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TX: 26.05.06 - Tourette's On Big Brother

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
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TX: 26.05.06 - Tourettes on Big Brother

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

ROBINSON
Whether or not you watch Big Brother on Channel 4 you can't have missed the debate over whether one of the current batch of housemates - Pete - is being exploited. Pete has Tourette's Syndrome.

CLIP FROM BIG BROTHER

Some people think Pete's appearance on the show debunks myths about Tourette's, once described as the swearing disease. Other commentators, though, see his presence in the Big Brother House as further proof that reality television here is sliding towards American standards. They cite a recent show in the US called Miracle Workers, which offered people, who are seriously ill or dying, the chance of a prime time cure.

Carolyn Atkinson has been talking about Pete with Nick Van Bloss who has Tourette's Syndrome and has written a book about it. With Dr Mark Porter, the GP who presents Radio 4's Case Notes and Professor David Wilson, he resigned as Big Brother's psychological consultant a few series ago, after he said it "turned evil".

WILSON
I regard Big Brother as the media equivalence of slowing down to get a better look at the accident on the other side of the motorway. And it's not just Pete with Tourette's Syndrome but we've also got people in the house who I think are anorexic, are manic depressives and I just simply feel we're returning to bedlam. This has become the equivalent of paying a penny to watch the mad people in the asylum. Where is it going to end? I know Dr Porter suggested he learnt more about Tourette's on Big Brother than at medical school but then where's that going to end - should we put paranoid schizophrenics in the house?

ATKINSON
But to be on Big Brother, to choose to be on Big Brother, you've got to be a fairly extraordinary type of person in the first place, so what's wrong with being extraordinary and you happen to have Tourette's?

WILSON
Well of course when Big Brother started it didn't set out to have very extraordinary people, it was only after the second or third series when ordinary was no longer regarded as entertaining but ordinary was regarded as banal that we started to see more extreme or damaged or ill people being placed in these situations. I mean I'm really pleased that Pete seems to have a very good personality but I mean this is no way that somebody with this kind of complaint should be treated, it seems to me.

ATKINSON
Well Nick Van Bloss, who has Tourette's Syndrome, is also here. Nick, do you identify with Pete, are you seeing Tourette's as you know it?

BLOSS
I do identify with Pete because I see Tourettisms coming out. It's very interesting that he's coming across as almost the most sane person in the house and he's been hyped up, there's been all this media hype that Tourette's is going to come through in Pete and he's going to swear and it's going to be colourful TV and the whole nation is going to be shocked. I think that's been the whole thing behind it. But Pete's coming across really nicely. It's interesting that Pete does suffer from the swearing aspect of Tourette's - we haven't had much swearing from him.

ATKINSON
And that's a very unusual trait for Tourette's - it's not the norm?

BLOSS
No it's not the norm because only about 6% of people with Tourette's do have the swearing aspect. But it is interesting again to see that Pete does tic and occasionally does swear but he sort of holds himself back, whereas the rest of the occupants of the house are swearing all the time.

ATKINSON
Channel 4 say they chose Pete purely on the basis of his personality, it was nothing to do with the Tourette's Syndrome.

BLOSS
I don't think any of us believe that. I mean Pete - yes Pete does have a great personality, I think he's a very colourful guy anyway. It would be wonderful if he'd been put into the house and no one had hyped it up as the Tourette thing and that had come through, I think then we might have got a very sensible slant on it.

ATKINSON
But is this the way to educate public about Tourette's Syndrome?

BLOSS
It's a very hard one. At face value no it's not because Tourette's is very complicated, it needs explanation. Big Brother's not allowing for any explanation to come through. I don't know that Pete's the person to explain it, he certainly hasn't so far.

ATKINSON
Dr Mark Porter, you're in the middle of surgery I know but thank you for joining us. You've learnt more about Tourette's Syndrome, you say, than in all your years of practice and in all your years at medical school.

PORTER
I didn't actually know a lot about Tourette's Syndrome and I think that's a problem amongst doctors and amongst the general public and I think that's the one reason why Pete being in the show is welcome to me, I have learnt a lot. And I think the fact that he's - he's a great guy and he happens to have Tourette's Syndrome is a useful way to dispel some of the myth, ignorance and prejudice that surrounded the subject. Would I recommend a friend, family or relative or patient of mine to go on to Big Brother? No and I do wish them to listen to Professor counsel. But I think we live in a free world, he's an adult, he's made the decision to go on there and I think actually while I thought at the beginning it was going to be a disaster, I think it's actually worked quite well, as regards Tourette's Syndrome. Indeed looking at the household as a whole I see it as looking a bit like a - looking in one of those distorting fairground mirrors, there are extreme personality traits in there that as a viewer if you look you can see a little bit of yourself in lots of the people that are in there and I think it gives us a useful insight into what's going on in human life. Going back to this exploitation thing - I don't think because Pete's got Tourette's Syndrome it's exploitative to use people with "disabilities" (in inverted commas). These are adults who've made their own mind up, he's gone inside, he happens to have Tourette's. What would worry me most, and it's the same with any form of mental or physical condition, is that Channel 4 put undue pressure on that person knowing that they're particularly susceptible. For instance, with Pete, maybe in the following weeks - in the upcoming weeks we may see him set challenges that stress him and bring out his tics and swearing and I would be very uncomfortable with that.

BLOSS
I don't know that I would be uncomfortable with that because that's the nature of Tourette's, I mean we go through - as a Tourette person - I can say I go through stressful periods and the Tourette's certainly, as Mark said, do get worse, things do exacerbate the tics, for example. Pete doesn't have a very severe version of Tourette's, that's the other interesting thing, he has it quite mildly.

ATKINSON
Professor David Wilson, you're worried that this is the beginning of a slippery slope. We've had programmes in America recently where people with incurable diseases suddenly find themselves on television and will they die or won't they. Are we heading that way?

WILSON
Yes, is it next year we're going to have a paranoid schizophrenic? Is it the year after we're going to have a manic depressive? Is it the year after we're going to see in the name of entertainment someone self harm or indeed take their own life?

PORTER
I'm sure we're on some form of slippery slope and that the people - producers - behind all sorts of television programmes will push the barriers as far as they can. I think we should take a little step back - would we be having the same discussion, for instance, if Pete had epilepsy or asthma or acne or if there's a woman in there with breast cancer? I suspect not. And I think the problem is with many mental health issues that we don't understand them, we don't get much insight into these things and I think if programmes are going to be on then the one benefit that they can give us is that they do allow us to look at things and have first hand experience of things - I say first hand in inverted commas - of various challenges and aspects of life that we never get to meet, we only - we have our own pre-formed opinion about them. And I think that's particular pertinent about Tourette's.

ROBINSON
Dr Mark Porter. And when Carolyn said he was in the middle of surgery she meant his GP's surgery, not brain surgery or anything like that. She was also talking to Professor David Wilson and to Nick Van Bloss. And you can see Pete in Big Brother nightly at nine. You might like to know he's tipped to win it.




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