In 2008, Barbara Blake-Hannah sat down to write a letter of admonishment to the Guardian. “I must put history right,” she wrote, explaining that a poster issued by the paper was incorrect. It contained, she noted, the common misconception that Trevor McDonald was the first Black person to report the news on British TV after he joined ITN in 1973 and that Moira Stuart, on BBC News from 1981, was the first Black woman. In fact, said Blake-Hannah – an author, film-maker and former Jamaican senator – in 1968 she was one of three Thames Television on-camera reporters for the current affairs programme Today, presented by Eamonn Andrews. (The BBC had hired a Black trainee reporter, Eric Anthony Abrahams, a few years earlier.)At the time her appointment made every daily newspaper, bar the Daily Express. Blake-Hannah claims the Express held out only because “they had a rule: no Black people on the front page”. “Shirley Bassey sang regularly and there were comedians, but we were allowed in an entertainment capacity, not as serious news people, delivering serious stories.”She reported five days a week, on everything from the closing-down sale of the Beatles’ Baker Street shop (“They gave away everything in the store, so you can imagine the riot”) to gang crime in the East End of London. But, after nine months, the producers told her abruptly that they would not be renewing her contract. Why? Because of the numerous calls and letters from viewers objecting to a Black person on TV. “It broke my heart,’” she says.Blake-Hannah is speaking to me from her home in Kingston, Jamaica, where she settled in 1972. She embraced Rastafari; the straightened, Vidal Sassoon-style bob of her 60s TV appearances has long been replaced by a leopard-print headwrap. Her only child, Makonnen Hannah, is nearby – he made headlines globally in 1998 when, as a 13-year-old, he was appointed the youngest-ever adviser to Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce and Technology.Blake-Hannah was raised in an affluent part of the Jamaican capital by her father, Evon Blake, a prominent magazine editor. His work meant mixing with the great and the good, but she says he is best remembered as the man who desegregated the swimming pool of the affluent Myrtle Bank hotel, a favourite haunt of one of his employees. “This accountant would go and swim there every midday, but my father, his boss, couldn’t. So one day my father put on his swimsuit and dived in. The horror! The manager came and said: ‘Mr Blake, you have to get out of the pool.’ He said: ‘No. Call the manager, call the prime minister, call God!’ And that was it: he liberated that pool, and he liberated Jamaican tourism.
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