The search for TV’s first interracial kiss and why it matters

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This is the story behind the BFI’s news today that it may have found the earliest TV interracial kiss. Though in response there are already suggestions that it may not be the first.

A few months ago the team behind It Was Alright In the 60s found the 1964 episode of Emergency Ward Ten in which a rather touching love story between two doctors featured a beautiful kiss. They interviewed Joan Hooley, who got sacked as a result of the outrage generated.  Her character got sent to Africa and bitten by a snake. Yes. Actually that.  You can watch the episode on 4OD and listen to her talk about it on the BBC World Service here.

John White, Joan Hooley

John White, Joan Hooley

I suggested to the BFI we should show the clip in a panel discussion I’m chairing on race and romance as part of their Love season. Especially as this episode seemed to be the earliest interracial kiss on TV anywhere, as found by series producer Simon Harries and series editor Adam McLean. And not a forced performance for degenerate aliens  — the much cited but rarely understood Kirk/Uhura kiss in the Plato’s Stepchildren episode from Star Trek in 1968.

The BFI did its own digging and came back to me last week with the news that they’d found a clip from 1962 which seemed to move the seminal moment of that first kiss back even earlier: You In Your Small Corner. What’s more it was live. What’s more the character of the male protaganist is a Cambridge student. And that’s a whole discussion about what sort of background we give characters on TV today.

Drawing attention to race in romance feels odd now. But we know it still stirs negative feelings among some people and in the USA, the memory of interracial marriage being illegal in states such as Mississippi is very much a living one. Ask Alice Walker.

The panel features Adrian Lester, Art Malik and director Gurinder Chadha, whose Bhaji on the Beach tackles many taboos with warmth and humour, including racism within the Asian community in its portrayal of a black-Asian couple with an unplanned pregnancy. I should admit: That’s my mum incidentally as Asha, getting  a light, middle-aged flirtation with Peter Cellier as an English charmer in a boater and blazer.

Why does it matter? There is a tendency in modern retro TV to want to airbrush racism out of collective public memory. I take the opportunity yet again to cite Life on Mars. It Was Alright In The.. was marvellous for doing the opposite, and reminding us of the tension between older conservative viewers (the high ratings for The Black and White Minstrel Show) and those, increasingly younger people, who embraced social change. Through it all actors, writers, film and programme makers and citizens of every background, have fallen in love and sometimes tried to put such stories on screen. The role of TV in reflecting and driving social change and acceptance is important. Here’s a rare chance to celebrate and discuss it all with people who were part of such stories. We’ll be showing a lot of clips. And there’ll be a December 13th public screening of You In Your Small Corner, too, for a chance to watch the whole thing for the first time since transmission. Tickets via the BFI website:

You can buy tickets to the BFI Race and Romance event on Tuesday November 24th here

You can buy tickets to the BFI screening of You In Your Small Corner on  Sunday December 13th  here

Granada TV 1962. Dir Claude Whatham, With Lloyd Reckord, Elizabeth Maclennan, Ida Shepley, Charles Hyatt. 81min.

First presented at the Royal Court, Jamaican dramatist Barry Reckord’s ‘You in Your Small Corner’ is one of the earliest attempts to represent the Afro-Caribbean migrant experience from a non-white perspective on British television. Through the story of the relationship between Dave, a young middle-class West Indian (played by the writer’s brother, Lloyd Reckord), and his white, working-class girlfriend, Terry, and drawing on his own experience of attending Cambridge in the 1950s, Reckord brilliantly subverts the class expectations of the day – Dave’s mother strongly disapproving  of a girlfriend she regards as his intellectual inferior. It is this aspect of the play’s nuanced dissection of class and racism that the press picked up on at the time of its transmission and therefore remarkably the explicit portrayal of the physical relationship between Dave and Terry went largely unmarked, however this is indeed believed to be the world’s first interracial TV kiss including a marvellously unselfconscious post-coital scene. This fact alone however does not do justice to the quality of the play’s writing and all credit must go to Director Claude Waltham and Granada TV for holding their nerve so magnificently. Do not miss the opportunity to see this massively significant play in the history of British TV drama.

Further viewing

ITV News At Ten report Nov 21st 2015 on the discovery (watch from 27 min 40 sec)

About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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