Celebrating BBC 100 years from the Audio Experts, and some question.
Their desire was to spread their ethics and beliefs to the world. That world could be construed as Britain, or beyond. What followed was one of the world’s biggest, and many might add, respected broadcasters in the world.
It’s 1922 and the men who have gathered, none of them with any radio experience, can see the value of this new wireless fandago in helping to achieve their aims. The BBC is born.
This and many other incredible stories were relayed to a small gathering of experts by the indefatigable Professor David Hendy, author of the mightily impressive The BBC : A people’s history. The book could have been twice its volume, Hendy (whom I know personally from both us working together at the University of Westminster) told me.
The event BBC 1922–2022 Navigating the Waves of Change held by the venerable Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association, abbreviated as MeCCSA, offered a bouquet of informative research over a day around the BBC.
I’ll provide more of what happened on the day, looking at presentations and captured audio, but in the meantime, the following:
Dr Liam McCarthy, my first radio boss whilst a student in the late 80s, delved into the genesis of the Asian Network in the UK. He explained how the rise of the right wing National Front and the bellicose and racist stance of the then council in Leicester provoked a BBC Radio boss to take bold action.
The council had taken out an ad in the papers, expressing the view that Asians must not to come to the city. A radio phone in followed in a row erupted around giving the anti-Asian sentiment air time. The National Front’s position back then reads like a modern day political manifesto.
Scrapping overseas aid, rejecting the common market, and a ban on immigration; where have you heard that recently?
Underlying Dr McCarthy’s study was an important question. How had station head Owen Bentley’s experiment to launch a radio show for Asians, using sponsor’s cash, resulted in years down the line UK-wide Asian programming? Conversely, in the 1970s a popular show for Black people in London ignited interest from listeners but its momentum to build something larger never materialised.
Some of the answers lay in my own research being presented on the day around the legacy of that 1970s show, Black Londoners. The presenter of the show Alex Pascal demonstrated to BBC bosses he could carry a programme everyday. It was a pioneering show according to his producer, Dr Jane Gordon, ( also at the conference) who recalls a moment when an international tragedy led Pascal to read for 15 minutes the names of the deceased on air.
The show’s presenters’ budget was 40UKP according to Dr McCarthy. By the 80s, reform to BBC Radio London’s output effectively neutered any attempt for Black Londoners to gain momentum and envision a national presence.
Radio London’s schedule would yield a new programme to carry the interests of Black Londoners called Rice and Peas and by the 1990s, a further haul in the station’s makeup, transformed BBC Radio London to BBC GLR.
New branding and a new show for the capital’s just under 1 million Black people would follow.
That’s where I come in. In 1991 two university grads, Sheryl Simms and I, would launch a new show. Some of its archive has recently been rediscovered, after original recordings had been dumped when we left the show after two years.
My presentation asked what the value of archive was in shaping the present and future — a 15 min talk alongside fellow researchers.
In it, I presented a evidence-based narrative framing the shape and impact of the show (courtesy of FIAT/IFTA and archivist Jose Velazquez) which included interviews with Herman, now Lord Ouseley becoming the first black man to head up the CRE, Ozwald Boateng and a host of young entrepreneurs such as Ozwald Boateng and Kanye King CBE.
And this, from a local home grown band invited to support the world’s biggest super star, Michael Jackson. Listen to what the band leader now a household name producer Kwame Kwaten says.
Why did Asian programmes take off but Black programmes didn’t?
A conference attendant asked how important allyship was? Everything, I said. Whilst I’d witnessed further development of Asian programming at BBC Leicester under Asian boss VJ Sharma, it was not reflected in Black output, like Leicester’s Sunday programme Talking Blues. I was one of the presenters of that show alongside Hilary Carty — now Executive Director, Clore Leadership.
Dr Aasiya Lodhi’s research also provided further knowledge around UK immigration policy in the 1960s which had an impact. In Black British, White British by Dilip Hiro the reader learns of the fractious relations between Black people which framed Africans, Caribbeans, and Asians into one group. Indians and Pakistanis would object to this categorisation crystallising their identity as Asian.
As Asians forged their identity to unify their situatedness, Black people which now enveloped Caribbeans and African would harbour internal frissons that were a barrier to mirroring the Asian experience.
No national Black station exists in the UK. What are the chances of it ever happening, amidst the culture wars in today’s politics?
Amidst news of the threat of cuts to local radio shows aimed at Black and Brown people, presciently, PhD researcher and award winning journalist Nina Robinson showed there was an absence of Black and Brown personnel in senior radio positions in the UK.
This week, respected Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru Murthy called on broadcasting chiefs to up their game and appoint Black or Brown people to editorial positions in the UK to run a network.