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Shaban, Nabil (1953-)

Actor, Writer, Presenter

Main image of Shaban, Nabil (1953-)

Nabil Shaban was born in 1953 in Amman, Jordan and arrived in England when he was three for treatment for his osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle-bone disease). He spent the next six years in hospital and seven in a children's home. In 1980, he and Richard Tomlinson founded Graeae (pronounced Grey Eye), a professional theatre company of disabled performers. A writer and performer with many film and television credits, he is probably best known to television viewers for his role as ruthless businessman Sil in the Doctor Who stories 'Vengeance on Varos' and 'The Trial of a Time Lord' (BBC, 1985 + 1986).

Graeae Theatre Company built up a reputation for high quality, challenging work that played to mixed audiences across the country. It allowed Shaban and fellow members to write, produce and act in a variety of roles that would otherwise be closed to them. Shaban played major roles like Hamlet (1988), Jesus (Godspell, 1987), Haile Selassie (The Emperor, 1987) and Volpone (Fleshfly, 1996).

His British feature film credits include City of Joy (d. Roland Joffé, 1992), Wittgenstein (d. Derek Jarman, 1993) and Born of Fire (d. Jamil Dehlavi, 1987), while on television Shaban acted in Walter (Channel 4, tx. 2/11/1982) and its sequel Walter and June (tx. 26/5/1983), Raspberry Ripple (BBC, tx. 1/4/1988) and Skallagrigg (BBC, tx. 9/3/1994).

Shaban has presented several documentaries on themes of disability, including Skin Horse (Channel 4, tx. 18/12/1983), about disability and sexuality (which he also wrote), The Fifth Gospel (, tx. 3/6/1990), exploring the relationship between the Christian gospel and disability, and Without Walls: Supercrips and Rejects (Channel 4, tx. 9/4/1996), about Hollywood's representation of disabled people.

In 1994, he founded Sirius Productions to make video arts documentary Another World. This was followed in 1997 by 'The Alien Who Lived in Sheds' (BBC, tx. 24/9/1997), commissioned by the BBC for the series Over the Edge (1993-97).

Shaban is also known for his political activism. In 1985 he staged a personal protest against the apartheid regime of South Africa on the steps of the embassy in Trafalgar Square and in 2003 his opposition to the war in Iraq compelled him to return nearly £25,000 to 10 Downing Street, funds he received to finance a screen version of his theatre play The First To Go. Shaban's principled stand meant that the project on which he had laboured for many years was cancelled.

Nabil Shaban was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Surrey for the achievements of his career and his work to change public perceptions of disabled people.

Ann Ogidi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Wittgenstein (1993)Wittgenstein (1993)

A playful portrait of the philosopher by Derek Jarman

Thumbnail image of Walter (1982)Walter (1982)

Ian McKellen stars in a moving drama about a mentally disabled man.

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