Why has Black TV failed to progress beyond The Real McCoy?

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Caribbean (IN)Visibility on British TV/Cinema Screens – CaribDirect Seminar

Dominica High Commission

London SW5

Thursday 5th December 2013

CaribDirect hosted an excellent seminar on the lack of Black presence on British TV and cinema screens as part of their ‘The Caribbean and you’ seminar series.

The seminar was hosted by Angie Le Mar, winner of Best Theatre Lead at the recent 10th Anniversary Black Comedy awards for her acting in her play ‘In My Shoes’.  Attendees heard presentations from Ron Belgrave, Director Sankofa Televisual, Akin Salami, Chief Executive, OHTV, Marcus Ryder, BBC Scotland Executive and Royal Television Society Member, Samuell Benta, Director and Actor, All About the McKenzies and Aml Ameen, Film,TV Actor – ‘The Butler’ and ‘The Bill’.

carib invis seminar panel051213aThe seminar was dedicated to the late Felix Dexter and a minute’s silence was observed at the start of the evening to his memory. He was originally booked to host the show, but sadly as a result of his untimely death on October 18th 2013 that was not possible.  Felix was honoured at The Black Comedy Awards 2013 on 19th December with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award.

Statistics

In an insightful and highly fascinating seminar, one of the things that stood out for me were the jaw dropping statistics set out before the audience. For instance, Akin Salami outlined a selection of statistics on the number of non-British TV channels in Britain.

60 – Asian channels. 

6 – African.

0 – Caribbean channels.

That’s astonishing and at the same time quite depressing that well over 50 years since Black Caribbean’s have settled in Britain, there still isn’t a single Caribbean TV channel.

“If we don’t see images of ourselves reflected on screen it must have a huge impact on people’s self-identity. It’s part of our psychological diet,” said Akin as he reflected on the relative paucity of Black faces seen on TV/Cinema, especially Black British one’s.

amlameen&guests carib invis seminar051213

Marcus Ryder, brother of Barrister, Mathew Ryder, said whilst there are a few Caribbean programmes on TV, these do not reflect proportionately with the ethnic breakdown of the UK:

14% – UK population

15.6% – London’s populations

40% – London is Black and Minority Ethnic

69% – UK Black population live in London

50% – Black people watch Eastenders.

17% – UK population watch BBC comedy.

5%  – Black population watch BBC comedy.

Clearly Black people are under-represented when it comes to comedy, including scripted comedy such as sit-coms. He argued that the population statistics should be reflected in the Black presence on TV screens. I found the statistics on comedy astonishing, quite shocking and hard to believe. I may be biased as a lover of and promoter of comedy, but to say only 5% of Black people watch BBC comedy is quite something. Black people are quite a loyal audience though. That much is apparent from the high proportion of Black people who loyally follow the goings on in Albert Square, home of ‘Eastenders’.

carib invis seminar051213

Samuell Benta

Samuell delivered a brilliant and powerful presentation, giving his take on what got him into writing, acting and directing. His driving force was the lack of Black British shows on TV, for whilst  he could watch US sit-coms and shows such as ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ on any day of the week, his life wasn’t reflected on TV, so he set about writing it himself via the web series, ‘All About the McKenzies’. That was nominated for ‘Best Web Series’ at The Black Comedy Awards 2013. His show has now had a third series commissioned to go on TV on the new London Live channel in 2014.

That just shows what can be done with talent, belief and a lot of hard work and determination to overcome obstacles and succeed.

Solutions

Marcus said viewers need to complain – not to one another or on social media, but via the correct channels, where their complaints have to be addressed and cannot be ignored i.e. by writing into the BBC or ITV for instance. He admitted that TV executives, himself included, hate getting complaints as it means that they have to spend a lot of time replying to them, thereby taking them away from the production, creative and strategic side of their role, which they would much rather focus on.

It was also suggested that viewers need to start supporting and watching Black satellite channels. Once the bigger, terrestrial channels see their ratings rise they’ll start taking an interest and perhaps buy the show for their channel or invest in similar programme content that they realise there is an audience for Black shows.

Professor Gus John stressed the need for people to “develop a collective consciousness. To collectively support one another and Black channels.”

The Dominican High Commissioner Ms H.E Francine Baron thanked everyone for their contributions and acknowledged that there was much work to be done to increase the representation of Black people on British television and cinema.

There was talk of re-showing The Real McCoy. I think that’s rather a tired old argument that needs to be put to bed. It’s history. Clearly, in spite of the demand and keen interest from the public, the BBC aren’t going to release it. People need to move on. Hale and Pace, The Harry Enfield Show and many other shows date back to The Real McCoy times (1991-1996), but people don’t go on about re-showing those much loved shows. It’s time we had developed other comedy shows, sit-coms, dramas and documentaries etc… in much the same way as many other shows have been produced since then.

The title of this Blog asks why has Black TV failed to progress beyond ‘The Real McCoy’. Perhaps there has been too much harking back to the “good old days” and not enough creative, forward-looking individuals like Samuell Benta deciding to create their own series that reflect their lives today. Yes, the mainstream channels clearly have not invested in contemporary Black British shows to the extent many would have liked to have seen.

The web series creators, including ‘At Home with the Adebanjo’s’, winner of Best Web Series at The Black Comedy Awards 2013 are showing there is another way. This show has crossed over successfully onto multiple platforms – on-line, TV (The Africa Channel), theatre and DVD.

I also think there is a role for the Black satellite channels to do more to channel Black acting, comedic, musical and journalisic talent via their platforms. Of course, it’s fair and reasonable to challenge the BBC, since we pay license fee money and one can argue that money should be spent proportionately and that it’s output should represent all UK citizen’s. However, in this era of multiple satellite channels and competition, I don’t think it is right to just blame the BBC for everything and leave it at that. We have to look forward, create for self and if the terrestrial channels show interest fine, if not, move on, onwards and upwards creating shows that Black television and cinema viewers wish to watch.  

©  Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

Vox Africa report (4 minutes) featuring interviews with Aml Ameen, Angie Le Mar, Ron Belgrave and Samuell Benta

Video of the seminar (26 minutes)

Carib Direct review and photo gallery

Making complaints to BBC and ITV

BBC complaints

ITV complaints 

ITV complaints – general public advice

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16 Responses to Why has Black TV failed to progress beyond The Real McCoy?

  1. Pingback: Why has Black TV failed to progress beyond The Real McCoy … | Monique Charles

  2. Tiemo Talk says:

    In response to a question on Facebook, 30th December 2013, asking me for my solutions to the lack of progression in Black television post ‘The Real McCoy’, I outline a few recommendations below.

    Points for Programme makers to consider

    1. Don’t necessarily make the terrestrial channels, BBC, ITV, C4 & C5, your first point of call to get your programming proposals commissioned.
    2. Focus on getting commissioned by African British based TV channels, Sky and other satellite stations.
    3. Demonstrate how your programme proposal(s) will increase ratings for a channel.
    4. Be prepared to walk before you can run i.e. if you are unsuccessful with points 1& 2 above, be prepared to go it alone and create your own programme(s), write, direct and produce for your self and your audience. Although this may seem like a slower route, take note of Samuell Benta’s success with ‘All About the McKenzies’.
    5. Produce and release your own shows on You-tube. Promote them well and build a following, such that TV channels become interested in your programmes.
    6. Support one another more i.e. partnership working between black businesses to achieve mutual goals.
    7. Black channels to commission more home grown, original content.
    8. If the Black channels are unable to commission/purchase such programmes, identify what these barriers are and seek to remove them.

    Points for viewers to consider

    9. Provide feedback to the terrestial and black channels if you consider that they are not showing any programmes in relation to your interest in watching realistic Black British productions.
    10. With regard to existing programmes featured on black and terrestrial channels, provide feedback, whether positive or negative. Be as robust in offering feedback as you would be towards the BBC.

    As a reader of this blog, consider what you would regard as “supporting one another” in achieving progression in Black representation on TV. We at Tiemo would love to hear your views and could assist in passing on your comments to the relevant TV stations and other relevant media including newspapers.

  3. john says:

    Black people are under-represented in many things especially in TV, we are better with movies. I like the discussion around the facts and statistics where society is failing the british blacks. It is clear from the meeting that blacks are not getting enough support. The group want someone to take the risk to put on the shows, we talked about, this is the issue?

    This meeting was good, but what happens next, too many meetings like this and not enough feedback on the next steps and what has improved towards the aims discussed on the night. Liked the meeting I am enthusiastic about the strength of the group there and the many talents spoke about, but I am hungry for there to be a difference in the TV shows on national TV and it needs to represent the UK better than what it does now.

    I will certainly be at the next meeting.

  4. Tiemo Talk says:

    Thanks John. I agree with your points. For instance, movies are doing very well currently featuring Black British actors and Directors e.g. the award winning 12 years a slave, The Butler and Nelson Mandela.

    Risk? Exactly. The ideas are there. Pitches have been made, but clearly Black shows aren’t getting commissioned, produced and broadcast by either the mainstream or satellite (including Black channels) TV stations. Hence we have a proliferation of “free to air” web series.

    I’ve just listened to another good debate on this on BBC R4 featuring the BBC’s Pat Younge and Kwame Kwei-Armah.

    BBC Radio 4 – The Media Show, Birds of a Feather, The Telegraph, diversity in the TV industry , What’s the answer to the declining diversity figures in the creative industries?

  5. Tiemo Talk says:

    Britain’s ethnic minorities need better access to the TV and film industry by Lenny Henry, writing in The Guardian, 24th January 2014.

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