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Home > Media

Tragic Relief: TFT goes to Dad

28 February 2005

As you're almost certainly already aware, two weeks from today is Comic Relief's 10th Red Nose Day. Now you may very well be one of those people who actually physically shudder at the thought of Red Nose Day, as well as Children In Need and any other such interminable charity telethons where, simply because we know that lives will be saved and suffering alleviated as a result, we have to pretend for an evening not to want to strangle the likes of Lenny Henry, Terry Wogan and Anthea Turner. Particularly Lenny Henry.

Well, just stop it. It's only once every couple of years, for God's sake. And it's not all Lenny Henry. Why, this year there's even a 10-minute Vicar of Dibley Special to keep you smiling. However, if you can honestly find nothing remotely comic about Comic Relief, no matter how hard you try, at least think of the 337 million that has been raised since 1985 and, you know, grin and bear it. It's for a good cause. Or rather, a number of good causes.

Over the years, Comic Relief has been particularly keen to raise awareness of some of the more difficult issues. It hasn't always plumped for the easy starving or battered baby coin, but rather has focussed its attention on, amongst other issues, homelessness, domestic violence and disabled rights. This year is no exception with a campaign aimed at something you generally hear nothing at all about: elder abuse. To spearhead this campaign, for the very first time - intentionally at least - Comic Relief has veered away from laughter with the screening last night on BBC1 of Dad.

This subtly powerful and disturbing film featured Richard Briers as octogenarian Larry James struggling with a wife with Alzheimer's and a son with an increasingly short temper. Where the film is particularly successful - and terribly depressing - is in highlighting the different kinds of abuse available to old people: specifically the neglect of nursing home staff, the intolerance of family members and the not-particularly-interested attitude of the public at large.

TFT went along to a preview of the film last Sunday, and in the Q&A session that followed the screening, one audience member remarked upon how very bleak and hopeless the drama was and asked the panel - which included the writer and the producer, Lucy Gannon and Hilary Bevan Jones, as well as representatives from Comic Relief and Age Concern - just how they expected viewers to react. The consensus was that the whole point of the drama was to raise awareness. Sarah Stone of Age Concern pointed out that what we need to do is 'make the link between abuse and attitudes, and to link elder abuse to the whole human rights agenda.' As was repeatedly underlined, elder abuse is not something that we particularly care about as a nation. One audience member made the point that although we have laws specifically for the protection of children, as well as for the protection of animals, we have no specific laws to prevent the abuse or exploitation of our old folk.

Bearing all of this in mind, old age really is the most horribly depressing prospect. It's hardly surprising then that we generally try our best not to think about it. If we're not lucky enough to be loaded in our dotage, all we really have to look forward to is smarmy conmen like Michael Howard trying to siphon what life force remains, watching our friends shuffle off into oblivion and then being shunted ourselves into an old people's home. And as Lucy Gannon pointed out on Sunday, 'The majority of old people's homes are private and are run for profit. The lucky ones are the ones that are going to die before they get there.' Whoa there. Enough now. Where the hell are the jokes?

But of course, this is the whole point. Co-founder of Comic Relief Richard Curtis put it like this: 'Like child abuse and domestic abuse before it, the taboo surrounding elder abuse has got to be broken.'

And remember, as depressing as the sight or thought of old people coughing up phlegm, involuntarily loosing their bowels and being bashed on the head by their loved ones may be, it's a damn site more palatable than Lenny Henry trying to be funny.

Every cloud.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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