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27 February 2009

Disabled student becomes BBC presenter

And walks into prejudice row


A TRAILBLAZING BBC presenter who trained at MMU's School of Theatre has become the subject of a row over prejudice towards people with disabilities.

Talented Cerrie Burnell, who was born with only one hand, recently took over presenting children's programmes on CBeebies.

But complaints from parents that she is 'scaring children' have sparked outrage at the Beeb and with newspaper columnists and disability rights campaigners.

In January, the actress was unveiled along with Alex Winters as the new face of the popular children's channel following in the footsteps of the likes of Andi Peters, Phillip Schofield and Zoe Ball.

Passionate

The 29-year-old studied BA Theatre Arts at MMU before going on to appear in the likes of Holby City, EastEnders, The Bill and Comedy Lab. She has combined her acting career with working as a teaching assistant in a special needs school.

Taking the job, she said: "I'm really passionate about firing up kids' imaginations, so this is a dream job come true for me, especially as I also have a young daughter. I've never done TV presenting before so its been brilliant fun getting to ice cakes, getting covered in glitter and reading bedtime stories."

This week the BBC revealed it had received nine official complaints and many more blog comments from parents who claim the sight of Cerrie could "possibly cause sleep problems", and that they are being forced to discuss the issue of disability with their offspring before they are ready.

Lucy Mangan, the Guardian columnist wrote: "Altogether, it makes you glad that the medieval witch-hunters weren't internet-enabled. The comments of course reveal nothing about the children's true feelings and everything about those of the adults involved!"

Role-model

Head of the School of Theatre Niamh Dowling said: "Cerrie is multi-talented and has already proved herself on television and in the theatre. She is very relaxed about her disability and we would hope her fame gives confidence to other people with disabilities."

For Lucy Mangan's column, go to www.guardian.co.uk/culture/tvandradioblog/2009/feb/24/cerrie-burnell-tv-disability-cbeebies.

* Image courtesy of the BBC.