First black British TV news presenter

Happy New Year!

I wanted to start 2017 on this blog by writing about my own profession – journalism. If you’ve read the Why create this blog? page, you’ll know that I started this website as part of my MA in International Journalism and now I am writing my dissertation for the course, for which I have decided to research the lack of diversity in the British media and how this is contributing to black Britons creating their own ways to make their voices heard.

Anyway, during the course of my dissertation research I am obviously looking into the history of black people in British media and I came across the surprising news to me, which I wanted to share, that the first black TV news presenter in the UK was not Sir Trevor McDonald or Moira Stuart as I grew up believing but was, in fact, Barbara Blake Hannah.

If you’ve never heard the name before then I am sure you are not alone!

Hannah is a journalist from Jamaica and in the Guardian she set the record straight about her short stint as the pioneering black face for news on British TV in 1968. She writes that she was “appointed one of three on-camera reporters on Thames-TV’s daily evening show, Today with Eamonn Andrews”, in a role that involved interviewing all of the high-profile personalities at the time.

Unfortunately her appearance on TV was relatively short-lived as the producers came under pressure from racists to have her removed, so nine months after her debut her contract was terminated.

Of course her efforts were not in vain though as five years later, in 1973, Sir Trevor made it on to our screens followed not long afterwards by Ms Stuart, and no amount of ignorance was going to stop black people from pursuing journalism careers and making a contribution to the fourth estate after that ball had started rolling.

Hannah later worked for ATV-Birmingham and then BBC-TV’s ‘Man Alive’ before returning to Jamaica in 1972. She has since gone on to have a successful career as a writer and film-maker in the Caribbean.

So now that I am working on my dissertation I have to admit that I am, perhaps naively, actually quite surprised at the lack of diversity in the British media. According to the most recent figures from City University in December 2015 – journalists in the UK are 94% white and 55% male.

How this has come about is a bit of a mystery to me as black people are much better represented in areas which you might think would easily cross over with media, such as the entertainment industry and sport, but for reasons which I hope to explore in my dissertation there are just not many of us working in TV, radio, newspaper or online newsrooms as writers, producers or editors. And of course even fewer in the top echelon and decision-making positions.

I think I’ve said before on this blog that when I was growing up and I decided to be a journalist, my main inspirations were white TV reporters such as Kate Adie and Martin Bell – mainly because I wanted to be a war correspondent – and I never really considered their colour, or whether there were many black journalists or if journalism was a profession that black people could succeed in. I just knew that I wanted to write and tell stories.

However, I hope you’ll agree that it is worrying in a multi-cultural society, when one of its most important and influential sectors does not represent a large proportion of its people, and it does not take a rocket scientist to see the issues around discrimination and marginalisation this might cause now and in the future.

Anyway, I will keep posting on here are much as possible while I study and of course if you have any ideas about black, British people who should feature on the site then I’d be glad to hear about it.

I wish you all a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2017.

Black and British on the BBC

Gosh where does the time go? I looked around and it was the middle of November.

Anyway, just a quick post to say how extremely happy I am about the Black and British season currently airing primarily on BBC Two.

I watched a documentary on Wednesday (9th November) called Black and British: Our Forgotten History by David Olusoga and it rang so true to me because it’s part of what I’ve been trying to do on this website – namely bring to life the stories of black heroes and heroines which seem to have been lost and are certainly not taught to us in school or usually mentioned in the mainstream media.

David Olusoga

David Olusoga – copyright BBC

It was a thought-provoking and powerful story of Britain’s multicultural past and amply demonstrated just how much black people have always been intertwined with the United Kingdom going back as far as the third century AD.

One of the most poignant aspects of the programme for me was the story of a white man called Cedric who could trace his ancestry back to a black servant called Francis Barber. Barber was born a slave in Jamaica but eventually ended up living in York in Samuel Johnson’s house. Apparently Cedric is just one of about two to three million ‘white’ people in Britain who actually have a black ancestor – it was a fascinating twist which demonstrates how many of us are connected in ways we probably don’t even know.

The documentary was a series of eye-opening stories which eloquently demonstrated the fact that black people have been living and contributing to the development of Great Britain for centuries and have just as much right to be here as anyone else.

After the documentary there was another programme called Black is the New Black and I really enjoyed this simple, storytelling first person approach which just involved famous UK black people talking about what it means to them to be black and British.

Black is the New Black

Black is the New Black – copyright BBC

Featuring the likes of Lenny Henry, Dizzee Rascal, Naomi Campbell, John Sentamu and Les Ferdinand – it was like listening to friends recalling home, school and work life in the 70s and 80s and most of their experiences strongly resounded with my own.

I’ve said before on this website that I struggle on a daily basis with fitting into Britain – obviously I know that I am British by birth, but my skin colour seems to exclude me from fully claiming the label of my birth nationality.

Some people might say a sense of belonging is all in the mind, and to some extent I’d agree, but let’s not be naive enough to think that society, the media, and how our fellow citizens react to us does not play some role in how we feel we integrate into where we are from, and whether we feel as though we truly belong.

This website was partly developed out of my ‘belonging deficit’. I felt the need to know exactly how much black people had contributed to the UK so that I could feel a sense of pride and possession as well as learn from their experiences and achievements.

I will be watching as many programmes as I can while the Black and British season is on so that I can be encouraged, uplifted and empowered – I highly recommend that you watch them all too.

It is also definitely worth visiting the Black and British BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0499smp – for lots more interesting insights and stories.

Clive Myrie: Always a story to tell

I found a story this morning on the BBC website that I want to share on this blog. It’s not completely relevant to what this blog is about but I found it fascinating especially as it gave me some insight into a journalist I admire – Clive Myrie.

Clive Myrie

BBC – Clive Myrie on assignment

Myrie was born in Bolton in Lancashire in the 1960s to Jamaican parents and since 1996 he has worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC. He’s just finished working on a special series of programmes for Panorama called ‘What Britain Wants’ and his episode is about finding work.

The episode will be shown on BBC One at 10.45pm tonight (Mon 16th March) and the promotional coverage on the BBC website features some insightful glimpses into Myrie’s personal story.

It chronicles how his Jamaican uncles joined the Royal Air Force and fought in World War II and goes on to detail why his parents came from the Caribbean to live in the UK and how Myrie learnt, by watching and following their example, the benefits of hard work.

Myrie talks about his parents making sacrifices to look after him and his siblings and you can tell that their courage inspired him to do what he is doing today.

He also goes on to say how much he admired Sir Trevor McDonald when he was growing up and why it was so important to see someone that looked like him on the TV. In an interview with The Independent newspaper Myrie bemoans the fact that there are not enough black people following in Sir Trevor’s footsteps, he says: “You’ve only got to look at the TV screens to see there’s not the kind of representation of black Britons on the screen as one would like.”

But he has made the breakthrough and even though he is now based in Brussels there is no doubt that he is very British and his story is inspirational and certainly adds another strand to the rich tapestry of Caribbean people living in the UK.

Check out Clive Myrie’s story here on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-02b18d60-92f2-4158-b34b-10c85dae2bc0

‘A people needs a voice’

When I was a teenager and I decided I wanted to be a journalist my role models were Kate Adie, Martin Bell and John Simpson – this was primarily because I was interested in being a television war correspondent and also because I admired their courage, their story telling techniques and their ability to find the stories that would otherwise never see the light of day.

Obviously I realise now that most of the journalists I admired were white, which is fine, but there were two leading high-profile Caribbean journalists on TV at the time – Trevor McDonald who was born in Trinidad and Moira Stuart who had a Dominican mother and Barbadian father and was the first African-Caribbean female newsreader on British TV.

I think I must have taken the presence of Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart for granted and I certainly never thought much about the challenges they might have faced to get to where they were or anyone who may have gone before them.

However if I’d considered it more carefully and known more about some of the obstacles facing black people trying to forge a career in the British media, I think my role models would have definitely included one particular person – Claudia Jones.

claudia-jones-400x400

Claudia Jones was a ground breaking civil rights activist, feminist, political campaigner and journalist.

She was born in Trinidad in 1915 and moved to America when she was eight years old. After a harsh, poor upbringing Claudia became politically active and joined the communist party. In 1955 she was deported from the US for her communist beliefs during the controversial McCarthy hearings and after serving time in prison she was given asylum in England.

Claudia came to the UK when race relations between the West Indian community and white English people were at boiling point.

People from the Caribbean had been coming over in large numbers since the Windrush arrivals in 1948 and primarily at the invitation of the NHS and London Transport, but their presence was resented by some of the white population and they began to target black people on the street with verbal and physical abuse.

Race discrimination was the norm and signs saying ‘No Irish, Blacks or dogs’ were commonplace in the windows of shops and rented accommodation.

Claudia immediately recognised a need to inform and unite the black community in Britain and she realised the best way to do that was through a medium that would highlight the issues affecting them and provide a way for them to communicate with each other. So in 1958 she founded and edited the West Indian Gazette which was Britain’s first black newspaper.

claudiajones

The West Indian Gazette, which was published weekly, covered race issues which were prevalent at the time, provided news from the Caribbean and encouraged input from young, black writers who were not able to breakthrough into mainstream media because of racism.

The paper became an important tool to inform and educate the Afro-Caribbean community and it encouraged them to galvanise and unite against racism which was threatening to rob them of their right to seek a better life in the UK.

A few months after launching the paper Claudia also conceptualised and organised, along with others, the first Notting Hill Carnival which was held in St Pancras Town Hall in January 1959.

The event was developed in response to violent race riots in Notting Hill in 1958 and again the aim was to bring together the Afro-Caribbean community and enable them to celebrate their culture and positive aspects of West Indian life.

Claudia died on Christmas Eve in 1964 at the age of 49. The West Indian Gazette, which had always struggled financially, only produced four more editions after her death but its legacy, and the legacy of Claudia Jones, can certainly be seen in the British media today.

Soon after Claudia’s death, the actress, activist, and writer Ruby Dee wrote in the West Indian Gazette that she “made of her life a fury against poverty, bigotry, ignorance, prejudice, war, oppression — for all our sakes.”

I certainly believe that I have benefited from Claudia’s determination and drive to contribute to the UK – she made sure black people in Britain were represented in the media, given a chance to hold the mic and make their voices heard.

References / further reading:

http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/claudia-jones/4566344886

http://www.itzcaribbean.com/community-uk/claudia-jones-remembered-shango-baku/

http://caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/crb-archive/16-may-2008/excavating-claudia/

http://landmark.lambeth.gov.uk/display_page.asp?section=landmark&id=5425