Paving the Empire Road (BBC Television and Black Britons)
By Darrell M. Newton
Publisher: Manchester University Press (27 Oct 2011)
This book takes a new perspective on the arrival of West Indians to Britain from 1948 onwards. It concentrates on the portrayal of the influx from a media perspective, which I found fascinating. There is no doubt that the media fashions the ways in which we view our worlds and as such it is a huge responsibility they carry. Newton explores this through the BBC primarily and shows how they were the forerunners for the other networks that featured race-related matters and black people.
Newton’s introduction gives a background to the advent of black people moving to Britain. This is familiar territory to scholars with an interest and indeed for families who lived through those times and perhaps travelled to the ‘Motherland’. The book is referred to as a study, and there’s no doubt that it is highly researched and referenced throughout. However, that does not stop it from being readable and accessible. Newton begins with the influence of radio on BBC television services and the way in which Pathe newsreels enabled news and public affairs that often featured the challenges of West Indian immigration.
The study then follows Black people and the ways in which they were portrayed by the BBC from difficulties with housing and jobs, to famous African American icons and entertainers. There is reference to uprisings and unrests and the way in which they were portrayed by the media. Interestingly the final chapter deals with African Caribbean ‘issues’ that have been portrayed through programmes such as Babyfather, 2001, Shoot the Messenger, 2006, Small Island, 2009. And pertinently Newton states in his conclusion that ‘Our Jamaican Problem’ which was highlighted in 1948 seems to still be represented by the media with little change.
The book is well thought out, and offers an honest look at the broadcasting of ethnic programming. It is not easy reading, in the way that it highlights how black people have been and are still being portrayed as ‘problematic’, but given that the media shapes a country’s view of how ‘others’ are seen it is a necessary study. It maps the attitudes of the BBC directors towards racial programmes and gives an in-depth insight into the workings of the BBC. It is without a doubt an important study for anyone interested in the media and its attitudes.
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