Mike Maclaine: Deaf couple teach Mel Giedroyc to sign on BBC Two’s Letterbox

Posted on August 21, 2017



Mike Maclaine is the Series Producer for BBC Two gameshow Letterbox which this month featured Deaf couple Sabina and Asif. Watch the episode here.

Have you seen the new BBC Two gameshow Letterbox? Presented by the wonderful Mel Giedroyc, it’s a simple yet addictive word game, designed to be played-along-at-home, as pairs of contestants compete head-to-head in an attempt to crack a series of passwords and win £2,500.

One of the things I have loved about working on the programme is that you don’t have to be a typical quizzer to take part. This made the process of finding contestants to appear on the show even more enjoyable.  If you can spell a word, then you can crack a Letterbox password! This really seems to appeal to people who may not have considered taking part in a gameshow before and it was also really useful in helping us to find a diverse group of contestants.

Deaf couple Sabina and Asif (below) entered the show in its third week and quickly showed Mel (and the rest of us) how to play the game a little differently.

It was great fun to watch the couple give Mel a signing lesson of their own, and the presenter turned out to be a very quick learner.

They were delighted that she introduced them to the programme in BSL and used the fingerspelling alphabet throughout the game, showing the production crew and hopefully the wider audience how sign language is the norm for a lot of Deaf people and can be really fun to learn.

Just as important as creating a fun and competitive episode was giving Sabina and Asif a platform from which they felt able to educate parts of the audience who may not know much about communicating with Deaf people and to show that being Deaf was not a restriction to their ability to play the game.

Sabina, whose sign name we learned relates to her long wavy hair (two hands open either side of the head, fingers slightly curled and moved in a wiggle movement from the head to the shoulders), said: “We really wanted to apply to have a go as it sounded like a lot of fun and we wanted to challenge stereotypes – taking part shows that Deaf people can do everything but hear.”

Her partner, Asif, said: “This episode will be so important to challenge perceptions about Deaf people and to show the nation that the use of BSL and interpreters can be smooth and easy, whilst raising general Deaf Awareness. Mel was so easy to communicate with and eager to put her newly learnt BSL into practice… I think she will win the hearts of the Deaf community! The whole production team were positive and welcoming throughout – we hope this encourages more programmes to open up the doors of opportunity for Deaf people to be part of TV programmes including gameshows.”

The pair even said that fingerspelling (as well as practicing word games at home) prepared them well for the show. We had a great time working with Sabina and Asif, and it sounds like the game has them hooked.

It’s not too late to play along at home yourself, catch their episode on the BBC iPlayer now: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0906w9b/letterbox-series-1-episode-13

For more information about Letterbox, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/mel-giedroyc-letterbox

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Posted in: Mike Maclaine