Seb Cunliffe: Making See Hear On Tour – a travel show with a difference

Posted on October 25, 2017

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This article originally appeared on About The BBC.

See Hear on Tour follows the adventures of young Deaf traveller Rosie Benn and her intrepid teddy bear Clive as they make their way round Europe.

From the Hairy Bikers to Richard Ayoade, there are some great travel shows with some brilliant travel presenters on our TVs. But this summer, we set out to create our own for BBC Two. We wanted to make a travel show with a difference – with a Deaf presenter, a Deaf director, Deaf picture editors, Deaf animators, Deaf tour guides… and all in sign language.

Across five programmes, Rosie and Clive visit five European capitals, ranging from well-known places like Berlin and Amsterdam to more up and coming destinations like Vilnius, Lithuania. In each destination they meet Deaf people living and working within the city. From running amok in Lithuanian forests, to getting whipped with tree branches in a Finnish sauna, to teaching Dutchmen to ‘Go Dutch’, Rosie and Clive get up to all sorts of escapades.

On air since 1981, See Hear is the first and longest running deaf programme in the world. It is the BBC’s only programme broadcast in full British Sign Language, covering issues of interest to the Deaf community. But this short series is a bit of a departure from the programme’s normal diet of current affairs and topical features.

The idea was to come up with five episodes that might appeal to a new generation of Deaf travellers, who see their Deafness as a cultural identity rather than a disability. Throughout the programmes, the clear focus is on a younger audience. There’s a more colloquial manner of signing and more of the contributors and guides are Rosie’s age or thereabouts.

The Executive Producer Roger Farrant and Series Producer William Mager wanted the commentary to be more informal and humorous, in the style of shows like Come Dine with Me. We had to think of a way to translate this into something that would work for See Hear, so we gave the in-vision sign language interpreter, Daryl Jackson, (usually in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen) more of an immersive role in the series.

Traditionally our interpreters follow a neutral etiquette – but in this series we encouraged Daryl to express himself and let his personality shine through. He uses props, wears costumes and wanders in and out of the shot to make funny comments at appropriate moments. It’s a radical departure from our normal house style but we hope the audience will enjoy it. Daryl’s signing is accompanied by a voiceover from Broadchurch actor Joe Sims, in a colourful Bristolian accent.

“Zany” is the word I would use to sum up the series – it’s irreverent and off the wall. We drew a lot from Rosie’s character in real life. She can be really witty and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. As a director I felt that suited the tone of these episodes. We didn’t want to pretend to be something we weren’t, (i.e. a big budget travel programme) and as a result, the series feels really honest and all the more charming for it.

On location it was an incredible experience. We’ve uncovered a different side to familiar places like Amsterdam by seeing them from the perspective of Deaf residents. So, for example, we visited Lithuanian council estates built for Deaf people under Soviet rule and a Deaf club in Amsterdam, with one of the city’s trams recreated inside the venue.

There were a lot of funny moments as well – none of us could believe what the sign for the Alexanderplatz TV tower in Berlin is (hint: it’s the middle finger – a hand sign that would look rude to British deaf and hearing people alike!) – so of course, that had to go in the programme.

We all kept learning lots of new sign languages along the way. It’s a common misconception that all sign languages are the same wherever you go, but that’s not true. Rosie had to learn on the job as we grappled with signs that were very different from British Sign Language. We relied heavily on Deaf guides who were native to their cities.

We had to be really creative and go the extra mile to pull this off. We had a crew of just three people – the presenter Rosie, sign language interpreter Adrian and myself as the self-shooting director. Each half hour programme was filmed in just three days, and edited in just four days.

Despite that, I’d like to think the final product looks polished and creative – thanks in no small part to the dedication of the production team back at home. Everyone really pulled together to get this over the line, from Deaf picture editors to the Deaf animator who created the bespoke titles, as well as the entire post production team in Bristol.

Ultimately, it feels a very ‘Deaf’ programme, a programme that shows international Deaf culture and just how easy it can be for a Deaf person to get out there and travel. But having said that, I think there’s something there for everyone to enjoy.

Whether you’re a member of the Deaf community or not, See Hear on Tour is a travel show in its own right, we had a lot of fun making it, and I think audiences will have a lot of fun watching it.

See Hear On Tour begins in Amsterdam on Monday 30 October and runs over five days at 8am on BBC Two.

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