In 1968, Jamaican Barbara Blake Hannah, author, journalist, filmmaker, public speaker and managing director of Jamaican Media Productions became the first black journalist to make an appearance on television in the United Kingdom in a non-entertainment capacity. She got a job as an on-camera reporter for the daily evening news program “Today with Eamonn Andrews that aired on Thames TV. This was not the first time Hannah had a job on television, however, as she previously had hosted a weekly quiz show in Jamaica and also done some news reading in her home country. Before joining Thames TV, Hannah had worked as a writer for “The Sunday Times,” “Queen,” and “Cosmopolitan. “The experience of Hannah facilitated the appearances of later black individuals on UK television such as Moira Stuart of BBC News and Sir Trevor McDonald, who had a long career with ITV.
When Hannah arrived in the UK in 1964, she already had considerable experience as a journalist. She had written news articles for a magazine run by Evon Blake, her father, which provided her with a love for reading and writing “and my revolutionary spirit,” she says. Blake was also the founder of the Press Association of Jamaica, which began in 1940 which gave his daughter the upbringing and education that gave her the background she needed to become successful. Hanna’s first day as an on-air reporter was in 1968 when she broadcasted from the East End of London on the story of a gang that had committed a mob crime. In her career, she interviewed the likes of the UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson and British actor Michael Caine.
Hannah came to England as an “extra’ in the film “A High Wind in Jamaica” and was immediately exposed to the kind of discrimination she continued to face during her career. Hannah remembers being “treated with scorn, disgust, hatred,” and since she had been “raised to expect that reaction from white people, and to accept it, so I did and learned to live with it even though I hated it.”
Hannah’s skill as a reporter continued to be questioned by some who believed it was “inappropriate” for her to appear on screen. After her initials success at Thames TV, she was let go without any explanation. However, her producer told that viewers were applying pressure by calling the show daily to complain and demand that she be taken off the air on the basis of her race.
Hannah, who made her remarks in an interview with Sky News to commemorate UK Black History Month, recognized that she made history with her appearance as on on-air reporter and says she is grateful to be remembered for her role as a pioneer. She continues to believe, however, that there is “a long way to go” to confront racism in British culture.
Hannah was also the first Rastafarian to have a seat in Jamaica’s Parliament and served as an Independent Senator from 1984 to 1987. In addition to Thames TV, she worked with the BBC, ATV-Birmingham, and Channel 4-TV. In 1982, she published “Rastafari-The New Creation.” She is also the author of a book inspired by Bob Marley entitled “Joseph – A Rasta Reggae Fable”. Hannah received an Ethiopian Gold Adowa Medal for services to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the Ethiopian Crown Council of Jamaica. In 2018, Hannah was honored by the government of Jamaica with the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer.
Photo Source: Barbara Blake Hannah Facebook Page