Black and British Season BBC Two and BBC Four
The history of black people in Britain is often told through the lens of the Windrush generation, the Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain after the Second World War. A major new season of programmes from the BBC reminds us that this has only ever been part of the story here.
At its centre lies Black & British: A Forgotten History (BBC Two), in which historian and broadcaster David Olusoga looks at the long relationship between the peoples of the British Isles and Africa. And it’s a story that goes a long way back – as we learn when we encounter African troops at Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century.
Olusoga also introduces us, among others, to black sailors who fought under Nelson at Trafalgar and Queen Victoria’s African goddaughter, and looks back at how Lancashire cotton workers supported the abolition of American slavery even though this led to economic hardship in the region. In each of the four documentaries, BBC Black History Plaques get unveiled at key historical locations across Britain, its former colonies and the Commonwealth.h
There’s a strong genealogical element too, as Olusoga pulls together genetic research, information from primary sources, expert testimony and contemporary interviews to reveal that many white Britons are more black than they realise, and that many black Britons are more white. This chimes with the series’ overall message – that black history is integral to our national story rather than a sideshow.
Elsewhere in the season, there’s an interesting range of documentaries. Back In Time For Brixton (BBC Two) adapts the Back In Time For Dinner living history format. Singer Kenny Lynch, cricketer Clive Lloyd and musician Jazzie B are among those who help the Irwins understand pivotal moments from 50 years of black British history, with Giles Coren and social historian Emma Dabiri on presenting duty. BlBlackk MidMidwivesi (BBC FFour)) exploresl theh experiences of the thousands of Caribbean women who helped build the NHS. Many were just teenagers when they left their homes, and the contributors include 77-year-old Lynette Richards-Lorde, a former midwife and the first black director of Nursing in the UK.
Whites Vs Blacks (BBC Two) tells the extraordinary tale of how, on 16 May 1979, as part of midfielder Len Cantello’s testimonial at West Bromwich Albion, an all-white team took on a side comprised solely of black players. Some of those who took part in the game, including Cyril Regis (who won five caps for England), Brendan Batson and Ally Robertson recall the match in the company of Adrian Chiles. Such a match could never be played today, but what should we make of the fact that it did take place?
Black sailor s fought alongside Ne lson at the Battle of Trafal gar in 1805