Today is the anniversary of the birth of Joey Deacon who was someone I’ve come to greatly admire and whose book greatly influenced me in how I look and contribute to Society.

Joey Deacon’s life, his birthday and his impact on me

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Joey Deacon who was someone I’ve come to greatly admire and whose book greatly influenced me in how I look and contribute to Society.

Joey Deacon - tongue tied

If you are under 40, you will probably have no idea who Joey was.  If you are in your 40s like me, you will probably remember with shame the playground ‘jokes’ of the early 80s where being compared to Joey Deacon was a source of mockery and insult. Thatcher’s children were a cruel lot.

So if you don’t know who he was or have blocked it from your memory,  Joey Deacon spent most of his entire life in a Hospital Institution due to severe cerebral palsy. In the 70s, he wrote a book on his experience called Tongue Tied under a series of publications called ‘Sub-normality in the 70s’ published by MENCAP.  He sadly died soon after his Blue Peter appearances in 1981 but his book had a profound impact on me when I tracked down a copy about 10 years ago.

So why remember Joey Deacon on his birthday?  For me there are several reasons:

1)      His determination was incredible.  He wrote a wonderful short autobiography by combining the skills of 4 close friends. His best friend Ernie (who also had cerebral palsy) was able to understand Joey speech and effectively translate Joey’s actions to words. Another patient, Michael then wrote it down in longhand. It was then typed by a fourth friend, Tom (who was initially unable to read or write but taught himself to type in order to help). It took them fourteen months to write forty-four pages.  Each friend had a skill and together they achieved their goal.  To me, that is a simple put powerful example of what can be achieved in a world of co-production and co-operation, where we value and share people’s skills and resources to achieve a goal.

2)      Something that struck me when I re-read his book is how long he spend ‘institutionalised’. The lack of support or personal plan for him is shocking compared to modern times. He was highly intelligent yet was unsupported/under-stimulated for long periods. Thankfully supporting people with disabilities has changed for the better with some great work done here in Wales. I recently spent some time with Cartrefi Cymru and was constantly impressed with their focused approach for each person they support, ensuring each individual’s aspirations are at the heart of each and every support plan.

3)      As a society, we are good at airbrushing over the past. To put it bluntly, Joey Deacon was famous with children in the 80s for being ‘a spastic’. It was a source of mockery and insult. People of my age will likely deny calling their friends ‘Joey’ or stealing someone’s shoe.  I remember being in University in the mid 1990s and it was still a term of insult then. I think I last heard it in the early 2000s.  However, a quick online search shows hundreds of insulting Meme’s in Google Images sadly demonstrating that this still exists. Twitter has a couple of 'Joey' insults a day. Wikipedia has removed and toned down the section about ‘Blue Peter and cultural impact’ on the Joey Deacon page, which feels like we are pretending it never happened. We shouldn’t forget what makes us uncomfortable.

4)      Equally some of the language and phrases used in the book gives an occasional shock. Even the official strapline of ‘Sub-normality in the 70s’ caused some discomfort in the TPAS office this morning.

5)      The final thing I took away was how positive Joey and his friends were despite all the obstacles that society at the time (and their disabilities) presented to them.  They were creative, funny and inspirational and have had a profound and positive impact on me.  

So on the anniversary of your birthday Joey, I raise my paned (Welsh tea) to you. Pen-blwydd Hapus! 


David Wilton, Director

TPAS Cymru

Twitter: @Dai_TpasCymru