Mixed Britannia: Telling the story of mixed race Britain

Thursday 6 October 2011, 15:00

George Alagiah George Alagiah Presenter

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I guess there are two ways of approaching a TV production: knowing exactly what you want to say and finding the people who fit into the mould, or telling the story you discover as you go along.

There's always going to be a bit of an overlap, but in the case of Mixed Britannia on BBC Two I'd say it was definitely the latter.

George Alagiah in front of a Union Jack flag and montage of contributors to the Mixed Britannia series

George Alagiah with the families featured in the Mixed Britannia series

The brief from the commissioning editors was to produce a history of mixed race Britain.

It's one thing to research the facts and figures, the dates and so on - but it wasn't until we started filming that I realised we were telling the story of some extraordinary women.

Just imagine what guts it must have taken to defend and persevere with a relationship with a Chinese or Yemeni man as far back as the early 1900s.

These women were ostracised, accused of being prostitutes and publicly rebuked on the streets.

Women like Elizabeth Taylor from South Shields who married the Yemeni seaman, Mohammad Hassan, in the 1920s were heroines.

They were strong women - they had to be - who were adventurous and open-minded.

The one preconception I had about making this series was that I didn't want it to be a whinge-fest about race.

I didn't just want to do programmes about how tough it was to grow up mixed race.

We haven't ducked those issues - you only have to look at episodes two and three about the plight of the so-called "brown babies" after the Second World War, or the poignant and sometimes tragic lives of mixed race children in adoption.

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The British Eugenics tests

But for me the primary question all three programmes had to answer was slightly different.

What does it say about all of us, the British, that we have ended up in this remarkable place where our mixed race population is growing faster than just about any other comparable country?

Britain was subject to the same pressures and prejudices as America or Germany (the influence of the eugenicists is an example) but we avoided the worst excesses of those countries.

I'm not naïve enough to believe this was the result of enlightened politics - there were plenty of bigots here - but I do think there was something unique in the British experience, the history of empire and trade, which meant we took a different approach.

Mixed Britannia is as much a history of Britain as it is a story about those brave people who dared to find fun, friendship, and love across a forbidden frontier.

George Alagiah is the presenter of Mixed Britannia.

Read George Alagiah's views on being mixed race in Britain on the BBC Magazine.

Mixed Britannia is a three-part series on BBC Two starting on Thursday, 6 October at 9pm as part of the Mixed Race Season.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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    Comment number 41.

    My last comment (40) was cut accidentally.
    Here is the full comment:
    • At 18:03 23rd Oct 2011, Garvey Benson Humphrey wrote:
    I was born in 1925, in Birmingham. My mother was white, English, my father, with whom she bore four children, was black West Indian and my stepfather, with whom she had two more daughters, was black Nigerian.
    I recorded the three programmes of Mixed Britannia and, being confined to bed because of illness, I have just finished watching the recordings. Regrettably, I am unable to relate to the feelings, histories or experiences of those who were recorded.
    I have always been aware that problems existed since my parents were always fighting for equality for Negroes and were always holding meetings in our homes (we travelled extensively, in the British Isles and elsewhere). Having been privately educated, I was always aware that when my father tried to register my brothers and I at a new school, there would be no vacancies but my mother would, the following day, register us, under her maiden name, letting the Principal assume that we had not yet arrived in the town or city. This happened in, amongst others, Dumfries Academy, St. Aloysius College in Glasgow, Kilmarnock Academy and Aberdeen Grammar School. It was always my belief that this was not directly due to prejudice but to the fact that the school principals were afraid to try anything different because of insecurity about their jobs.
    I am aware that one of my brothers and one of my sisters have always believed that colour has adversely affected their lives but I have never accepted this. At school I went to classmates' birthday parties and they came to mine. In Aberdeen, when it was learned that we were going to the West Indies on a business/holiday trip both of our class teachers asked if they could look after us while our parents were away - not exactly an example of mixed race difficulties! And we were sufficiently in love with our country to commence making plans to return to England on September 4th 1939.
    My middle brother always resented the fact that his colour led to ill-treatment in the army - the same army which sent me to Sandhurst. He was also held back, later, in his career with an Insurance Company which promoted to the position of National Training Director!
    My own opinion was that if I failed to land a particular job, it was because I wasn't good enough - no sensible employer can afford not to employ the best. If I missed out on promotion - I should have worked harder. My brain, not my colour is what

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    yes your right app-artist and dont forget brazil, big melting pot there but mass migration is still mainly into prodomantly white countries. The white race is in decline, look at world health council stats. Any white person who chooses to have mixed race children is inching their race that little bit closer to extinction, obviously people are free to do has they choose but i feel its my duty to point out the facts before they do so. Im not a racist or supremacist, i just dont like seeing a race being wiped out. Im sorry if ive touched a nerve somewhere with you but a good dose of the truth is sometimes hard to swallow.

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The mixing of races is inevitable in the modern globalised world. I think that George Alagiah is great. Its true George's program says non ethnic European men are smart, generous, kind etc, etc. “People with dark skin look so handsome and healthy” they are“dashing” and that “An Arab is worth 20 white men”. Anyone who contradicts these facts is clearly mad.
    The non European sailors mentioned in the program came from countries where women had much greater rights than those in Britain. That is what the women in the program were celebrating. It is right that a true liberal would aim to spread the kind s of rights that women and gays have in the Sudan or Iran to poor old Britain. Only a racist would suggest that campaigning to change the culture in the Sudan and Iraq would be a better idea.
    I am sure that George's female Sri Lankan relatives have fantastic ranges of freedoms. They can wear what they like, or date anyone they please. Unlike Britain George's homeland of Sri Lanka welcome millions of immigrants of other racial groups who were mainly men coming into their country. This would cause no issues what so ever.
    Thank you BBC for showing me all these things.

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    Comment number 45.

    So we've had the facts about the increase of mixed race britains,what about the decline of white race britains.Come on bbc your always banging on about the extinction of tigers,pandas,red squirrels...these are variants of a species,theres plenty of other types of cat,bear and squirrel,so why do we want to protect them,i assume its because of their unique characteristics,so should'nt this be the same for human races,not so,apparently its racist to think this,baffling...So come on bbc,your always telling us how unbiased you are,give the nation the facts,or does go against your anti white agenda?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Please BBC, consider making this series available on DVD. These are my experiences and I thought it was an excellent series - so little has been explored about our lives. This record of the mixed-race experience in a younger Britian must be remembered and I would like to show it to my children, and one day my grandchildren.


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