sun 23/06/2024

Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice, Channel 4

Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice, Channel 4

Great television as stammerers make moving journey towards self-expression

From last year's 'Educating Yorkshire': Musharaf with his teacher Mr Burton

What a difference four days can make. Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice took us on an emotional journey from deep frustration and pain towards something like triumph and hope. "Triumph" may seem a big word, but it was hard to think of a better one after the film’s final scene where the stammerers whose progress we had been following came out and spoke with confidence in public.

The one we knew best was Musharaf Asghar from last year’s Channel 4 Educating Yorkshire, with its closing episode that showed the severe stammerer reading a poem out aloud to the school. He’d been coached and encouraged towards that by his teacher Mr Burton (main picture) with that fluency achieved partly through listening to music on headphones as he spoke (they'd used The King’s Speech as an example). Moving moment though that was, it was obviously only a temporary solution.

They had all come a long way in this hour of great television

Which had Musharaf – or Mushy, as we quickly came to know him the modest, bright but shy 17-year-old who used his computer to express the thoughts he couldn’t get out – setting off to Guildford to join the McGuire Programme, a concentrated course for stammerers. When he got there and registered at the hotel, Mushy was literally speechless, the agony of not being able to get out even his own name surely heightened by the presence of the television camera (the rapport that the programme-makers had clearly built up with their subjects was obviously very close, with no hints of self-consciousness). Among the others who joined him there was 23-year old Vicky, who had developed her stammer a year previously after a minor stroke, and Debbie, who'd recently cancelled the birthday party she'd organised for herself, intimidated by her inability to communicate even with her closest friends.

It was a four-day intensive experience, run with great sensitivity and determination by coaches who were all former stammerers and had been through the programme themselves. Their very example must have been as important as anything else in persuading Vicky to stick with it and not run away in fright. She was a vibrant personality, even though she felt she'd changed since her stroke, full of laughter even when she couldn’t get the words out – she’d found that stammering on an “h” converted easily into the “ha-ha” of laughter – and unusual here for the fact that her stammer was recent: Mushy had developed his at the age of six, after bad asthma.

Their first steps involved using “costal” breathing techniques, where, with a belt tied around their chests, they learnt to get each word out on the big swell of a released breath. But it was all as much about building confidence as anything technical, as they went on to face up to challenges like telephone calls (they were phoning past graduates of the course: clearly it’s an institution that keeps those it has helped involved). Then it was off outside to face the even bigger anxiety of interacting with total strangers in the street (above right: Mushy with Vicky, right, course leader Rich, left). It didn’t always go well, but the responses from most of the people they were trying to talk to certainly re-enforced your faith in human nature: one man who Mushy introduced himself to went on to shake his hand, and held it for as long enough as it took Mushy to finish his sentence. When Vicky got up in a pub and introduced herself, they gave her a round of applause. Even when we remembered there must have been a degree of artifice given the presence of a television camera, it was inspiring stuff.

By then we knew that the final scene, where each stammerer spoke out to an audience composed of everyone’s family and friends, was going to end well, but there was nothing overtly driven or constructed about this documentary. The emotions were anything but forced, and the tears as real as can be - shed not only on screen but by audiences as well, I’m sure of that. Brief follow-ups showed us that progress was continuing: Debbie was celebrating her 25th birthday, Vicky addressing an audience to raise funds for research into her medical condition, and perhaps most movingly of all, Mushy was back at school – this time as a classroom assistant at the start of a possible career in teaching. They had all come a long way in this hour of great television. They’d confronted their biggest fears to pursue the simplest of dreams – to speak. And they’d found their voices.

They’d confronted their biggest fears to pursue the simplest of dreams – to speak. And they’d found their voices


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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