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 21.

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

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Wonderful play, many congratulations

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    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

  • rate this

    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."


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    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'

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

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

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    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

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

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    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.

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    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?

  • rate this

    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!

  • rate this

    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.

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    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.

  • rate this

    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!

  • rate this

    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?

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    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.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    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.


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