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BBC television and Black Britons

This book provides an institutional case study of the BBC Television Service, as it undertook the responsibility of creating programmes that addressed the impact of black Britons, their attempts to establish citizenship within England and subsequent issues of race relations and colour prejudice. Beginning in the 1930s and into the post millennium, the book provides a historical analysis of policies invoked, and practices undertaken, as the Service attempted to assist white Britons in understanding the impact of African-Caribbeans on their lives, and their assimilation into constructs of Britishness. Management soon approved talks and scientific studies as a means of examining racial tensions, as ITV challenged the discourses of British broadcasting. Soon after, BBC 2 began broadcasting, and more issues of race appeared on the TV screens, each reflecting sometimes comedic, somewhat dystopic, often problematic circumstances of integration. In the years that followed, however, social tensions, such as those demonstrated by the Nottingham and Notting Hill riots, led to transmissions that included a series of news specials on Britain's Colour Bar, and docudramas, such as A Man From the Sun, which attempted to frame the immigrant experience for British television audiences, but from the African-Caribbean point of view. Subsequent chapters include an extensive analysis of television programming, along with personal interviews. Topics include current representations of race, the future of British television, and its impact upon multiethnic audiences. Also detailed are the efforts of Black Britons working within the British media as employees of the BBC, writers, producers and actors.

BBC America and transnational constructs of Britishness
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter examines how BBC America (BBCA) represents contemporary Britain in its programming choices when it began service in the USA. In 1989, the BBC launched the 'Step Forward' programme to allow more Black comedy-writers to gain positions in television. In April 1999, Greg Dyke replaced Sir John Birt as the new Director General of the BBC. His primary tasks included 'the challenges of maintaining the BBC's prominence in the face of a massive expansion of digital channels and international competition'. Six years after the start of BBCA under then CEO Paul Lee, Bill Hilary was hired away from Comedy Central to replace the incumbent. The chapter describes how, despite a waning amount of black and brown faces on BBCA, transnationalism have a huge economic and intercultural effect on global audiences. It explores how BBCA can be touted as an ideological site for ethnic groups to negotiate power and agency.

in Adjusting the contrast
Abstract only
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter explores a multitude of publications on British television history that have both hailed and deconstructed the policies and influences of the BBC. Since 1922, the organisation has attempted to serve audiences with an intention to inform and acculturate them on every subject deemed acceptable. Within its development, a public service agenda was an essential part of programming practices, influenced greatly by Sir John Reith, who, despite his extreme dislike for both politicians and television, later served as the Director-General of the organisation during its first sixteen years of service. Prior to his departure in 1938, the first public demonstration of the Baird Television System took place and audiences had a choice of musical variety programmes, and a host of dramatic teleplays and informational talks, each demonstrating the ability of television to hopefully do what BBC radio had done for nearly fifteen years: entertain and inform a variety of publics on current, global and national events.

in Paving the empire road
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter examines how BBC radio and its practices created possibilities for the recognition of African-Caribbean voices, as they discussed life in England years before the arrival of Windrush, and just before television re-emerged as a cultural force. It also examines how programmes created for West Indian audiences changed foci, and began to offer varied, personal perspectives on life for African-Caribbean immigrants. It outlines the influence of radio upon the BBC Television Service, management directives and pre-war programming. Beginning in 1939, the programme Calling the West Indies featured West Indians troops on active service reading letters on air to their families back home in the Islands. The programme later became Caribbean Voices (1943–58) and highlighted West Indian writers who read and discussed literary works on the World Service. These programmes offered rare opportunities for West Indians to discuss their perspectives on life among white Britons and subsequent social issues.

in Paving the empire road
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter provides an analysis of race and BBC television policy with a discussion of early Black images on BBC television, and the decisions that led to their appearances. This includes icons such as African-Americans Elisabeth Welch and Adelaide Hall, as compared to West Indian performers Edric Connor, Boscoe Holder and others. Efforts undertaken by the service to educate further audiences on racial issues as a social concern included the first television talks regarding the scientific origins of race, and subsequent audience surveys. Heading the effort were former radio producers Grace Wyndham Goldie and Mary Adams. In turn, Goldie, serving as Assistant Head of Talks, helped to develop the first television programme of its kind, race and colour. The teleplay examined the experiences of newly arrived West Indian immigrants from ‘their’ perspectives but was transmitted to mixed reviews, this time from West Indian audiences. As the BBC continued to consider how television could assist West Indian communities in their efforts to assimilate, the service began to document the appearance of African-Caribbeans within BBC programming, a response to criticisms about stereotyping and limited portrayals. television policy; Black images; racial issues; social concern; audience surveys; stereotyping

in Paving the empire road
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter begins with an examination of the 1960s, and looks at heightened concerns about urban unrest following the riots at Notting Hill and in Nottingham. Each event created further concerns for White Britons, who nervously studied the increasing racial tensions on city streets, yet these events encouraged West Indians to speak out even more about programming issues and hiring practices within the BBC. Soon after, the Second Coloured Conference at Broadcasting House allowed management to meet with African-Caribbean community leaders about planned television programmes and their potential impact. Critical analyses of racially themed BBC television programming in the 1960s and 1970s includes Till Death Us Do Part (BBC, 1965–68, 1972–75), Rainbow City (BBC, 1967) and the iconic Empire Road (BBC, 1978–79), one of the first BBC ‘soaps’ to feature a first- and second-generation Black British family attempting to navigate life in an English urban setting. The Community Relations Commission was important in providing a voice for West Indians, included recruitment efforts at the BBC for African-Caribbean employees, much to the dismay of the dominant press.

in Paving the empire road
Abstract only
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter focuses on interviews that feature the contemporary perspectives of Black Britons working within the London television market. Issues for discussion with the interviewees included representations of race and class, programming and opportunities for minorities, empowerment and opportunity, Americanisation as an influence, the birth of Black-owned Identity Television, presence, diversity and the future of Black Britons on BBC television. Subjects include recent BBC Director of Multicultural Programming Jan Oliver, cultural critic Stuart Hall, actor Treva Etienne, journalist Neema Kambona, BBC presenter Brenda Emmanus, journalist Kadija George-Sesay and BBC Diversity Manager Cyril Husbands. Follow-up interviews years later continue these discussions of, among other issues, newer programmes, current representations, and future possibilities for diverse programming. By comparison, their concerns exemplify the challenges still facing these professionals of colour when dealing with the hegemony and patronage of the BBC and the British television industry. Through a series of open-ended questions, media professionals comment on the BBC and its broadcast policies. These discussions occurred within the 1990s and were considered a turning point by some for racial representations on British television. Each question and subsequent response reflect decades of personal experiences with the service.

in Paving the empire road
Darrell M. Newton

This chapter highlights the BBC under Director-General Greg Dyke, a leader thought to represent the best chance for diversity within the corporation. Dyke's first meeting with the BBC Black Forum (BBF) organisation, a group of Black and Asian employees seeking diversity within the corporation, highlighted this dilemma as the Director-General attempted to effect change, but with unexpected results. Following Dyke's sudden departure was what one African-Caribbean manager at the BBC called ‘the Great Redundancy’, as many efforts at placing African-Caribbeans before and behind the camera were lost in a wave of budget-related terminations. This chapter also includes recent perspectives on BBC programming that attempt to highlight African-Caribbean issues (with actor/director Treva Etienne, and recent BBC managers Jan Oliver and Cyril Husbands). Black Forum organisation; African-Caribbeans; the Great Redundancy; budget-related terminations; British Broadcasting Corporation programming

in Paving the empire road
British television and constructs of race

Adjusting the contrast National and cultural identity, ethnicity and difference have always been major themes within the national psyche. People are witnessing the rise and visibility of far-right politics and counter-movements in the UK and USA. Simultaneously, there is an urgent need to defend the role of public service media. This book emerges at a time when these shifts and conjunctures that impact on and shape how 'race' and racial difference are perceived. They are coinciding with rapidly changing media contexts and environments and the kinds of racial representations that are constructed within public service broadcasting (PSB), specifically the BBC and Channel 4. The book explores a range of texts and practices that address the ongoing phenomenon of race and its relationship to television. Policies and the management of race; transnationalism and racial diversity; historical questions of representation; the myth of a multicultural England are also explored. It interrogates three television primarily created by women, written by women, feature women in most of the lead roles, and forcefully reassert the place of women in British history. The book contributes to the range of debates around television drama and black representation, examining BBC's Shoot the Messenger and Top Boy. Finally, it explores some of the history that led to the belated breakthrough of Black and Asian British comedy. The book also looks at the production of jokes about race and colour prior to the 1980s and 1990s, and questioning what these jokes tell us about British multiculturalism in this period.

Abstract only
Sarita Malik and Darrell M. Newton

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book presents transnational interpretations of how Black people have been represented on British television. It explores a range of contexts and practices that address the ongoing phenomenon of 'race' and its specific relationship with public service television. The book outlines how current studies of transnationalism highlight the importance of contemporary information societies and the global consortiums of transnational corporations. It examines how the 2005 reboot of the classic series utilises deracialised and decontextualised slavery allegories to absolve white guilt over the transatlantic slave trade. The book also examines the uses of race, immigration and multiculturalism as comic themes in British television sitcoms from the 1960s to the 1980s. It also explores the politics of 'tick-boxing' especially in regard to public service remits.

in Adjusting the contrast