November 30 2015
Think the first kiss between a white man and black woman was on ‘Star Trek’? No, it wasn’t, it was between a white male surgeon kissing a black female surgeon colleague in ITV drama ‘Emergency Ward 10’…
By Suman Bhuchar
LOVE is all around us – well, it is certainly a hot topic at the British Film Institute (BFI) on the Southbank at the moment.
The BFI has gone big on Love this autumn, by presenting a three month season focussing on films and television dealing with the power of love in all its manifestations and as part of this offering, a high powered panel of two well-known actors, a ground-breaking director and a powerful commissioning editor discussed ‘Race & Romance’ on the small screen at an event held on Tuesday last (November 24).
www.asianculturevulture.com went along to take a ‘dekko’ (look), and the format of the evening was some excerpts from television programmes punctuated with recounting of experiences and some comments from panel members before a short Q&A with the audience.
The panel present were actors, Art Malik and Adrian Lester, director, Gurinder Chadha and BBC Head of Drama, Hilary Salmon, and chaired by the broadcaster, Samira Ahmed.
The full discussion by the panel members will be made available by the BFI website this week if you want to hear their deliberations in full – see the link below please.
However, www.asianculturevulture.com can give you some of the highlights and flavour of the event. The evening gave us a potted history of Asian and black romances on TV since the ‘first interracial kiss’ was broadcast on the small screen.
Although, this has always been attributed to our American cousins and what happened between Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in an episode of “Star Trek”, aired on US TV on November 22, 1968, the BFI programme revealed however that it is now thought to have taken place in Episode 4 of “Emergency Ward 10”, a 1964 ITV soap, where a black surgeon Louise Mahler (Joan Hooley) is kissed by a white doctor, (Giles Farmer). However, she was written out of the series soon after.
Not only is she black but she is a surgeon’ and although we cannot confirm this, perhaps, the next time we had a black surgeon on TV was when actor, Hugh Quarshie appeared as General Surgeon Eric ‘Ric’ Griffin in the BBC soap, “Holby City” in 2001.
However, the BFI event revealed an even bigger discovery by showing scenes from a Granada Royal Court play/ITV drama – (which was televised and broadcast in 1962) entitled, “You in Your Small Corner” – about a relationship between an educated black man, played by actor Lloyd Reckord with a young working class English girl (actress Elizabeth MacLennan). The black character’s mother wants him to get involved with someone more suitable – rather than a “Cockney from county,” as she put it. (Incidentally, the play was written by Barry Reckord, an early black Jamaican playwright in the UK and Lloyd’s brother). This bit of archive footage only come to light when Marcus Prince, the BFI’s TV programmer was researching this event, apparently.
We were also treated to a photograph of another interracial romance, which took place in a 1959 play, “Hot Summer Night”, written by author Ted Willis (better known as the creator of classic police soap “Dixon of Dock Green“). This play was televised in a series called, ‘Armchair Theatre’ (produced by ITV), in the same year, where a young white woman, Kathy falls in love with a Jamaican Man, Sonny (also played by Lloyd Reckord) much to the chagrin of her father, a trade union organiser. (Incidentally, this play was also turned into a 1961 film called, “Flame in the Streets”).
The question as always is whether television at the time, was reflecting social change or driving it?
Then the audience was treated to an excerpt of the second episode of the seminal series, “The Jewel in the Crown” (ITV, 1984) called, “The Bibighar Gardens” which made Art Malik a big romantic hero, as his character sat in self-loathing smoking a beedi with Daphne Manners (played by Susan Woolridge) before they both succumb to a strong mutual attraction, while being watched over by two labourers with evil intent. (And no, we don’t want to do a spoiler.)
Watching this excerpt is very powerful even 30 years later – as it shows you how progressive television was in the 1980s.
Art Malik, talked about how, ‘The Raj Quartet’, was author Paul Scott’s apology to the people of the subcontinent and the rape of the girl in the TV series, was a microcosm for the rape of the subcontinent.
Nevertheless the big question was, whatever happened to his character Hari Kumar and perhaps it was time for a new TV drama, though he joked he had not been asked to be on “Downton Abbey“.
Then came excerpts from Horace Ove’s seminal film, “Playing Away” (1987) and “The Buddha of Suburbia” (BBC, 1993) which led to actor, Adrian Lester commenting that when he began as an young actor, and went to auditions, his English peers, were given proper thought out characters such as ‘X’ a nurse, while he got ‘Y’ a black man. And as he put it: “Your skin colour was your character!”
However the 2000s brought some black relationships centre stage, commented Hilary Salmon with the series, “Babyfather” (2001-2002) and “Small Island” (2009) a period drama based on Andrea Levy’s wonderful novel, which was commissioned by the BBC in the wake of Greg Dyke’s comments of the “BBC being hideously white”.
After this, we were treated to some clips from Gurinder Chadha’s, “Bhaji on the Beach” which features an interracial romance between a young Asian girl, Hashida (Sarita Khajuria) and an Afro-Caribbean boy, Oliver (Mo Sesay), leading the panel chair, Samira Ahmed to comment that Chadha’s “romances are full of warmth”.
Chadha explained that since that was her first film and quite possibly last (as she believed at that time), she did not want to be defined by others, but wanted to make something with redemption and joy.
We were also treated to a scene from the delightful, and original romantic comedy, BBC iplayer series, “My Jihad”, written by Shakeel Ahmed, which was commissioned by the BBC and remains available on iplayer (please see link below).
Salmon said commissioning series on iplayer was one of way enabling young and first time professional writers with a very distinct and singular voice the space to grow and develop.
She explained that the current demands of TV drama writing, where six episodes is the norm is too difficult a leap sometimes for those looking to break into TV for the first time.
She also talked about the forthcoming prime time BBC political thriller series – “Undercover” which stars Lester and is inspired by the real life stories of Metropolitan police officers having relationships with women whilst working under cover. Sophie Okonedo plays opposite Lester and the drama will be on our screens next year.
- ‘Race & Romance’ on TV http://www.bfi.org.uk/talks-interviews-trailers
- ‘My Jihad’ – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02ty5wz
The play which was debated – You in ‘Your Small Corner’ (ITV, 1962) – is available to watch in the BFI Mediatheque (locations here), and will be screened in full at BFI Southbank on Sunday December 13 at 2pm.
You can vote for your favourite screen couple on film or television and voting is on-going for another week –as far as multi-racial or ethnic couples are concerned only Raj and Simran from DDLJ have been shortlisted so cast your votes here. http://www.bfi.org.uk/love/greatest-screen-couple-all-time
- Deepa Mehta’s seminal film, Fire is on Tuesday December 1, 18:00 NFT 2 & Saturday December 5 NFT 2 at 20:40
- Mani Ratnam’s ‘Love Stories’ weekend takes place from Saturday-Monday, December 12-14 (see earlier story at the end for listing)
- Director, Guru Dutt’s classic film, ‘Pyaasa’ (1957) is screened on Saturday, December 19 at NFT2 17:20 & Wednesday, December 23 17:50 NFT2.