Why we made The Trouble with Dad…

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By David Baddiel | Friday 17 February 2017

The documentary The Trouble with Dad that I’ve made with my brother Ivor and SunDog Productions stars…my dad. That seems clear to me, when I watch it. The star of this film is Colin Brian Baddiel. My dad is the star of the film not just in the sense that it’s about him, and tells his story, but because he, in most of the scenes he’s in, dominates the room. He’s funny and sparky and wild and putting everyone else down and winding everyone up, and the viewer, I would suggest, just wants to see more of him. I don’t know if he fits the old Hollywood male formula of “women want to sleep with him, men want to be him” – probably not quite – but he is the star.

Why am I going on about this? I know showbiz people are obsessed with billing, but this is ridiculous… you may be thinking.

David Baddiel, right, with his father Colin and brother Ivor

David, right, with his father Colin and brother Ivor

The reason is that when we started this film I wanted to show another side of dementia – a different version of it. My dad has Pick’s disease, a frontal lobe dementia, and it’s a very different form of brain disorder to Alzheimer’s. Although short-term memory loss is part of it, the main symptoms are anti-social behaviours – swearing, aggressiveness, inappropriateness, mood swings etc etc. For me and my family, this was weird, as my dad had always been like that. So what happened when he got Pick’s Disease was a kind of cartooning of self, an exaggeration of who he’d always been.

And, to some extent, this was why I thought it was OK to put him on film. Because he’s not the empty object of pity that documentaries and movies about people with dementia can sometimes make them out to be. He’s not just sitting in a wheelchair covered in a tartan blanket staring into space. He’s not only vulnerable. Quite the opposite, for much of the time. My dad is more likely to be dictating everything, making the conversation entirely about him and his (normally extremely off-colour) banter. He is what people schooled in improvisation technically call high-status. He is anarchically powerful: a whirling dervish, a bull in the china shop of our everyday restraint and politeness.

This doesn’t make him easy. It doesn’t make the tragedy of an intelligent man having dementia any less. But it does, at least, change the narrative. And it makes him present, rather than absent, him, rather than a lost man. It makes him a star.

The Trouble with Dad airs on Channel 4 from 9pm on Monday 20 February 2017.


  1. Elizabeth on 17th February 2017 at 5:57 pm

    My Dad has some variety of Alzheimer’s disease and I really wish people would move away from “personality destroying death sentence” to “varying continuum of memory change”. His short term memory does work, albeit in a non-linear way. His long term memory works better. His general feeling of being a useful member of society is occasionally trashed by people’s reaction his diagnosis. He is a very intelligent man who knows what’s happening to his brain. It p****s him off no end. He notices that connections that were second nature to him are lost. He is my Dad. He is and always will be a brilliant man. Start treating dementia sufferers like ordinary folks turning into old gits. Make it normal. Make it fun. It works.

    • Susan Macaulay on 18th February 2017 at 12:47 pm

      Yes! I couldn’t agree with you more Elizabeth. And you could help the process even more by ditching the words “dementia sufferers” and replacing them with “people who live with dementia.”

  2. pk preston on 17th February 2017 at 9:58 pm

    wife has big D i try to treat her like normal i take her to pub which she enjoys apart when i leave her and go to bar! ppl who know her cannot believe the person she now is,in such a short time,some shun us others chat and try their best,its hard and not made easier by DWP.but i have hope after 44 yrs of marriage + even though i have no rest because i cannot afford it.

  3. Jean Ellis on 17th February 2017 at 11:17 pm

    Will this be aired in Australia? Our dad died with Pick’s Disease, confirmed at autopsy – so little seems to be known of why it happens or to whom. Unfortunately, in the end, it was a ‘personality destroying death sentence’ – glad you got some footage before that happened.

    • ARUK Blog Editor on 20th February 2017 at 9:32 am

      Hello Jean. We don’t know whether this will be aired in Australia. You may be able to watch it online once it has aired in the UK tonight through the catch up service if this is available to you in Australia.

      • Jean Ellis on 26th February 2017 at 6:52 am

        We are unable to access catch-up, iplayer, etc. once we leave the UK, but perhaps one of the Australian channels will air it one day.

  4. Susan Macaulay on 18th February 2017 at 12:49 pm

    You nailed it. Thanks.

  5. Leslie Hickerson on 19th February 2017 at 6:52 pm

    As the author points out, Pick’s Disease is very different from Alzheimer’s, in that it *starts* at executive function (thus, the hypersexuality, confabulation, hoarding and other anti-social behaviors) and works its way down to memory loss, confusion and aphasia. In fact, Pick’s is rather the inversion of Alzheimer’s in this regard. The onset tends to be much earlier (as early as one’s late twenties, but generally sometime in the fifties) and because of that, it’s hell to diagnose. Furthermore,because this FTD takes out executive function first, by the time it’s properly diagnosed, behavioral treatments/therapies are completely useless. Finally, Pick’s actually *is* always a death sentence, *always* fatal, usually within 3-7 year of the very first symptoms. My mother’s onset was in her late fifties and her decline was sharp and brutally horrifying. The only slightly good thing about it is that it is exceedingly rare and not one of the more hereditary FTDs.

  6. Marion on 23rd February 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Your dad sounds so much like my mom. She is almost 70 and also has pick’s disease. She has also always been the way she is. Just, now she seems also an exaggeration of herself.

  7. Nina Herbert on 5th March 2017 at 11:01 am

    Picks disease is a very cruel dementia and yes the symptoms are different to Alzheimers. I take my hat off to you for making this documentary about your dad so the public can see what this awful disease does to a person. I lost my younger sister to Picks disease so I witnessed all of her awful symptoms that come with Picks Disease and how she just changed from being a completely different person in a matter of weeks. She died last October 2016 she was 62 years of age.

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About the author

David Baddiel

David Baddiel is an award-winning comedian, author, screenwriter, director and television presenter known for his work with Newman and Baddiel, Fantasy Football, Baddiel & Skinner Unplanned, and his platinum number one single Three Lions. A published novelist and a screenwriter, Baddiel is the author of several children's novels: The award-winning The Parent Agency is now being developed into a film by Fox 2000. He has also written four critically-acclaimed adult novels and the hit film The Infidel starring Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Matt Lucas and Miranda Hart. David returned to stand-up comedy in 2013 with his critically acclaimed show, Fame: Not The Musical. In Spring 2016 he premiered his newest show, My Family: Not the Sitcom, at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory. The show since went on to complete a five-week stint on London’s West End, returning in March 2017 for a 12-week run at The Playhouse.