‘Till Death Us Do Part and the BBC: Racial Politics and the British Working Classes 1965–75’ was written by Gavin Schaffer. This article begins by arguing how Labour adopted the ideas of restrictive immigration policies through the 1960s to match the public opinion of the time. The defeat of Labour in the constituency of Smethwick to Conservative MP and anti-immigration advocate, Griffiths was described as a turning point. This was because Labour realised that arguing for pro-immigration could cost them dearly.
This article uses Johnny Speight’s BBC TV sitcom to show how the working-class influenced Labours immigration policy between 1965-75 and how this affected race relations during this period. Speight was interviewed by The Sun in 1975: ‘There is still deep-seated racial prejudice in this country, based on ignorance and fear. But my show brings it out in the open and tries to make people realise how silly it is’.
Throughout 1965, the BBC were tasked with helping immigrants to settle within the community. New initiatives were set up such as new Sunday radio programmes specifically for immigrants from the Commonwealth. It was noted that this BBC policy resulted from pressure from the Labour government. They also conducted an anti-racism campaign and creating programmes to help educate the British public. This was why Speight’s sitcom is regarded an important piece for understanding the racism as it held a mirror up to the British public. This was done by having characters who represented each part of the political spectrum and highlighting the race issue by using humour and racial stereotypes. Speight’s goal was to highlight the absurdities of British racism, but many historians argue that this had the opposite affect and normalised and fuelled racism. This was due to misunderstanding from the viewers perspective who missed the point of Speight’s goal.
The BBC gained new cooperate bosses which began censoring Speight’s scripts. This could have resulted from the poor reception it had received by some immigrants who did not like the language used in the show. It returned in 1972 with 16 million Brits tuning into the first episode. A report was conducted showing that the show may have made middle-aged to elderly working-class people more prejudiced, with the viewers being slightly more anti-foreigner. The report also showed that 84% of people believed that the ironic racism was true suggesting that the series had the opposite effect of what Speight was trying to achieve. This leads to the conclusion that the show continued due to its popularity.
Speight understood that racism was manifestation of class prejudice to which he though that the working-class would have had a heightened understanding of this subject. However, not many got the ideas he was trying to illustrate with many wanting to see the series for the wrong reasons. This resulted in an intellectual blind spot shared with Marxist Historians who saw racism as an extension of class-conflict in Britain.