While I was building our tribute to 80-years-young Bruce Forsyth, I came across this 1978 picture of him with Derek Griffiths (A Royal Shakespearean actor who is a children’s TV legend) and Kenny Lynch (a popular entertainer). It really took me back to a time when, as a child, I’d find myself shouting: "Mum, quick! There’s a black man on TV!"
It was that rare an occurrence; a thing of wonder – like Halley’s Comet.
Years later, at secondary school, I discovered it was a shared cultural experience; we all laughed about it, thinking we were the only ones who’d done it at that time.
Then I found out that Asian kids used to do it with their equivalents too. I thought back to that era when Viacom announced they’d be launching their Black Entertainment Television (BET) network in the UK. BET will make its debut in Britain on February 28 to more than 8.8 million digital satellite homes on BSkyB. We’ve gone from ‘spot the black face’ to ‘spot the white face’ – how ironic. But is it necessary?
BET is the most prominent US network covering black American entertainment and culture. In Britain, no direct rival of BET’s size exists although Trouble, with the likes of Girlfriends, In the House, My Wife and Kids, The Hughleys and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, is giving it a fair whack.
Having watched BET whenever I’ve holidayed in the States, my concern is that BET UK will not speak to black Britons. Programmes such as those listed above invariably present an American model of ethnicity, not a British one. Just because we have the same skin colour, doesn’t mean we have an identical experience. Black Americans and black West Indians and black Africans and black Britons – some similarities, some key differences. Just like the English and the Scots. Or the English and the Welsh. Or the English and the Irish (when my parents arrived here, signs for accomodation often read: ‘No blacks. No Irish. No dogs’).
As if to confirm my worst fears, BET International General Manager Michael Armstrong said: "For the UK version of BET, we will be giving BET’s US content a regionalised look and feel that reflects the UK marketplace, and as we grow and develop the channel, we look forward to partnering with the UK creative industry to give BET an even stronger British accent." In other words more US imports; the more things change, the more they stay the same. The UK can look forward to shows that include American Gangster (narrated by Ving Rhames, it profiles some of black America’s most infamous gangsters) and, rather bizarrely, Lil’ Kim’s Countdown to Lockdown. This programme, about the last 14 days of the rapper’s freedom before she headed to jail, first aired two years ago! What’s the bleedin’ point of screening it now?
Armstrong insists, "We think we will be filling a void that has been in the UK for quite some time. We will super-serve the black British, Caribbean and African communities but we also have programming that is acceptable to all lovers of black culture." I agree that there’s still a long way to go with regard to decent roles for black actors and ethnic minority programming in general, but black culture doesn’t begin and end with American gangsta rap and dumb American crack dealers in jail. I identify with neither, seeing more of my family’s experience in Channel 4’s classic sitcom Desmond’s (starring the late, great Norman Beaton). And until BET UK serves me up something like that, I won’t be watching.
Today I am mostly lovin’ – The Big Match Revisited on ITV4. Arsenal in our eye-bleeding green and navy away strip in 1983!
Today I am mostly hatin’ – Omigod. How awful, how cringe-inducing were huge chunks of BBC1’s Happy Birthday, Brucie? I wouldn’t feed that script to my dog and Jon Culshaw doin’ the Anfield rap to Brucie’s catchphrases will give me nightmares for years to come.
To my Spurs-supporting mate famouseccles; the ideal outcome for me would’ve been both your lot and Chelski losing. However, I will say one thing: it was a good comeback and you actually defended solidly. Fancy a lasagne on me?
MSN Editor Coops
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