The first black journalist on British television says she’s ‘glad’ she was the victim of racism because she believes it has helped future generations.
Barbara Blake Hannah, 79, made her television debut in 1968, however was let go from her job at Thames TV after bosses refused to renew her contract, and justified it with appalling racist notes complaining about her presence.
Appearing on Good Morning Britain today, she told how she’s pleased to have seen the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the death of George Floyd, and hopes her experience with racism has had ‘some useful purpose’.
‘The Black Lives Matter movement has done a lot to make people realise the extent racism has affected the life of black people’, she told.
‘I’m glad George Floyd’s death has changed the world in so many ways, it’s made so many people look at how they treat each other, because we are supposed to live together in love no matter what and racism prevents us from doing that.
‘I’m glad I’m around and I’m glad that what happened to me 50 years ago is having some effect today and can be put to some useful purpose, make lemonade out of lemons.’
Barbara arrived in England in 1964 from Jamaica with huge journalistic experience and as the found of the country’s Press Association.
She said when Thames TV bosses introduced her, Jane Probyn and Eamonn Andrews to the press they rushed out of the room to file stories on her appointment.
However when her contract was up, she was let go because of the large volume of complaints the station received about her race – including viewers who would phone in and write in saying ‘Get that n-word off our screens’.
She told: ‘The barrier I faced was just race and that is what happened. At the end of my first job, my contract was not renewed because so many people called in objecting to my colour, to my race.’
‘I didn’t know it was happening at the time’, said Barbara, ‘I didn’t know until it was time for my contract to be renewed. When I was working, I just didn’t know, nobody told me, i’m glad to say. But then I was told ‘sorry Barbara, goodbye’.
At her next job Birmingham to work on Associated Television she was sent out of the office after right-wing politician Enoch Powell – fresh from his anti mass-immigration ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – was due in.
She later discovered he had only agreed to be interviewed on the condition she was not in the studio at the time.
However, Barbara felt ‘nobody really objected’ while she was out working on stories, and was sometimes pleasantly surprised by interviewees, recalling a story about the ‘sweet’ Hells Angels motorbike gang.
She said: ‘Nobody really objected when I went out on stories, so I had no idea [about the racism] , nobody treated me differently among interviews.
‘I interviewed the Hells Angels and they were famous for being racist but they were so sweet.
‘They didn’t mind at all and they didn’t mind and they wrote to me years later saying ‘We remember being interviewed by you’ and so on the job I didn’t have any problem.’
She explained that while it’s hard to imagine the racism she faced 50-years ago, it was simply the ‘reality of her life’.
‘It’s hard to imagine that was 50 years ago, she told, ‘And that really was the reaction and they wrote letters and called the station and that was just the truth.
‘I know things would be different today, but 50 years ago that was the reality of life.’
Press Gazette has launched the Barbara Blake-Hannah prize to recognise up and coming non-white journalists.