Best Of Men: Acting in a Paralympic drama

Thursday 16 August 2012, 10:37

David Proud David Proud Actor

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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.

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  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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)

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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?

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    David, Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

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

  • rate this

    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.


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