Analysis: The pros and cons of a TV link-up

The charity Changing Faces had a mixed experience when it helped with a programme about disfigurement

Andy Tedder and Elicia Davies
Andy Tedder and Elicia Davies

When the disfigurement charity Changing Faces decided to collaborate with Channel 4 on a six-part TV documentary series, it was aiming for positive publicity for its cause. The result, however, was not everything it hoped for.

In Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice, people with disfigurements spend time with other people who are preoccupied with being beautiful. Andy Tedder, for example, who has Treacher Collins Syndrome, spends 10 days with the reigning Miss Manchester, Elicia Davies.

One success for Changing Faces was that the programme-makers altered the proposal for the show after a briefing from the charity, according to Winnie Coutinho, its head of campaigns and communications.

"They wrote a new concept with the information they had," she says. "They changed some of the language and some of the basic understanding of the issue - for example, at Changing Faces we try not to show disfigurement as a tragic experience."

The documentary has led to an increase in traffic to the Changing Faces website and sparked discussions on Twitter, says Coutinho. The charity has a link on the Channel 4 website and one of the participants mentions the support it receives from it.

A further benefit, Coutinho says, is that some people who have seen the programme have said they are "seeing people in a different way and they are understanding the beauty culture in a different way".

The downside was the show's title, Beauty and the Beast. The charity was concerned that people would inevitably associate the word 'beast' with some of the people featured in the series. Channel 4 argued that it was a reference to "the beast within the beauty industry". The charity persuaded it to add a subtitle to explain the use of 'beast', but the subtitle chosen - "the ugly face of prejudice" - prompted the charity to publish a statement on its website saying it had warned Channel 4 that the use of the words 'beast' and 'ugly' could "cause offence".

Even with the subtitle, there have been a number of complaints, says Coutinho. And involvement with the programme has taught the charity a number of useful lessons.

"It's important to be clear about what you're prepared to accept and what you're not - if you get into sensational publicity, it could undermine your integrity and reputation," she says. "You should have a solid risk-management programme."

The concept for the series came about when one of the charity's media volunteers was working at a production company that was interested in making a programme about disfigurement. The volunteer put Channel 4 in touch with Changing Faces. The charity put forward four of the six people that appear in the series, making it clear to them that the title was Beauty and the Beast and the charity would have no editorial influence on the programme.

"There were regular updating sessions where we made sure the people involved were happy," says Coutinho. "Channel 4 had to make sure those involved were robust enough to deal with it, so there were also psychological assessments."

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