This week at the Black Entertainment, Film, Fashion, Television and the Arts awards in London, Barbara Blake Hannah received the Beffta Lifetime Achievement award for “opening the doors for black media in England”.
Barbara, who now heads up Jamaica’s Reggae Film Festival and has several films and books to her name, including Rastafari – The New Creation, said: “It’s great to be recognised after all this time.”
I was so pleased when I read about the award because, way back in the late 1960s, I remember the shock, and at the same time, the excitement of walking into the front room and seeing a black woman presenter on the television – Barbara Blake.
This was a first! We had never seen a black presenter before on TV. I was mesmerized. For a while I was more interested in just ‘looking at her’ – feeling proud, and noting the way she dressed, wondering how she managed to keep her hair so nicely in place – and less on what she had to say.
Some years later I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara, in person, when she came to Handsworth, Birmingham.
It was in 1968 that Barbara was appointed one of three on-camera reporter/interviewers on Thames TV’s daily evening news show, Today with Eamon Andrews.
Her TV presence was short lived but her story reveals much of the working climate in those days. About her experiences, she wrote “After nine months my contract was terminated and I was told that the producers were under pressure from viewers who called in daily to say ‘Get that n****r off our screens’. My next job was in a similar capacity with ATV Birmingham’s Today show aired during a time when Enoch Powell had made immigration a major issue. I could not get a hotel room in that city and had to return each night to London and commute each morning by train back to Birmingham, until I finally got a room at the YWCA.”
A true pioneer and one who rightly deserves to be honoured.
You can see Barbara as she appeared on TV in the 1960s here
She also wrote about her early television experiences in this article which appeared in The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/23/television-raceandreligion