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Why we made The Trouble with Dad…

David Baddiel

The documentary The Trouble with Dad that I’ve made with my brother Ivor and SunDog Productions stars…my dad. That seems clear to me, when I watch it. The star of this film is Colin Brian Baddiel. My dad is the star of the film not just in the sense that it’s about him, and tells his story, but because he, in most of the scenes he’s in, dominates the room. He’s funny and sparky and wild and putting everyone else down and winding everyone up, and the viewer, I would suggest, just wants to see more of him. I don’t know if he fits the old Hollywood male formula of “women want to sleep with him, men want to be him” – probably not quite – but he is the star.

Why am I going on about this? I know showbiz people are obsessed with billing, but this is ridiculous… you may be thinking.

David Baddiel, right, with his father Colin and brother Ivor

David, right, with his father Colin and brother Ivor

The reason is that when we started this film I wanted to show another side of dementia – a different version of it. My dad has Pick’s disease, a frontal lobe dementia, and it’s a very different form of brain disorder to Alzheimer’s. Although short-term memory loss is part of it, the main symptoms are anti-social behaviours – swearing, aggressiveness, inappropriateness, mood swings etc etc. For me and my family, this was weird, as my dad had always been like that. So what happened when he got Pick’s Disease was a kind of cartooning of self, an exaggeration of who he’d always been.

And, to some extent, this was why I thought it was OK to put him on film. Because he’s not the empty object of pity that documentaries and movies about people with dementia can sometimes make them out to be. He’s not just sitting in a wheelchair covered in a tartan blanket staring into space. He’s not only vulnerable. Quite the opposite, for much of the time. My dad is more likely to be dictating everything, making the conversation entirely about him and his (normally extremely off-colour) banter. He is what people schooled in improvisation technically call high-status. He is anarchically powerful: a whirling dervish, a bull in the china shop of our everyday restraint and politeness.

This doesn’t make him easy. It doesn’t make the tragedy of an intelligent man having dementia any less. But it does, at least, change the narrative. And it makes him present, rather than absent, him, rather than a lost man. It makes him a star.

The Trouble with Dad airs on Channel 4 from 9pm on Monday, 20 February.

7 Responses to Why we made The Trouble with Dad…

  1. Elizabeth 17 February 2017 at 5:57 pm #

    My Dad has some variety of Alzheimer’s disease and I really wish people would move away from “personality destroying death sentence” to “varying continuum of memory change”. His short term memory does work, albeit in a non-linear way. His long term memory works better. His general feeling of being a useful member of society is occasionally trashed by people’s reaction his diagnosis. He is a very intelligent man who knows what’s happening to his brain. It p****s him off no end. He notices that connections that were second nature to him are lost. He is my Dad. He is and always will be a brilliant man. Start treating dementia sufferers like ordinary folks turning into old gits. Make it normal. Make it fun. It works.

    • Susan Macaulay 18 February 2017 at 12:47 pm #

      Yes! I couldn’t agree with you more Elizabeth. And you could help the process even more by ditching the words “dementia sufferers” and replacing them with “people who live with dementia.”

  2. pk preston 17 February 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    wife has big D i try to treat her like normal i take her to pub which she enjoys apart when i leave her and go to bar! ppl who know her cannot believe the person she now is,in such a short time,some shun us others chat and try their best,its hard and not made easier by DWP.but i have hope after 44 yrs of marriage + even though i have no rest because i cannot afford it.

  3. Jean Ellis 17 February 2017 at 11:17 pm #

    Will this be aired in Australia? Our dad died with Pick’s Disease, confirmed at autopsy – so little seems to be known of why it happens or to whom. Unfortunately, in the end, it was a ‘personality destroying death sentence’ – glad you got some footage before that happened.

    • ARUK Blog Editor
      ARUK Blog Editor 20 February 2017 at 9:32 am #

      Hello Jean. We don’t know whether this will be aired in Australia. You may be able to watch it online once it has aired in the UK tonight through the catch up service if this is available to you in Australia. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/catchup

  4. Susan Macaulay 18 February 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    You nailed it. Thanks.

  5. Leslie Hickerson 19 February 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    As the author points out, Pick’s Disease is very different from Alzheimer’s, in that it *starts* at executive function (thus, the hypersexuality, confabulation, hoarding and other anti-social behaviors) and works its way down to memory loss, confusion and aphasia. In fact, Pick’s is rather the inversion of Alzheimer’s in this regard. The onset tends to be much earlier (as early as one’s late twenties, but generally sometime in the fifties) and because of that, it’s hell to diagnose. Furthermore,because this FTD takes out executive function first, by the time it’s properly diagnosed, behavioral treatments/therapies are completely useless. Finally, Pick’s actually *is* always a death sentence, *always* fatal, usually within 3-7 year of the very first symptoms. My mother’s onset was in her late fifties and her decline was sharp and brutally horrifying. The only slightly good thing about it is that it is exceedingly rare and not one of the more hereditary FTDs.

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