Autistic Superstars? The world’s gone bonkers

THE kids are slumped in front of the TV, mesmerised by Autistic Superstars. “Hey, you two; let’s do something more... WHOA! Just rewind a second. Autistic Superstars? What kind of a show is that?” Turns out – of course – that it’s from my b�te noire: that great repository of taste, BBC Three.

THE kids are slumped in front of the TV, mesmerised by Autistic Superstars. “Hey, you two; let’s do something more... WHOA! Just rewind a second. Autistic Superstars? What kind of a show is that?” Turns out – of course – that it’s from my b�te noire: that great repository of taste, BBC Three.

Having just seen Nick Clegg sitting next to David Cameron in the Commons, and those dreadful one-eyed Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville that look like unsuccessful applicants at a Pokemon audition, I think the week can hold no more surprises. But Autistic Superstars is a surreal step too far. It makes the 1960s series The Prisoner look like a sober travelogue.

Part of a season that includes Autistic Driving School [sic], Autistic Superstars involves presenter Reggie Yates searching for a cast of talented young people with autism to perform at a music event. Now, Carly and Martin have amazing voices, but autism means life is a great challenge. Breaking normal routine for voice-coaching sessions and rehearsals is anxiety-inducing, particularly for Carly.

Being eminently fair (of course), I can see all sides of the argument. On the one hand, much of the population knows little about the condition; getting information out on national TV – and showing that people with autism can have amazing gifts that might not be immediately apparent – can only combat ignorance and prejudice, and aid understanding. (Certainly young James is gripped, and asks some sensible questions.) On the other, I’m convinced a format with awful echoes of X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent is completely the wrong vehicle to address such issues.


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There is, sadly, an air of the Victorian freak show about Autistic Superstars. It was particularly uncomfortable when Carly sang a song with some very adult lyrics.

It all sits uncomfortably with me. I’m so regularly hard on BBC Three – motto “Never afraid to try new stuff: We’re fearless” – because it’s invariably crass. (Might I present Exhibits A, B and C, Your Honour: Bizarre ER, Freaky Eaters, and The House of Tiny Tearaways.)

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To be fair, there are some powerful documentaries worthy of BBC One or Two. The WAGs’ trip to South Africa, to experience the reality of life behind the gloss of the World Cup host nation, is one. Another is Blood, Sweat and Luxuries, in which Brits swap comfortable lives for foreign shanty towns to work alongside people who make luxury goods. But a channel injecting “entertainment” into everything it touches is the wrong one to entrust with a sensitive subject like autism.

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