17 June 2014
Peter White, reknowned BBC correspondent, rounded off ‘SenseAbility’ - a successful four-day event at the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire. Organized by Tanvir Bush in partnership with Bath Spa University, SenseAbility explored inclusion in the arts. Review by Emmeline Burdett
Peter White MBE began his broadcasting career at BBC Radio Solent in the early 1970s. Later, he moved to BBC national radio as the presenter of ‘In Touch’, and he is now the BBC’s Disability Affairs Editor.
One of the insights I gained from his talk at Corsham Arts Centre was that one danger which blind horse-riders face is that posed by low-flying aircraft! This remark was made by White’s first ever interviewee, a young blind woman interviewed for a series of programmes aimed at blind listeners, and broadcast by BBC Radio Solent in the early 1970s. Rather nonplussed by being told to interview someone merely because she rode horses, White asked the young woman what particular dangers were faced by blind horse-riders. If nothing else, her response demonstrates that they both had a sense of humour!
The day’s Open Symposium had been based around the question ‘Do disabled artists and audiences still have to scream to be heard in the 21st Century?’ White admitted that he was perhaps not best placed to answer this question – at school, ‘A pile of clay remained just that’ – he could not transform it into a useful object such as a pot. However, during Meccano Club at his second ‘special’ school, he told the teacher in charge that he had created a ‘one-legged nitwit’. White realised that he was actually artistic, as by his use of language he could create something that was more than the sum of its parts.
White’s radio career began when, having turned up at the offices of BBC Radio Solent to request employment, he and his white stick were spotted by the producer of a new series of programmes aimed at blind people. He cut his teeth carrying out interviews such as the one mentioned above.
White’s initial impression that working in a disability-related area represented ‘failure’ changed as disability politics developed, and he made it clear that, although he had risen to be the BBC’s Disability Affairs editor, it was in some ways now much harder than it had been for disabled people to get ‘a foot in the door’ at the BBC. For example, there is a paucity of dedicated recruitment programmes, and workshops are not really an adequate substitute.
White contributed his own capacity for success largely to the fact that his independent and capable blind elder brother had set the bar very high, as had the confidence that his parents had in both their sons.
White’s confidence was something which the conference’s organiser, Tanvir Bush, said she had found encouraging when, as a person not long diagnosed with a progressive visual impairment, she saw White striding confidently down a busy London street, and not apologising for being there, as Bush often felt obliged to do.