The whole country is in a state of shock, but shock associated with the sudden loss of losing someone close concentrates the mind wonderfully and I recognise all the comments that have poured out on Facebook regarding Steve Weddle’s death. They do tick all the boxes. This is what happened to me when our son had a stroke and ended up in Worcester hospital fighting for his life. As a therapy I used the time to write, “Shoot First No Ordinary life,” the story of my BBC career at Pebble Mill which many of you have read.
What a character Steve was and yes taken far too young, for he had much more to offer this life. There were things about him I could never get my head round, like rushing off to London with only the flimsiest of reasons to find time with Hot Spurs or some name like that. There were his books of course, and BBC pensioners meeting every month will certainly not be the same without him, especially as he always dominated the Raffle presentations. But there was much more to this larger than life character than meets the eye, especially for me personally.
As editor of Daytime Live behind all the facade and bonhomie was someone who was deep, showed great courage in his work, often moving where many ‘feared to tread’, even prepared to gamble.
Let me explain. Every so often I was given the opportunity by various programmes to move from my day job to direct and produce my own films. Probably in the bar, exactly when I don’t remember, Steve asked me if I had any out of the run ideas he could use for his 1pm Daytime Live show.
Off the top of my head I told him I knew of an 18-year-old Downs Syndrome girl at my son’s special college who was very articulate who might make a short piece. Not exactly Daytime Live but it might work.
At this time mental handicap especially, Downs was still very much ‘out of sight out of mind’. Education, as against being put in an institution, had started but opportunities to be able to contribute to life in any meaningful way were nil.
The result of this five-minute chat was a film I called My Name Is Jane, the story of a young Downs Syndrome girl telling us what she wanted to do with her life, how she didn’t see herself as handicapped, but just wanted opportunities to be like everyone else.
Johnny Couzens, whose first outing as cameraman this was, did a wonderful job and once we had the material with Chris Rowlands editing Steve wanted to see what I’d been up to. He entered the editing room when we were about halfway through but already well past the ten minutes normally allocated. It was a nervous time, what would he think, it was definitely not the run of the mill, was this a film he could use? I was told to get on and finish it.
The result was a thirty-minute insert that was to dominate the special programme he had set aside for the subject, a subject that was to carry on into the following day’s programme.
There was more, the enormous viewing figures and responses showed the gamble had paid off. Letters came pouring in, and not just from this country. Jane just being Jane had opened people eyes to the possibilities that those with a handicap must not be written off. What she said gave great comfort to parents, to all those with a learning disability, and to those who care a sign of hope. For me it was the most satisfying film I have ever made.
Steve would have none of it of course, but without Steve’s courage to take a gamble, to think outside the box, none of this would have happened. But that was Steve all over, its why he was a very special person to me, why he will be missed but certainly not forgotten.
John Williams 17-3-20