very moving, some fantastic one liners'...poot ze boot in...' and of course Eddie Marsan. He was absolutely stunning in this, his portrayal of Dr Guttmann was brilliant right down to the German mannerisms. Excellent television.

  • Comment number 11.

    What a moving piece of TV drama! Loved it. Dr Guttman is a local hero around Aylesbury & Stoke Mandeville. His humour and single-minded determination came across brilliantly. It's a shame the sets and location were so very different from what SMH was in those days, - rows of wooden huts in the main, with a few brick buildings. I hope BBC TV can do justice to the paralympics and rival its coverage of the two weeks of London2012.

  • Comment number 12.

    First class ,great acting ,great performances ,fascinating subject .
    Thank you for at last putting something on that restored some of my hope in programme planning

    A huge thank you to all involved .

    More of this quality of drama please

  • Comment number 13.

    Having seen trailers for this drama, I'd been really looking forward to watching it but the programme itself was far better than I expected.

    The cast really gelled and, like Isabel (post no 2), I both laughed and cried.

    Until I read David's blog I hadn't realised he is disabled and I hope more casting people look at him first as the very good actor he is rather than his mode of transport.

    More programmes like this, please, BBC and I hope you follow the Paralympics on-line for us as you did the Olympics, especially for those of us who are office-bound.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is my first 'post' - I was so impressed by the programme and the performance of the cast that I just had to go onto this site and give my comments. It is a remarkable story which was superbly told. Eddie Marsan was magnificent! It is very rare these days for me to actually sit and watch a programme from beginning to end.

  • Comment number 15.

    A wonderful play, brilliantly acted. I enjoyed every moment. It was also our second treat of the week. what about Sean Bean in Accused?

  • Comment number 16.

    I'd just like to echo the comments of other users and say what a brilliant drama this was. The BBC should consider repeating it on BBC One closer to the start of the Paralympics.

    @kevanroyle , (#11) Channel 4 have the TV rights to the Paralympics so BBC can't show any unfortunately. It's a shame as they really did an outstanding effort with the 2012 Olympics.

  • Comment number 17.

    Best TV Drama of the Year!
    Superb acting, wonderful production and a storyline that captivated and moved you from the off. Thank you for forcing me to overcome my prejudices that a drama about the disabled wouldn't be gripping. I have learned from this drama and will be watching the Para Olympics with fresh vision, I can't wait!

  • Comment number 18.

    David, Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!

  • Comment number 19.

    What an insipration to us all! well done everyone on a great piece of drama

  • Comment number 20.

    This was the best drama I have seen all year. It was superbly written, produced and acted. I had no idea Eddie Marsan was such a talented actor. He has obviously not been offered the right parts before. What a treat it was. My congratulations to all concerned.

  • Comment number 21.

    fantastic drama, brilliant brilliant brilliant, and very inspiring and emotionial. bbc at its very best. thank you for a wonderful experience

  • Comment number 22.

    I watched this today, and all I can say is wow. This is a film that everyone who was involved in should be very proud of. Well done BBC.

  • Comment number 23.

    Programmes like this demonstrate why I'm happy to pay my TV licence. More, please. Excellent drama, well acted and a superb story to inspire everyone. Congratulations, Auntie!

  • Comment number 24.

    Wonderful play, many congratulations

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks for the blog and the beautifully produced programme - managed to watch it on iPlayer before it was removed. Please can you or anyone tell us what happened to some of the later characters, esp. Private William Heath - did he ever marry? get a job? Also Corporal Wynne Bowen - and some of the others? I tried doing a search but couldn't find any info. Thanks, Carol

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello Carol #25, thanks for your comment. I asked the director Tim Whitby the same question last week, so you may like to know that he said "The patients are all fictional but we drew heavily on real stories to create them. Similarly the hospital staff are all fictional (except General Blake and Q) but represent attitudes which were generally expressed at the time."


  • Comment number 27.

    A fantastic programme. Does anyone know how to get hold of the book written about Sir Ludwig Guttman? It was discussed on a Radio 5 programme. Think it is called 'The Spirit of Stoke Mandeville' or 'The Story of Sir Ludwig Guttman'

  • Comment number 28.

    best tv programme i have seen in years, truly inspirational, brilliant performances all round. indeed the best of men.

  • Comment number 29.

    I truly hope that the BBC are releasing this on truly FANTASTIC drama on DVD. I watched it a number of times on iplayer when i felt I needed uplifting and inspired. I broke my back a few years ago and recognised the work that Sir Dr Guttman undertook (and the work that still needs to be done by the NHS to really fulfill his dream and the potential of spinal injury patients).

    Along with the "Dickie and Bert" rowing drama from before the Olympics this would make a superb DVD double bill and an important educational film. Now how do we propose Sir Dr Guttman for the Nobel Prize for Medicine given the hope he has given to the worlds spinally injured and other disabled people.

  • Comment number 30.

    Why is this not available on iplayer for the duration of the Paralympics ???

  • Comment number 31.

    Why is The Best of Men just on once on the BBC when they repeat other things loads of times? Tried to get it in I player but only there for 1 week. BBC you let yourself down!! When will it be on again? Should be on during the Para olympics.

  • Comment number 32.

    ditto all those confused that this is not available on iplayer. I was really looking forward to watching it as a close family friend was involved in the start in the Stoke Mandeville days. Will the BBC repeat this week or at least someone indicate why this is not available for the licence fee payers to watch for more than a week?

  • Comment number 33.

    Please BBC repeat this drama and release it on DVD. All generations of my family were moved and inspired by this wonderful drama. The writing and story were of such quality that I hadn't seen in a long time, and the acting and the truly inspirational Dr Guttmann were superlative. Please release on DVD!

  • Comment number 34.

    Simply brilliant all round. Pity it was only 1hr 25min long! Surely the brilliant Dr Guttman deserved at least 15 minutes of the show for more about him? Like what motivated him to do as he did?

    I was pleased to learn he was duly recognised with a Knighthood and a centre being named after him.

    @33 chrisandcats it is being repeated this week. Check the tv listings for the next 7 days.

    I will be watching it again.

  • Comment number 35.

    Just want to reiterate what chrisandcats said earlier - please release it on DVD or at least show it again - Have met so many who were moved by it and so many others who would like to watch it.

  • Comment number 36.

    and me too: Please,please release on DVD- I would love to own it and there are many I know who missed it!

  • Comment number 37.

    A little late I accept, but I was compelled to comment on, what was, one of the best pieces of television I have seen for some time. My wife and I only came across it by accident but loved it. My congratulations to ALL the cast. WHAT TALENT?

  • Comment number 38.

    Hello all,
    As ArchAngel02 #34 mentions, good news for those asking if The Best Of Men will be repeated. So to thepatriarch #30, Jay #31, fernn #32, chrisandcats #33, daydowson #35 and megan e #36 - it's scheduled to be on again on Sunday, 2 September at 10pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. Details are on the upcoming broadcasts page.
    Thanks for your comments.

  • Comment number 39.

    I loved this programme. Does anyone know if it's coming out on dvd. I do have dvd recorder due to the digital switch over I cant use it. It would be ace if it came out on dvd.

  • Comment number 40.

    Have to ask, along with others, when will it be released as a DVD.
    Great drama with a special message for all of us.

  • Comment number 41.

    Wonderful, inspiring television - a huge thank you to all involved in bringing this important story to the attention of so many. A humbling, gentle walk through the trauma experienced by many - which is largely suffered in silence and often alone. I do hope this beautifully made programme will inspire all who watch it to open their eyes and their hearts to the difficult path some are destined to follow. May it inspire imagination in all of us! Dr Guttman's foresite and tenasity have created a truely amazing legacy. What a wonderful man...

  • Comment number 42.

    Watched this truly inspiring programme the first time around and watched it again on Sunday night,enjoyed every moment of this fantastic drama,and just wished that more programmes like this were produced....any chance that it will be available on DVD in the future?

  • Comment number 43.

    Once again thank you for all the lovely comments. I know cast and crew are delighted with your responses. I will ask at the BBC about future plans regarding DVD release and ask them to respond to that question.

    Kind Regards,
    David Proud

  • Comment number 44.

    Having missed BoM while away, friends begged us to see it on iPlayer. Now having seen it a couple of days ago, I'm begging everyone else. For me, this was a real masterpiece and truly a film for NOW. If I had the power and cash to back this, I would. And it would be a winner. Like 'Charriots' in its day, this has the same character and an even greater unmasking of an unknown hero. Cinema release please - and quickly!

  • Comment number 45.

    It would be wonderful if drama of this quality on subjects of this importance could be made available on DVD. In the meantime, and at the end of these amazing Paralympics - please put it back on i-player!! My wife (and others) missed it; they're really sad!

  • Comment number 46.

    Thanks for your comments on The Best Of Men.

    For those of you asking about a DVD release (Peter Swettenham, chrisandcats, daydowson, megan e, Philip1958, charlotte boot, agnescr and ps) I have asked Whitby Davidson TV (the production company who made the film) if it will be released on DVD. The answer is yes but no fixed date yet so keep an eye out for it!

    BBC TV blog


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