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Barbara Blake-Hannah: how Britain’s first black female TV reporter was forced off our screens

In the 60s, long before Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart became household names, a 26-year-old from Jamaica was a regular on the news. Then the racist letters and calls started

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.”

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