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UK's first black TV journalist, Barbara Blake Hannah, describes her journey within the media field

Barbara Blake Hannah, 79, paved the way for Moira Stuart and Trevor McDonald after she made her debut in 1968 as the first black journalist on British television.

She revealed all her struggles and conflicted emotions when the station management dismissed her after showing her letters from some racist readers demanding ‘Get that n-word off our screens’.

She explained she was struck when Thames TV bosses renewed her colleagues' contracts, but not hers and justified it with the appalling notes complaining about her presence, just because of the colour of her skin.

Barbara Blake Hannah paved way for Moira Stuart and Trevor McDonald after her 1968 debut. Image credit Twitter/Daily Mail

At her next job, she was sent out of the office after the right-wing politician Enoch Powell – fresh from his anti-mass-immigration ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – was due in.

She opened up explaining that he had only agreed to be interviewed on the condition she was not in the studio at the time. It wasn’t easy to accept all of this just to make a living and keep doing what she loved doing: journalism.

Ms Hannah arrived in England in 1964 from Jamaica, her native country, with a very high skilled curriculum full of journalistic experience. She found her first job at the country’s Press Association.

She said when Thames TV bosses introduced her to the press, Jane Probyn and Eamonn Andrews rushed out of the room to file stories on her appointment, without even thinking about the fact that this rude action could have hurt her feelings as a human being.

Image credit In The Spotlight/

Speaking from Kingston, Jamaica, Ms Hannah said: ‘I wondered “What was that” and it turned out they were all rushing out to file the story there was the first black TV journalist. It was nothing to me at the time, it was just a job to make a living.

However, she said that she discovered later that “Many viewers didn’t like it”. “Now and then I would meet Jamaicans who were in London living in England at the time and they’d tell me how proud they were, how happy they were, how they would rush home each evening to the get to the Today show at 6 pm, there was huge support but they never wrote in letters to the station saying that,” she added.

Barbara Blake Hannah alongside presenter Eamonn Andrews and reporter Jane Probyn at Thames TV. Image credit Sky News

However, it also turned out that there were people who didn’t like it, who would phone in and write in saying “Get that n-word off our screens”.

“I didn’t know that at the time, they were very kind to keep that from me. Eventually, when my contract came up for renewal, they considered that and chose not to renew it.

“That was when I first learned this was happening because they showed me some of the letters that had come in, maybe not to be cruel but to justify not renewing my contract when they renewed the contract of the other two presenters.”

Later after she went to Birmingham to work on Associated Television, she experienced worse racism there.

One disturbing occasion saw her shepherded out of the office because Powell was coming in.

She declared to Radio 4’s Today programme: “When I got back into the studio I learned Enoch Powell had been interviewed in the studio.

“He agreed to come into the studio if I wasn’t present.

“Racism in Birmingham was so normal, I could never get a hotel room, I had to come back to London every night after the programme by train.

“No hotel would rent me a room that’s how serious it was in Birmingham at the time."

Image credit In The Spotlight/

Now, after so many recognitions of her impressive work, the broadcasting field has seen a new journalism award named after her. Specifically, the Press Gazette has launched the Barbara Blake-Hannah prize to recognise up and coming non-white journalists.

Editor in chief Dominic Ponsford explained: “I’m ashamed to say I was not aware of Barbara’s story. But having spoken to her and read up about her history I can’t think of a better role model for the next generation of BAME journalists who are breaking through barriers in the way that she did.”


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