Posts Tagged ‘Lenny Henry’

Post-Slavery Exploitation and the Beeb’s ‘Long Song’

December 19, 2018

Okay, I haven’t been watching The Long Song, the Beeb’s historical drama set in the Caribbean during the dying days of slavery, which has been running on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm this week. It’s in three parts, the final of which is tonight. The series is based on Andrea Levy’s book of the same name, as is about a young slave girl, Kitty, who is taken away from her mother to become the personal servant of Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the plantation owner. It’s not something I would usually watch, and the description by the I’s TV critic, Sean O’Grady, that it’s ‘like Downton Abbey with added racism and sadism’ seems about accurate.

But I did catch a brief glimpse of a clip from the show on breakfast TV this morning. This showed the planter telling the slaves that they could be evicted if they didn’t work hard enough, and that they would be paid wages, but there would be a little deduction for rent.

This seems to me to be entirely accurate historically. After the final abolition of slavery in 1838, the planters and the colonial and British governments became concerned that the slaves weren’t working hard enough, and that they would leave the plantations to occupy unused land in the interior. This would leave the plantations without the labour needed to work them and harvest their crops, the country would return to subsistence agriculture and the entire colony would be ruined. they therefore set about devising methods to force the former slaves to remain on the plantations and to work hard.

Now there was some truth to their fears. Some colonies – I think one of them was Jamaica – reported that the slaves stopped working for the two months after abolition. When they returned to work, they demanded wages which the plantation masters considered too high. They also made a point of working less hard than previously. It was reported that they considered working as hard as before to be selling their ‘free’, and that if they did so, they were unworthy of their newly gained liberty.

Some of the planters did threaten their slaves with eviction, and one female slave was thrown out of her plantation home with all her belongings. They also introduced the truck system from Britain, in which employees were paid in tokens, which could only be spent in the company shops. They also used a payment system called ‘tenancy-at-will’ to keep the slaves where they were. This combined the slaves’ wages with deductions for rent. But the rents were always higher than the wages. For examples, if they were paid 5 shillings per week in wages, then the rent would be eight shillings. It was an evil system that has rightly been compared to debt peonage in Latin America.

To stop the former slaves buying vacant crown land in British Guiana, now Guyana, the government raised the price of the plots for sale so that they were far above their ability to afford them.

Obviously the freed people of the Caribbean didn’t take this lightly, and there were Strikes, riots and protests against these and other forms of official oppression and exploitation for decades afterwards. There was also the continual fear that the colonial governments or the British would reintroduce slavery. One former slave said that the Queen, Victoria, had abolished slavery with a charter, and so could just as easily put it back again. And there were a series of rebellions by the former slaves, such as that at Morant Bay in Jamaica as a result. Given this, it is no surprise that there is a continuing resentment at their treatment by some people of West Indian heritage.

Lenny Henry, who plays one of the slaves in the series, has said in an interview that children need to be taught more about slavery. He’s right. Salman Rushdie once remarked that the British didn’t know much about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. Which is also true. This country is affected by events that occurred outside in the colonies, episodes which are known to the people of those countries but not to us, and so some of the post-imperial resentments left over are a surprise.

We do need to know more, and not the sanitized, patriotic version that Tories like Michael Gove want our kids indoctrinated with. It’s only then that we can understand some of the stresses in our multicultural society, and hopefully move beyond them.

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David Lammy Quotes Legislation to Show Windrush Migrants Are British Citizens

April 25, 2018

Also today, Mike put up a piece commenting on Lenny Henry giving Tweezer a well-deserved verbal kicking at the memorial service for Stephen Lawrence. He was the Black youth murdered by a gang of White racist thugs nearly a quarter of a century ago. It has been a major scandal because of the way the Met police were extremely reluctant to investigate the case. Independent investigations and proper, investigative journalism, revealed institutional racism at the Met, as well as allegations of corruption. One other reason why the cops didn’t want to prosecute the murderers, is because they were the sons of notorious London gangsters. And so there were repeated attempts to bring them to trial, but due to the Met’s incompetence and racism, several of these fell apart and the butchers walked. I can also remember Private Eye being extremely critical of some sections of the tabloid press, like the Scum, because of the way some of their hacks seemed to be siding with the thugs, seeing them as little more than a group of cheeky, ‘un-pc’ lads rather than the racist murderers they were.

Stephen Lawrence’s murder and his commemoration is naturally an important issue, and particularly for Henry. The former comedian has been actively campaigning against racism and to improve opportunities for Black people, particularly in film and television, ever since he presented The Black and White Media Show on the Beeb right at the beginning of the 1980s. Mike has put up the clip with him laying into Tweezer, as it’s well done, and makes her squirm. Ah, schadenfreude! The pleasure of someone else coming to grief. And in this case, why not? It’s no more, and indeed, a lot less, than Tweezer deserves.

But Mike’s article is also important because he’s put up a couple of tweets from the Labour politician and Black rights activist, David Lammy. Lammy quotes the 1948 Nationality Act to show that the Windrush people were British citizens. He wrote

Here is the relevant section of the 1948 British Nationality Act. The Windrush Generation were British citizens when they were invited here. Their citizenship is theirs by right. It is not a gift that your government is benevolently granting them. They are reclaiming their rights pic.twitter.com/8BaTKqDFGn

He’s absolutely right. I always understood that, under the terms of the existing legislation at the time, citizens of one Commonwealth country were automatically British citizens with a right to enter Britain. I’ve also been told that Winston Churchill, who was himself quite racist, fully accepted and supported this principle. It only changed in 1979 when Maggie Thatcher reformed the legislation to make further New Commonwealth immigration difficult. Which contributed to the outrage at Tory racism at the time, apart from the general massive racism in British society and the poverty and discrimination endured by Black and Asian Brits.

But as I’ve said in a previous article, May and the Tories seem to regard citizenship not as something, which is people’s by right, but something like a gift, which can be bestowed or withdrawn on a whim. This cavalier attitude to the law and fundamental rights puts each and every one of us in danger, regardless of colour, ethnicity and immigration status. It means she and the Tories feel they can remove and deny us the protections that are ours by right under law, at any time they like. Just as May did when she quietly had the legislation protecting the Windrush migrants repealed.

The Tories are a danger to individual liberty and the rule of law. As well as horrendous racist bigots. Get them out. Now!

Vox Political on John Whittingdale’s Attack on the Beeb’s Independence

May 12, 2016

John Whittingdale, the Tory perv and walking security risk currently in charge of spearheading the government’s campaign to privatise the Beeb, has finally released his White Paper on the subject. Among his proposals are recommendations that the BBC Trust should be dissolved and replace with a unitary board. This would have members directly appointed by the government, though he tries to reassure critics that most of the board would still be appointed by the Beeb itself. He also wants a new mission statement to be launched by the Corporation, expressing its goals “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.” He also wants it to be “required to give greater focus to under-served audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and those in the nations and regions”.

Mike here points out what a mass of contradictions the Paper is, as well as its highly patronising tone to the great British public. Mike says

John Whittingdale must think we’re all too stupid to see the contradiction in terms he has written into his White Paper on the BBC.

He reckons the BBC needs a new mission statement: “”To act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.”

But he also wants to dissolve the BBC Trust, replacing it with a new unitary board including some members appointed by the government – so that’s impartiality out of the window before his new version of the Beeb even gets going.

Some might say the BBC is already biased towards the Tories – we only have to look at the protests against arch-Tory Laura Kuenssberg in her role as political editor at BBC News – but this would instill that bias at an institutional level.

Mike also points out that Whittingdale’s demands for it to give greater service to Blacks and ethnic minorities risk turning the Beeb into a service aimed primarily at catering for minority communities. In Mike’s view, this is better left to the commercial companies.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/12/an-impartial-bbc-not-if-tories-get-to-choose-who-runs-it/ Go and read it for more information.

Mike is absolutely right that even having some of the new unitary board appointed by the government would result in a loss of the Beeb’s independence. This has happened on the continent. Sarkozy in France used the government’s control over funding for the state broadcaster to get genuine well-respected French news anchors sacked for daring to criticise him. Berlusconi in Italy used the government’s control of the state broadcaster to pull a late night satirical programme, Rayot, from Ray, the name of the channel, off the air because it dared to spoof him. The writer, Sabina Guzzanti, who used to play Berlo himself in her sketches, later made a film about the affair, Viva Zapatero!
This takes its title from the name of the Spanish president, who ended his government’s power to appoint the head of the state broadcaster, thus making it independent of government control.

Now Whittingdale is trying to do the opposite, and thus join Sarkozy and Berlusconi in trying to make television and the media generally the mouthpiece for their official propaganda.

As for the Beeb catering more to BAME audiences, the Corporation has tried to do that through radio stations set up specifically to serve different ethnic minorities. One of these was the Asian Network, for which the Beeb has been running trailers a couple of weeks ago. I think there’s also another radio station for Blacks. I seem to recall there also being adverts for this station being run about 12 years ago. It was also specifically part of the remit of Channel 4, when that station was set up as a public service broadcaster. And Channel 4 did broadcast much material aimed at Black and Asian audiences. Apart from the Indian films on ‘All-India Goldies’, they also broadcast a history of the world, which was designed to put European history in its place as the history of just part of our planet, and give equal space to events elsewhere around the globe. There was a history of Africa, presented by Basil Davidson. Davidson’s White, but he’s an Afrocentric historian, who believes that the major cultural developments supposedly pioneered by ancient Greece and Rome were actually taken from Black African civilisations. It’s the same view as Martin Bernal in his immensely influential book, Black Athena. A couple of years later, the BBC also produced a series on African history, presented by a Black Muslim historian, Dr Ali Mazrui.

Between them the Beeb and Channel 4 have also nurtured much Black and Asian talent, like Lenny Henry, the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, which first appeared on radio as The Secret Asians, Felix Dexter, Stephen K. Amos, who now has a weekly show about his own life growing up late night on Radio 4. Saturday tea-time on Channel 4 there was also a comedy programme set in a Black London barber shop, which was on just before the awesome Max Headroom. Many of the performers in these shows managed to make the crossover into more mainstream programming. Mira Syal has appeared in many different programmes over the years, including a soap with the Bog-Eyed Brummie Git, Jasper Carrot. Nina Wadia was in Chambers, a comedy set in a firm of lawyers, with one of the Long Johns. And Sanjeev Bhaskar has also gone to a variety of other shows, not least the Kumars at No. 42, which has spawned various versions across the world. The American version is called The Ortegas, and is about an Hispanic family. And Lenny Henry really needs no introduction.

I’m not saying the Beeb’s record in this is perfect. There is still much controversy about the lack of performers and directors from ethnic minorities in television. For example, a year or so ago a number of celebrities gave their support to a campaign for greater representation for Black and Asians on television. Those joining the campaign included Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig. I am merely trying to point out that the Beeb has made some effort in this direction.

Mike also points out that TV favourites like Strictly Come Dancing and Dr Who also have a very wide appeal, including minorities. Indeed they have. What struck me about the new Dr Who when it was revived by Russell T. Davies was the increased presence of Black and Asian characters. What made the news was Davies determination to include gay characters, like Captain Jack, but Davies was also very obviously keen to make the series more representative of British society. And so Rose Tyler’s boyfriend, Mickey, last seen fighting the Cybermen in a parallel dimension, was Black. As was another of the Doctor’s companions, a lady doctor. And the various future worlds and planets to which the Doctor has travelled have also been very multicultural. Or at least, they are if their inhabitants are humanoid. There are, for example, Black Timelords, while the besieged human mission attacked by the forces of darkness in the episodes ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ included Blacks and Asians.

I got the distinct idea that it’s this type of representation – more Black and Asian faces on mainstream programmes – that anti-racist campaigners are keen to promote, rather than separate broadcasting ghettoes. A few years ago Private Eye ran a few pieces noting that the BBC Asian network was having trouble recruiting talent for precisely this reason. The aspiring British Asian stars and directors of tomorrow wanted to go into mainstream broadcasting, rather than confine themselves simply to their own communities. Of course, Whittingdale would like the Beeb to become mainly a broadcaster for minority interests, as it would leave the field free for the big corporations the Tories represent to move in on the mainstream audiences the Corporation has vacated. The Eye has also satirised that attitude in this fortnight’s addition, in which it has Murdoch’s papers whining about how the BBC is terribly unfair for producing genuinely popular programmes, and thus discriminating against all the rubbish produced by Murdoch’s and the other commercial broadcasters.

Thatcher Wanted to Block Anti-AIDS Adverts to Stop People Knowing about Anal Sex

December 31, 2015

Sorry about the sexual explicitness of this article, but it shows how bizarre and prudish Thatcher’s attitude to sexual awareness was.

Amongst the documents released under the thirty year rule yesterday were a number that revealed the battle between Norman Fowler and Maggie over how much the general public should be told about the transmission of HIV. There was a serious fear in Britain and the rest of the world that unless action was taken, AIDS would become a massive epidemic that would carry off millions of lives. It has, it is true, done so, and continues to do so, especially in Africa. The fear in Britain and other parts of the western world was that the contagion would be far more severe, perhaps even comparable with the Black Death which destroyed between a third and a half of the European population in the late 14th century.

Governments in Britain, America, New Zealand and Australia rushed out public information films to inform people of the dangers of this terrifying new disease. The one shown in Australia/NZ was particularly horrifying, as it showed Death knocking down people like bowling pins. In America, the approach was rather more subtle. All governments were urging their peoples to use condoms during sex to prevent the spread of the infection. American prudishness and sensitivity meant that in their films, contraception couldn’t be explicitly mentioned. The film therefore showed someone putting on a sock to protect his feet, while giving a little speech urging people to put similar items on if they wanted to protect themselves while having sex. A number of comedians made jokes about how ridiculous and spectacularly uninformative this was at the time.

But Maggie Thatcher seems to have shared some of those prudish attitudes. Fowler wished to publish a string of adverts in newspapers and magazines pointing out the particular dangers of anal sex. At the time this accounted for 85% of all cases. Thatcher, however, wanted to block this, as she was afraid that if the great British public found out about it, they’d start doing it.

At which point, you begin to wonder precisely where Thatcher got her ideas on sex from, and how much she really understood the people over whom she ruled. Perhaps well brought up ‘gels’ of her class and generation weren’t supposed to know about such things, rather like the massive sexual ignorance that plagued 19th century England. Unfortunately, even my grandparents’ time, such basic biological facts as menstruation weren’t taught in schools, so that many girls were frightened and bewildered by the changes that their bodies underwent at puberty.

And in the first half of the 20th century, when homosexuality was illegal, a number of people really didn’t know it even existed until they were in the early adulthood. I can remember a friend of mine telling me about one writer or actor, I’ve forgotten quite who, who said that he was in the 20s when he found out that there were such things as gays. And even then, his first reaction was that the person who told him was pulling his leg.

But by the time Thatcher got into power in the 1980s, people knew about gays and anal sex all right. All Thatcher needed to do to find out about this was to have one of her cabinet ministers tell her some of the coarse jokes being bandied around bars and pubs. Or school playgrounds. I found out about it all in secondary school, where there were some very crude jokes. Many of the circumlocutions used for gay men also referred obliquely to anal sex. In 19th century England one of such euphemisms was ‘gentleman of the back door’. Lenny Henry had a section on his TV show at the time, sending up the contemporary vogue for screen adaptations of novels set in pre-independence India. These were The Jewel in the Crown and A Passage to India. Henry spoofed them and the racial attitudes behind them as ‘The Jewel in India’s Passage’, which is surely a double entendre on the back passage, the human rectum. Just a few years ago Julian Clary made the same double entendre in the title of his autobiography, A Young Man’s Passage.

Or Thatcher could simply have turned the TV on. The 1980s saw a number of dramas, which included gay characters, or dealt with gay relationships. Gay sex could not be shown on TV, along with masturbation and bestiality, but even so there was a new sexual frankness there. And some of the comedies could be extremely explicit and very coarse, despite the traditional constraints on what was fit for broadcast. One of the programmes I remember on ITV at the time was Spooner’s Patch’, a police comedy about a particularly coarse and boorish police captain and his unit. It was written by Galton and Simpson, the pair responsible for the classic Steptoe and Son, who really should have known better. One episode included homosexuality, and had Spooner making a number of very coarse and bigoted comments about ‘brown hatters’. These were very clear in describing homosexuality in terms of anal sex, even if they didn’t describe it in those exact terms. It was all a very long way away from the 1950s, when comics and comedy writers were told they could not makes jokes about ‘effeminacy in men’, along with other taboo subjects such as religion, the monarchy, disability or the colour question.

What made Thatcher’s views even more anachronistic and misplaced is that a few years previously there had been the massive scandal surrounding the gay affair Jeremy Thorpe had with a male model, leading blackmail demands and a hitman allegedly being hired to shoot the man’s dog. This was so notorious that it led to schoolchildren using ‘Jeremy’ as a term of abuse.

All this shows just out of touch and petit bourgeois Thatcher and her sexual attitudes actually were. Now there are genuine issues about how much children should be taught about sex in schools, including homosexuality. Children do need some, if only to understand their bodies, the physical changes that go with puberty, and the need to protect themselves against STDs, and not just AIDS. There are those, who would prevent them knowing even about that. Peter Hitchens, the Conservative journalist and writer for the Mail on Sunday, opposes sex education on the grounds that it was started in Hungary in order to break the power of conservative Christian parental attitudes. He believes it encourages promiscuity. This is news to me. I remember the sex education we had at school, how awkward some of out teachers looked talking about it. And despite raging teenage hormones, the dry descriptions of the act were quite enough to put you off it. In the same way, Thatcher must have been out of her tiny little mind to think that knowing about anal sex would make the rest of British society want to try it. Anyone already interested in experimenting with gay sex was far more likely to be influenced by David Bowie and the sexual ambiguity of his Ziggy Stardust persona than get even remotely turned on by an advert warning of the dangers of a terrible and debilitating disease.

There are reasonable limits to how much children should be taught about sex and when. But adults reading newspapers and magazines are different. People need to be informed. And, to paraphrase the slogan used about the disease at the time, it’s not just AIDS which will kill you due to ignorance.