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Then Barbara Met Alan — release date, cast interviews, plot, trailer, first looks, and everything we know

Then Barbara Met Alan shows the fight for disabled civil rights in the 1980s and 1990s.
Then Barbara Met Alan shows the fight for disabled civil rights in the 1980s and 1990s. (Image credit: BBC)

Then Barbara Met Alan is a one-off drama on BBC2 that follows the real events that turned Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth into leading campaigners for disabled rights in Britain. 

Written by Jack Thorne (Help, National Treasure) and actress and writer Genevieve Barr, the drama stars Ruth Madeley and newcomer Arthur Hughes as Barbara and Alan, whose brave and well-orchestrated protests pushed disabled rights into the spotlight.

"I’ve known about Barbara’s work for a very long time," says Ruth Madeley. "Never in a million years did I think I’d get to play her, she’s so special. I think it’s really important that more people know about her because so many people still don’t. She blazed the trail to make sure that disability rights were taken seriously. And to make sure that disabled people have choice and rights, with everything that they do in life."

So here's everything you need to know about Then Barbara Met Alan on BBC2...

The cast as campaigners for DAN in Then Barbara Met Alan.

The cast as dedicated campaigners in Then Barbara Met Alan. (Image credit: BBC)

The fight for disabled rights often got messy... as Then Barbara Met Alan will show.

The fight for disabled rights often got messy... as Then Barbara Met Alan will show. (Image credit: BBC)

Then Barbara Met Alan release date

Then Barbara Met Alan launches on BBC2 on Monday March 21 at 9pm, 2022. The one-off drama will then become available on BBCiPlayer. We'll update if we hear there's going to be a US air date or worldwide release.

Then Barbara Met Alan plot

Set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Then Barbara Met Alan follows the story of real-life couple Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth. The pair were disabled cabaret stars who first met at a gig in 1989. They teamed up to campaign for disabled rights and became the driving forced behind DAN — the Direct Action Network, which was behind a number of fearless protests that thrust the issue into the limelight.  

Up for the battle! Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth, played by Ruth Madeley and Arthur Hughes.

Up for the battle! Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth, played by Ruth Madeley and Arthur Hughes. (Image credit: BBC)

The members of DAN (Direct Action Network) campaigning in Then Barbara Met Alan.

The vocal members of DAN (Direct Action Network) campaigning in Then Barbara Met Alan. (Image credit: BBC)

Then Barbara Met Alan cast — Ruth Madeley as Barbara Lisicki and Arthur Hughes as Alan Holdsworth

Barbara Lisicki is played by Ruth Madeley, who stars in The Watch. She’s also been in The Accident, Years and Years on BBC1 and the hit ITV series Cold Feet. Barbara says, “I was a child when this was happening, and knowing my rights as a disabled woman are down to Barbara is huge. With disability, everything is a fight. To get every drop of what you are entitled to as a human being is a real fight. This is a huge part of British history that a lot of people don’t know about.”

Arthur Hughes. who plays Alan Holdsworth in Then Barbara Met Alan is a relative newcomer but he has had roles in Help, alongside Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham, plus The Innocents and Doctors

Ruth Madeley and Arthur Hughes.

Ruth Madeley and Arthur Hughes as Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth. (Image credit: BBC)

Ruth Madeley on playing Barbara Lisicki

Ruth says: "Barbara is so many things. She's a leader, a campaigner, a mum - an absolute powerhouse. You couldn't make up a character like her! Together with Alan they make such a charismatic couple - creative, fun and a bit wild. But they got stuff done, and did it on their own terms. They couldn't have achieved what they did without each other.

 "I met the real Barbara and was terrified. I shamelessly wanted Barb to like me. I was scared she'd think ‘couldn’t they find anybody else?’ But she couldn’t have been lovelier. It was great to learn about that period of her life. Playing her was a real honour. She was fighting for a law that would affect my entire life. 

"It's every actor's dream to play an amazing character. It’s even better that this was a real story of such importance. There was absolutely nothing that would have stopped me from doing it!"

Then Barbara Met Alan has over 30 disabled cast and crew and 55 disabled extras which was important for Ruth: "Often on sets you’re the only disabled person there. To be surrounded by so many people with an array of disabilities, was something else. For too long disabled stories have been left untold and disabled creatives have been left behind. This completely demolishes all of that!"

Ruth Madeley meeting the real Barbara Lisicki.

Ruth Madeley meeting the real Barbara Lisicki. (Image credit: BBC)

Arthur Hughes on playing Alan Holdsworth

Arthur says: "Alan is a musician, a disability rights activist, and one of the founding members of DAN. He’s also known as Johnny Crescendo - his musical alter ego! The relationship with Barbara is complicated. Real magnetism drew them together. In a short space of time they were parents and established DAN. Barbara was a realist with a pragmatic approach. Alan was more of a dreamer. Being civil rights leaders, raising a child, and taking on the establishment was no easy feat…

"As soon as the casting came out for Alan, I was straight in there. A leading role for a disabled actor is rare. Disability rights are still not fully won, so it’s important we keep the message alive. What Barbara, Alan and DAN achieved was huge - everyone should know about it."

Arthur met Alan via Zoom: "Alan lives in the States so we Zoomed. I was quite nervous. I’ve never played a real person. He had so many great stories and is a passionate advocate of everything that DAN achieved. We’ve kept in touch; he’s a lovely guy."

Arthur Holdsworth as Alan in Then Barbara Met Alan.

Arthur Holdsworth as Alan in Then Barbara Met Alan. (Image credit: BBC)

Look out for Liz Carr in Then Barbara Met Alan

Liz Carr, who played pathologist Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness and can currently be seen in The Witcher season 2 on Netflix, has a cameo role. She actually plays herself over 30 years younger in Then Barbara Met Alan as she took part in the campaign for disability rights.

Liz Carr as Fenn alongside Simon Callow in 'The Witcher' season 2.

Liz Carr  as Fenn alongside Simon Callow in The Witcher season 2. (Image credit: Netflix)

Is there a trailer for Then Barbara Met Alan?

Yes a trailer for Then Barbara Met Alan has been released by BBC2. Do take a look below...

All about the real-life campaigners Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth and their battles

Barbara Lisicki (see above pictured with Ruth Madeley) is a stand-up comedian who worked under the stage name Wanda Barbara. She was the UK’s first female disabled comedian and met Alan Holdsworth at a Disability Arts Cabaret gig in Milton Keynes. He used the stage name Johnny Crescendo. The pair had a baby together and went on to work together as performers and activists. 

They founded the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network and challenged the stereotypes of disabled people used in advertising, films, and charities. They organized for more than 1,000 people to block TV charity telethons, which they said were patronizing towards the disabled community. During the 1990s DAN protesters blocked roads and chained themselves to buses to get their voices heard and in 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act became law. Protesters also staged a sit-in at the Labour Party Headquarters in 1996 and chained themselves to the gates of Downing Street a year later. 

Nicholas Cannon
Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.