Being brought up in an era and spending my formative years subjected to what we would now class as racism I confess to constantly being on my guard when the topic is broached least I make a faux-pas and say something that is not acceptable in these more racially aware days.
Let me lay out the facts first.
The Race Relations Act in the United Kingdom which legislated against discrimination on racial grounds was not introduced until 1976, I was 20 years of age in 1976, I had already spent my most formative years being subjected to unfettered racism via every form of media imaginable.
Its hard to believe now that mainstream TV displayed such a large quantity of casual racial stereotyping and at peak viewing times too, we all know of the more famous examples such as “Love Thy Neighbour” a sit-com based on the fact that when an afro-carribean family moves into a street the white neighbours react in horror and much hilarity results over 56 episodes, four years and a feature length film.
And it wasn’t just the in-your-face racism that was shown in that programme, there is a clip on YouTube which shows Eddie, the white neighbour joining a bus queue one morning to find Bill, his black neighbour already standing there, much hilarity results when the bus arrives and the black man is allowed on but the white man is stopped by the bus conductor as the bus is full, the bus conductor being portrayed as a turban wearing Indian man complete with head-rocking and sing-song voice as was the style in the 1970s, but of course this being the 1970s you could have afro-carribean actors playing stereotyped afro-carribean roles but the Indian man had to be played by a white man with blacked-up face, or “blackface” as the role used to be called – in this case its Hugh Lloyd but more often than not it was either Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan in the blackface role with the turban and rocking head.
I’m not sure whether it was the fact that afro-carribean actors were more commonplace than Indian actors or whether it was that afro-carribean actors were playing a more or less straight role while the Indian parts were always of the outrageous stereotype “Goodness Gracious Me” role which genuinely Asian actors objected to playing.
There are dozens of other examples of the genre, “Till Death Do Us Part” for instance which regularly used Spike Milligan in a blackface role, “Mind Your Language” which didn’t try and dress up its racist, sexist content at all, in fact the sit-com was purely about racism and sexism and ran for 42 excruciating episodes, forget the dodgy content, the so-called comedy was just non-existent – and of course at 7pm every Monday evening we’d all pull up our chairs to the TV set and enjoy 30 minutes of “The Comedians” with its 77 episodes of back-to-back stand up comedians and their compulsory 50% content of racist jokes.
Add to all of this the fact that when I left my all-white Grammar School in ’73 I hadn’t yet met, let alone spoken to a black or asian person and you can be forgiven for thinking that I had been raised in Alabama or South Africa, but no, this was Great Britain of the 1970s and the 1976 Race Relations Act hit everyone like a slap to the face with a scaffolding plank.
We’ve had 35 years to modify our behaviour though and those like myself have been re-educated to behave entirely differently to how we were shown by institutional example, for those who think we live in a racist country today I wish I could take you back to those times when being black or asian must have been hell.
And so its all the more remarkable to find examples of that 1970s attitude that still exist today, of course we all know of the “in your face” and outright racist policies of the likes of the BNP and EDL but at least those groups of morons have an excuse, they are morons and do not think for themselves, but the surprise comes (and perhaps it shouldn’t) when you hear the views of people like Brian True-May producer of the ever popular (god knows how, personally I think its shite) Midsomer Murders,a show which in its 14 years on air has not had one non-white face appear on it, Mr True-May validating his decision to make it so in his now famous quote “We don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them. It just wouldn’t work. Suddenly we might be in Slough… And if you went in to Slough you wouldn’t see a white face there. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.”
And he is surprised that people have reacted to that statement, is surprised that most right minded individuals can in these enlightened days think that he holds racist views, surprised that his production company have suspended him pending an investigation, it wouldn’t have happened in 1975 thats for sure but by 1976 the viewpoint that only white people could be English was already fading away to the horizon along with the Empire and all it stood for (slavery, exploitation, asset stripping, all that good stuff).
No Mr True-May, the BNP and EDL may be morons but you are just a ridiculous throw-back to the days when a persons skin colour dictated how you, society and our institutions treated them, and if it wasn’t white then it was badly.