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Sir William Atkinson

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 16 August 2010

Sir William Atkinson, one of the country's best-known super-heads, first came to this country from Jamaica aged 7. His father met him, his mother and two brothers at Heathrow. This is the first memory Sir William has of his father who had worked abroad for a number of years. The other oddity of that day was seeing white people doing manual work on the drive from the airport. The only white people he'd seen as a young child, growing up in a small village, had been plantation owners.

The family settled in Battersea, South London. In the 1950s this was a white working-class neighbourhood and racism was endemic with room-to-let signs proclaiming: no blacks, no Irish. Despite a difficult educational start - Sir William must be the only person to have failed the 11+ twice - school became his saviour. Teachers, fired with a 1960s social conscience, put faith in him. He went into education to return the favour.
Producer: Rosamund Jones.


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