- Black & British
- TV Rating: *****
- November – December 2016
- Channels: BBC2, BBC3 & BBC-1Xtra
A Brave New TV World
For so long, decades, many people have complained about the scarcity of Black programming on television. Many have forlornly pined for the repeat of ‘The Real McCoy’. That show ended an era ago back in 1996. Television and society has moved on and arguably we’re entering a brave new world of television that’s that’s going to be more inclusive, more Black and British. Fans can enjoy old clips on You Tube, but they need to stop talking about old, hit shows and instead focus on the new programmes being broadcast, be that on TV or YouTube. The stunning success of the critically acclaimed Black and British season from the BBC offered a taste of what can be delivered when a major TV station puts its heart into a dedicated focus on understanding and valuing diversity.
I found the season to be an absolute joy, as it offered hours and hours, of wonderfully diverse, educational and entertaining programming across the BBC’s television and radio stations. There was something for everyone.
We had contemporary documentaries like ‘Black and British’ featuring a galaxy of highly successful Black Britons across a span of industries – comedy, fashion, law, politics, sport and TV, including Sir Trevor McDonald, Les Ferdinand, Gina Yashere, Ozwald Boateng, Baroness Patricia Scotland QC and Beverley Knight. I watched this feeling so proud to hear the stories of so many talented, high achieving, hugely regarded individuals, many of whom I could identify with in the sense we had similar, Black and British upbringings. That was the thread linking them and I’m sure most viewers of African-Caribbean heritage. It was uplifting to hear their stories and their journeys. It was also a leveller to hear how despite their success and fame, they could still be brought back down to earth and reminded of their colour by everyday racist incidences.
David Harewood’s, ‘Will Britain Ever Have A Black Prime Minister?’ offered a fascinating, hard-hitting but clear statistical analysis of getting to the top professions; That was a real highlight as its analysis, courtesy of Faiza Shaheen and the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) showed just how difficult it will be for a Black Briton ever to become PM. I actually don’t think it’s impossible given the right circumstances. For instance, if Chukka Umunna hadn’t quite the Labour leadership race in 2015 he could have posed a far greater challenge to David Cameron during the 2015 general election and could quite feasibly have been PM now and we’d not be looking for the door marked Brexit, but that’s another story and one for another Blog altogether!
I loved ‘Back In Time For Brixton’ which followed a family as they are whisked through the decades in south London, from Windrush in 1948 to today. We saw through this modern day family re-enacting life through the decades as an immigrant family, just how life was for African-Caribbean’s arriving and settling in London.
Going much further back, there were historical documentaries, most notably, ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ by Historian David Olusoga. This highly watchable, 4 part series was a revelation in so many ways; for instance, discovering that the African-Caribbean presence in Britain dates back to Roman times and in the far Northern and South Eastern parts of these Islands.
On a lighter note there was comedy from rising star Dane Baptiste. ‘Sunny D’ is a brilliantly funny sit-com. If nurtured well, the BBC have a long term hit on their hands.
The role of Caribbean nurses was celebrated in ‘Black Nurses: The Women Who Saved the NHS’ and music was covered in the excellent ‘Story of Soul II Soul’ told by Jazzie B, with DJ Trevor Nelson. The latter was one of a number of musical programmes and debates featured on BBC TV and radio stations like Radio 1Xtra.
The Black and British season was produced in collaboration with a range of partners: the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, The National Archives, Black Cultural Archives and the British Film Institute (BFI). All also participated in the BBC’s Black British Hero social media campaign as well as running their own complementary campaigns.
Sir Lenny Henry, has campaigned heavily for the past few years for greater diversity on TV. He must be applauded for this and given a good deal of credit, as without his passionate and goal focused campaigning, I suspect that this Black and British series might never have got made.
I celebrate and thank the BBC wholeheartedly for this too as ‘Black and British’ is without a doubt the biggest, most comprehensive series of original Black TV programming in the entire history of British television history.
I hope it won’t be seen in years to come as historical blip, but instead as the rocket fuel that will launch many other Black programmes onto our TV screens, with many more original commissions and programmes of the highest quality this year and for years to come.
For this to come to pass is obviously down to the TV commissioners at the BBC and other stations, but that doesn’t mean the viewer at home can’t influence what happens next. Whilst the likes of Sir Lenny Henry and Idris Elba can get their voices heard by the powers that be and get their own programmes and films to screen more easily than many others, I see this as a collaborative team effort from them, the black community and in fact all viewers of whatever culture who want to watch more diverse programming on TV.
The ordinary viewer can assist their efforts in 4 simple ways:
- By simply watching these and other Black programmes when they are broadcast. As we know, TV is all about the ratings and all must be done to achieve the best possible ratings. Whilst I wouldn’t expect this genre of programming to challenge the likes of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘The X Factor’ in the battle for ratings, they should at least mirror a decent percentage based upon the African-Caribbean population of Britain.
- Spread the word about them. Often they are not advertised that widely even on the channels broadcasting them! So the ordinary viewer and those involved in the productions, on and off screen, should be encouraged to do all they can to self-promote their own shows. In this day of free email, texting, social media such as FaceBook and Twitter, it really isn’t that difficult, yet the pay off could be huge and out of all proportion to the effort required.
- Most important. Viewers must provide feedback directly to the TV stations. They are not reading your social media posts or listening in on viewer water cooler conversations, so a few minutes spent completing their on-line feedback forms could be worth its weight in gold. We all like to receive positive feedback and praise after all and TV stations are no different. This, or the lack of it, could be the difference between a show getting re-commissioned or not. BBC Feedback ITV Feedback
- Provide comments and feedback on Tiemo Talk of the Town and other media reviews of these shows. That way in one or more central places, readers can follow the trail of interest in a show, which will be visible to all, including the TV commissioners. This could be similar or more in-depth comments that viewers have already provided to the TV stations, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel with new feedback.
This isn’t just about the BBC either. ITV have run a series of 4 pilot shows in the run up to broadcasting the MOBO Awards of 2015 and 2016. So far out of those 8 programmes, not one has been re-commissioned. That needs to change otherwise the pilot episodes will develop a reputation for just being that and will never amount to anything. Perhaps the solutions offered up here were not followed.
Tiemo Talk of the Town demonstrated in its own small way the power of making the viewer voice heard last December by simply making the BBC aware, via Twitter, that it’s 4th and final episode of ‘Sunny D’ wasn’t actually available for download via TV although it appeared to be available via television. The BBC immediately looked into this and within 48 hours it was available to view.
I don’t know about ‘Orange being the New Black’ or what on earth ‘Black is the new Black’ means, but I do know that the power to ensure the BBC’s Black and British season is not just a one hit wonder, to a degree lies in the hands of the viewer. I hope this article in some ways helps ensure that viewers can provide the stimulus for more programming that entertains, educates and makes Black Britons feel proud and see their story as a vital part of a thriving and vibrant British TV landscape.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
- Black and British – The entire season available on iplayer for a limited period of time.
- Sunny D – Episodes 1-4 , further information and clips – November 2016
- All About the Mckenzies ITV2 pilot – Tiemo review – 21 November 2016
- Dropperz the Pilot – review – 21st November 2016.
- Are You Being Heard? Representing Britain on TV – Video featuring Sir Lenny Henry and Michael Peters – Part of the Future for Public Service Television Review – 22nd March 2016
- Exclusive reviews of ITV2’s four pre-MOBO 2015 Black and Minority Ethnic shows.
- No Laughing Matter – Black Stand Up Comedy article – Michael Peters – 23rd November 2015
- Why Black TV Failed to Progress Beyond the Real McCoy – article – 30 December 2013