Stammer School, TV review: Educating Yorkshire's Musharaf stars in inspirational documentary

 

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Musharaf Asghar was the 16-year-old in Educating Yorkshire who overcame his stammer with the help of English teacher Mr Burton and a technique borrowed from Oscar-winning movie The King's Speech. When Musharaf gave his own speech, it was one of the most moving moments of the TV year. Mr Burton cried, we cried at home, they even cried on Gogglebox.

More's the pity, then, that real life is not an Oscar-winning movie, nor even a Channel 4 docu-soap. As we were reminded in Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice, it takes more than one magical TV moment to really turn a life around.

The earphones method, Mr Burton pointed out, was only ever meant to be a short-term confidence boost. At the start of this one-off documentary Mushy – as he's come to be known by the millions of TV viewers all personally invested in his progress – still had his stammer. He was one of several enrolled on the pioneering McGuire Programme for stammerers in south London, but could any real change occur on a course lasting just four days?

Musharaf had one of the most severe stammers of the group and began the course unable to say even his own name. But it was also Musharaf who most movingly articulated (via a laptop keyboard) the confidence-crushing impact a stammer can have: "If I could speak fluently I would show people who I really am," he said.

This feeling of voicelessness was shared by Debbie, a 24-year-old nursery nurse who'd been dependent on her sister to '"translate" since early childhood. She'd recently cancelled her own birthday party to avoid the stress of small talk. Vicky, also 24, had been an outgoing personality before developing a stammer 18 months ago following a minor stroke. "I like it when I stammer on a 'h', cos it's like ha ha ha," she giggled, but there were tears too. It was particularly sad to see a personality as irrepressibly sunny as hers temporarily repressed by her condition.

Reality television loves a triumphant transformation and this documentary delivered another tear-jerker – imagine the emotional impact of Musharaf's original Educating Yorkshire speech, times three. But how real were these transformations? And how long will they last after the camera crew leaves? We can't know, of course, but it's impossible not to feel that grit of the kind these guys demonstrated must win out eventually. "No matter what you do, hard work always pays off in the long term," said Musharaf at the hour's close – and this time he said it without the laptop.

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