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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Comments

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    Comment number 1.

    Not much has really changed since those far off days. My wife is Hong Kong Chinese holding a British National Overseas passport (her full British passport having been taken away due to fears of Britain being overrun by Chinese). We have been together for 16 years and married for 8 yet the process we had to go through for me to bring her with me to my homeland was onerous and invasive to be polite about it. Even after all we went through to get "permission" for us to live together we were only granted 27 months and have to go through it all again in a year's time. I thought we had learned the lessons of the past and were a true multi-racial society. I have only one polite answer to that - poppycock !

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    Comment number 2.

    Why is the BBC wasting money on a such a broken and forgotten about subject at a time when the Government is trying to save tax payers money ? Multiculturalism does not work in this country. Mr. Cameron is right about that. Expensive and long winded television reports of this sort only add to everyone's misery. I am not a member of BNP or some other organisation of that sort but I can see why they are gaining so much ground in a country where rioting in the streets or other unrest is considered to be normal. Perhaps it might have been a more appropriate to show someone slapping their own bald head to music ? Someone in the background to singing with words like "Lah ! Lah ! La La La !. The deep fried Mars bar could be discussed by someone like Raymond Blanc as a way of showing that multiculturalism works in England.

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    Comment number 3.

    Thank you for providing me with interesting and vital background information for my dissertation. As a British girl who is currently in a relationship with a guy from Pakistan, I have become increasingly interested in multiculturalism and cultural hybridity. I find the subject rather interesting, and dream of the day of when I and my partner will have children. I have learnt a lot already in this first episode and very much looking forward to the other two episodes!

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    Comment number 4.

    My grandmother (Welsh) married my grandfather (west indian) in 1921 and she also related to me how difficult it was in those days. Often she would not be served in shops and was often rebuked in the street. I always felt she was a person ahead of the times. When I was in school as a small child often my teachers would make nasty comments about my family in front of the whole class. Myself I felt nothing was abnormal I was brought up in a very loving family environment and as my grandparents had 9 children they related that it was very difficult for them too. However, later in years the family was respected by the community. It was felt in the past that people of different ethenicity was coming in and taking the jobs of the british people yet nothing has changed this is still being said and people actually believe this. When will people actually realise that if they want to work it is there. Multicultural society has actually provided so much to this country and we should learn by the past that these people have so much to offer. If we did not have them many businesses would not survive. Where would we be without this?

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    Comment number 5.

    The programme was really informative and revealed the truth behind mixed marriages. I have been in a mixed marriage for nearly 30 years with two great sons and one grandchild, mixed West Indian, Italian and British! I remember my Father telling me that mixed race children grew up muddled, not knowing where they belong. This has certainly never been the case and my family is a happy, enriched and loving one. I take my hat off to all those women who were strong enough to withstand the ridiculous onlslaught they had to put up with for loving another human being of their choice. Well done BBC, about time the truth was heard.

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    Comment number 6.

    A wonderful first episode. Look forward to the other ones.
    It's a good account of the 'visible' mixes in British society, of course, Britain has always been a "creole" society in this way with various mixes from the continent. As an aside - contrary to popular belief, most people in Britain have a mix of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and other lineages. Most Italian and Mediterranean people are mixed race as well while we're on that subject. When people comment that I look Italian (as a result of my mixes) I say: "yes, Italian people do look mixed".

    Britain, and former colonies as in The Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions such as Jamaica and the Seychelles, can show what a wonderful mix of people we all are, and will be. The "Rainbow People" of Britain (to borrow Desmond Tutu's words!). Viva New Britain, multiculturalism does work, it depends how you define it. Multiculturalism to me means people mixing with each other, in all the ways that implies! Segregation never works and is anti-human. "We live together as Brothers (and sisters!), or perish together as fools" as Martin Luther King once wisely said.

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    Comment number 7.

    I am a white European woman in a happy marriage with a West-African man since 1998. We have a girl together, and in addition we have had custody of his two West-African boys since 2002. Looking at the programme, one question came to mind: What should define a person as mixed? Should it be only the genetic background? I claim, that the mixture of cultures should be as important. Culturally, my stepsons (one adult now, the other mid-teen) said after viewing the programme that they feel of mixed heritage now, despite being ethnically African. They mix equally with whites and blacks, they enjoy both classical music, hiphop and African music, they are treated equally with their white peers at their majority white school and have joined the same sport clubs. I am sure there are many kids like them around.

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    Comment number 8.

    The interview with the two old Liverpool Chinese-white ladies was filmed in my house.
    It's not relevent but what an utterly charming man George Alagiah is off camera.
    Anyway,I feared that some of the comments made by the ladies would end up on the cutting room floor as they didn't fit with what I thought was a preconceived agenda.
    ie what a thoroughly miserable time it was in early 20th century Britain for all of mixed race.
    One of the ladies said (quite unsolicited from George) 'if I had my life all over again I'd want exactly the same life'. Not only was it not edited out it was embraced by the editor and used to effect right at the end.
    The programme is so much stronger and more authentic for it.
    As George says in his blog ;he didn't want it to be a whinge fest about race. He also says he wanted to present the story he discovered as he went along and that,as far as I can see from my inside glimpse, is exactly what he's done,to his credit.

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    Comment number 9.

    i live in a small village, im married to an african man and have two mixed race daughters, not very much has changed in these small villages i have had to move house due to racial abuse from all my neighbours in one area, i am currently looking to move again into a town where there are more mixed cultures. i am told im crazy and mad as i am with a black man, my two children are picked on for their colour i cant let them out the house to play not even in my garden as they get picked on by local children. my neighbours ask things about my husband and speak about him as if he is an alien. the thing i find most strange is that adults seem to love my children as they think they are 'cute' yet be totally racist towards an adult who is black.
    britain needs to move forward in time not just in the big towns and cities but also in smaller villages people should be allowed to marry or be with who they want reguardless of culture or skin colour and be allowed to live where ever they want. my children were born in the town i live in and have the same rights as every other child here yet for some reason they are still seen as being foreign!!

  • Comment number 10.

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

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    Comment number 11.

    Very interesting programe, who else but the BBC would make it? Sad to read some of the comments above. Racism still exists, it is clear from both the commentors who have been a victim of it and the rather paranoid post about white people being wiped out. Where to start? In a population where the vast majority are white there is no chance of white people being "wiped out" by inter-marriage. If you're interested to read my not-for-profit review click here http://georgejuliantvreviewsuk.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/mixed-britannia-1910-1939-bbc2/

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    Comment number 12.

    I am always glad when I see something appear on mainstream television that appears to be attempting to make intelligent comment issues. However for a great number of people in Britain (indeed the world), all of this rather old hat. We know about most of what has been presented in this programme. As an artist I make work about the inter-connectedness and social/historical inheritances of people's lives today (especially black and white) and like so many other artists did during the 70's, 80's and 90's try through my work to talk about what has often been made into invisible history because it often makes people uncomfortable. As a mixed race person of Indian and African parents I found the programme supporting the position that only mixed race people of white/other descent are valid under the term mixed race, and I was disappointed to hear the bravery of white women foregrounded as something mighty when in fact anyone of colour who chooses to be in a marriage or relationship with a white person faces exactly the same barriers and challenges as any white woman or man who enters into a mixed race relationship and have offspring. Neither of my parents are white. I am mixed race and I cannot help but think the bias of skin colour or the proof of a white parent as an all important ingredient in being recognised as mixed race still holds up whiteness as a form of racial superiority. However, I found the programme really engaging and look forward to viewing the next chapter.

  • Comment number 13.

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

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    Comment number 14.

    My parents are of different nationalities. My mother is from Sheffield, however my father is Bavarian. They met before WWII and were horribly persecuted throughout the war due to his nationality. I guess this is a slightly different situation than just race alone, given the circumstances of the war, however both I and my parents can relate.

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    Comment number 15.

    These so called racial melting pots only exist in prodomantly or what were once white countries, theres no mass migration into asia or africa, no breeding out of the indiginous people. European governments seem to be commmting voluntary genocide of their own race. People may want to celebrate mixed racial britain, not me,i dont celebrate races being wiped out!

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    Comment number 16.

    I am mixed race myself, and I'm so glad that the BBC have aired this season. Keep up the good work, BBC, and please don't pay any mind to those disgruntled sorts from Tunbridge Wells!

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    Comment number 17.

    Hi everyone who has posted comments on the Mixed Britannia programme. My name is Nicky Mehta and my husband and I are both on the programme. We were both absolutely previllaged to be a part of a documentary that shows us all how lucky we all are living in this day and age where mixed relationships are no longer frowned upon. It was haert braking seeing footage from issues in the past and how 2 peope coming together in love got somuch grief just because of the colour of there skin.... Horrific and so sad :o(
    I am Indian and my gorgeous hubby is white. We take the best bits out of both cultures nd make the rest up as we go along - works for us and we are so happy! Thanks to the Mixed Britannia crew, they have worked so hard to create this documentary. Thank you for having Nick and I be a part of your programme. Much love x

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    Comment number 18.

    I was born in colonial Kenya 1950 and lived the apartheid system there black brown white not allowed to mix, coming to the UK in 70's and grew up with NATION FRONT RACISM on learning british history the word I recognised was Nazi, the programme tries to dilute the Nazi style white western superiority culture prevalent in the whole of the British Empire, thankfully it is now on the wane and as Asia rises it makes little sense to pursue this ideology.

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    Comment number 19.

    A pity we had such a lightweight programme with obvious bias from George Alagiah. The sad fact is that the vast majority of mixed marriages are not between 2 people in the top 2% education wise and where one of them works for maybe 3 or 4 hours a day for maybe 4 days a week.

    I would have expected to both have the alternate point of view reported and esp the fact that in the 1920s we were short of men because so many had been killed or seriously wounded by the 1st World War.

    If one looks around the council estates and poorest areas why for example is is that the single mothers with kids are principally mixed race? Why are they so hugely over-represented in the prisons and courts?

    George Alagiah was seemingly taken on board into the BBC when the BBC was desperate to take on women and non whites has had it very easy I would suggest and his lack of gravitas reflects his lightweight background. He is evidently a very nice person but little more judging by this so far fatuous programme

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    Comment number 20.

    Your comment betrays your prejudice, Nicky. George Alagiah is an outstandingly well qualified journalist, and a genuine expert.

 

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