Colin Young is a 27 year old actor with cerebral palsy. He also sits on the Scottish Committee for Equality and Human Rights Commission, is Senior Policy Officer for the Health and Social Care Alliance in Scotland, and is working part-time on his PhD on the effects of therapeutic intervention on the identity of children with cerebral palsy.
How did you get involved in acting?
Pure chance! My brother-in-law has cerebral palsy and is an actor. I signed with an agency whilst I was at Loughborough University. I directed a play about the second immaculate conception, set on a Stockport council estate for my dissertation, and things have grown from there!
Fast forward to 2010, and I was about to leave my job as Policy and Information Officer for Children and Young People at Mencap to move back to Scotland and start my PhD. My agent called and asked me to audition for Jacob and that was that.
How did Jacob’s latest storyline come about?
Heidi, the writer, wanted to show two people with a disability. She has approached the issue really sensitively and bravely. People forget what happened to people with a disability. It’s not a part of history that gets talked about.
The episode had a lovely focus on the relationship between Sally and Jacob - their disability was just an aspect of it. It’s important to maintain the fine balance between what aspects of disability have to be mentioned, whilst understanding that an impairment is a part of someone’s life. There’s a really touching scene where Trixie, one of the midwives, feeds Jacob a cup of tea - it really highlights the practicalities of impairment. Straws weren’t so available back then.
What’s it like working with Sarah Gordy?
To be honest, I was a little starstruck! Sarah’s a brilliant actress. She gets very involved in the part, and really brings you into it. I would love to act with her again. We got on really well and people said we had good chemistry. She’s a great person, both on and off camera. I have a lot of respect for her as she does it full time. I think there needs to be more roles for disabled people, played by actors with a disability.
What do you think viewers will think of the storyline?
I think they’ll find it challenging. It has a lot of different dimensions to it, and the contrast of life today with life in the 1950s will be stark. Yet even today, many children born to people with a learning disability have their children taken away from them. Back in the 50s, the figure would have been much, much higher.
I think it’s quite progressive of the writers to pair me, a physically disabled person, with a person with a learning disability. Somebody without a learning disability might find it hard to consider dating someone with a learning disability, but my physical disability adds another level of complication - and obviously that’s made even worse by the fact that the baby is conceived out of wedlock.
The fact that Jacob doesn’t get arrested, despite the initial outcry, is also poignant. If Jacob had been someone without impairment, he may have found himself in trouble with the law, rather than simply being sent away.
What do you think viewers with a learning disability or cerebral palsy will think when they watch it?
“I could do that better!” Haha, I don’t know. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I think it’s important that people with a disability are seen acting on television so that people realise that anyone can achieve their dreams and be accepted.
Did you like playing Jacob? If you could go back for a third episode, what would you like the storyline to be?
Absolutely! Jacob is a great character. Plus, he has amazing outfits and a wicked haircut - my whole family hated the hair, but I loved it! I’d like to see Jacob return to continue his relationship with Sally successfully in the Poplar community. The 1960s was the start of the disabled people’s movement, so there could be a link to disabled people rallying against living in the care home.
What was being on the set of Call the Midwife like?
The cast and crew were amazing, everyone was so helpful and accommodating and it was a really inclusive atmosphere, and all the actors hung out together. It felt like a real family environment and was very welcoming.
If there was a movie about the life of Colin Young, who would play you?
Kermit the frog! No in all seriousness, if it were ever to happen I would want another actor with cerebral palsy, who’s younger and more talented!