The BBC’s failure to put disabled actors on screen is an “absolute disgrace”, the actress Francesca Martinez (pictured) has said, as she accuses executives of talking about diversity for decades without action.
Martinez, a comedian who has cerebral palsy, said the BBC had “no leg to stand on” in its attitude towards disabled people, claiming it is merely one of their “favourite subjects” to talk about in futile conferences.
Arguing it was unfair to compel disabled viewers to pay their licence fee without seeing their lives reflected on screen, the actress disclosed she was once told the corporation did not want to turn EastEnders into a “freak show”.
Speaking at the Telegraph Ways With Words festival about her book, she added she had once turned down a non-speaking, non-moving role as a coma patient.
Martinez, who has starred in Ricky Gervais’ comedy Extras and Grange Hill, told an audience the BBC must do more to put diversity on screen.
“They like to talk about this subject; it’s one of their favourite subjects,” she said.
“I think it’s an absolute disgrace that we pay the licence fee and so few of us are represented. To me they have no leg to stand on.
“They do need to do a lot more. They’re in such a position of power. They need to reflect all the citizens in this country.”
She added: “I’ve been going to BBC conferences for 20 years about how to get more diversity on screen. As if it’s f----- rocket science – put more diversity onscreen.
“I went to a conference about 15 years ago and the producers of EastEnders were there. One ended it by saying ‘diversity is important, but we’ve got to be careful not to turn EastEnders into a freakshow’.”
She joked: “Have you seen EastEnders?”
Martinez told an audience she had once been offered the role of a woman who could not “speak, move or have any kind of expression”, which the BBc presented to her “very excitedly” as an example of ensring diverse representation on screen.
“I wrote back saying I didn’t think I possessed the skill to pull off such a demanding role,” she said.
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We agree more needs to be done across the broadcast industry, but we have never been idle, and have award winning programmes designed to tackle the issue. Alongside this, we have only just announced new specialist posts in BBC journalism. We have never been complacent and will continue to work hard to do all we can."