Review of “Jeff Brazier: Me and My Brother”

Still of Jeff Brazier greeting his brother SpencerBBC Three - Jeff Brazier: Me and My Brother (available until Saturday, UK only)

I just finished watching this programme on iPlayer; it features a BBC presenter named Jeff Brazier trying to bully his younger brother Spencer, who has cerebral palsy, to make something of his life and cut the apron strings with his mother. At the start, Spencer had almost everything done for him by mother Jeanette, including washing and, apparently, dressing, and spent most of his time sitting in front of the computer playing games. The programme was focussed on the celebrity brother, however, who did most of the talking (by necessity), and so everything had to be seen to be done by him. And it didn’t work. (More: Inspire Blog.)

Spencer is actually not that badly disabled, and doesn’t regard himself as disabled. At one point, he seems to be saying to the female interviewer, who we never see, that he thinks of her as disabled, although we don’t know how (or if, perhaps that was just a mistaken impression) disabled she is, and she is not credited on either the film or the website. He can walk, he can run, he can drive a quad bike (which presumably means he could drive a car); he has a normal IQ, but his arm and hand coordination is poor and he cannot speak. He relies on Makaton (a form of sign language) and his own gestures to communicate, but only a few people close to him understand it all. Jeff thinks he can get him out of his shell by getting him to trial with a football team for people with cerebral palsy, then getting him to try out speech devices.

His footballing skills seem pretty good — clearly, his legs are not affected by his CP — but on the day of the trial, Spencer appears angry and refuses to go to the trial and ends up getting into a fight with Jeff. We hear Jeff shouting about how he’d done so much for him, etc., but this seems to have consisted of one kick-about after having been almost entirely absent from his life for more than a decade before. I noticed another trait in Jeff which is fairly common (but by no means universal) in men, which is that they think they can bully and tough-talk people into doing what they want, or what they think is best for them. For someone — even if male — who has spent most of their time around women (as I had when I encountered it at boarding school), it is just aggravating and intimidating. It might have been better to get a female professional to try and help him, but then, that wouldn’t have led to a programme focussed on the celebrity brother.

Jeff then takes him to Oxford to try out some sort of communication device, offering the incentive of a trip to a celebrity party nearby (that bit couldn’t be filmed). The device appeared to be an iPad with special software, and they showed him trying to change the voice to something approaching an Essex accent. He agreed to a 30-day trial, but Jeff had to ruin the whole exercise by taking “Spennie” to see a very severely disabled man with cerebral palsy (albeit with his own business who gives presentations) who uses a power-chair and operates a speech device with his elbow. Spencer did not like the idea of a communication aid because it would make him feel “more disabled”, and this encounter seemed to put him right off. Jeff pushed the idea of a sponsored walk to raise money for Spencer to buy the iPad, but Spencer insisted that he would pay for it himself; Jeff assumed that Spencer was just being lazy and did not want to walk for three hours, but it later turned out that Spencer did not want the device at all.

Towards the end, he tells his brother that he does not want to anything else with him and agrees to talk to the female presenter but not to Jeff. He had cooked a meal for Jeff, and in the absence of his mother proved that he could do things that he supposedly couldn’t, or just hadn’t, before. He accused Jeff of not appreciating the things he had done for him, such as cooking the meal. It was obvious that the presenter allowed him to talk more, rather than talking so much that we could not really tell how much of it came from Spencer.

After this, we find out that Spencer is looking into hiring a carer to take some of the weight off his mother, and that he is starting to socialise with Jeff (such as going out quad biking); whether, without the pressure from his brother and the suggestion that he has to be a credit to him, he might investigate the idea of using a speech device again, remains to be seen (though probably not by us). I must say, it’s sad that people have to fight to get these devices provided and that some find themselves unable to communicate for lack of funding in a wealthy country like ours — after all, there cannot be that many of them who need it. It must be extremely frustrating to be only able to express very basic preferences and emotions, and this might account for the displays of anger from Spencer seen in this programme. This video is about a woman named Imogen May who had to raise funds for her own device when the NHS initially refused to provide anything more than a sheet of laminated paper (although the NHS eventually agreed to fund it).

A film about a famous person trying to help a disabled sibling can work — one remembers the French film, Her Name is Sabine (from 2008; I wrote about it here), in which a famous French actress exposed the terrible suffering her sister, who has an autistic spectrum disorder, went through in the French mental health system after she became difficult to manage after a series of traumatic incidents. However, this format made helping Spencer entirely contingent on it being good PR for Jeff and making good telly, and the methods used clearly, and understandably, put Spencer’s back up. It certainly didn’t make me want to watch any of Jeff’s programmes, that’s for sure.

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