The Media Society Presents: Black on Black: Clive Myrie in Conversation with Sir Trevor Phillips, OBE

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Clive Myrie and Sir Trevor Phillips

Members of the Media Society were invited to a special evening in which they learned of the state of diversity in British Broadcasting by two elite journalists. BBC News presenter, Clive Myrie was in conversation with the former ITV London Weekend Television Executive, Sir Trevor Phillips, OBE.

Humble Beginnings

Clive Myrie was born in Bolton, England to Jamaican parents. His mother was a qualified teacher in Jamaica but was made to work as a seamstress upon her arrival in England. The Myrie family of 7 lived a stone’s throw away from Bolton Wanderers Football Club and with sport being a household favourite, Clive was fittingly named after the legendary West Indies Cricket captain, Clive Lloyd. He went to grammar school before completing a law degree at the University of Sussex, graduating in 1985. Trevor Phillips was born in London along with 8 others to Guyanese parents. Like Clive, Trevor’s mother was also made to take on work as a seamstress and he too attended grammar school before acquiring a university degree in law and chemistry from Imperial College London. Both Trevor and Clive were quick to point out their parents’ initial disapproval of their chosen professions. “The expectations my parents had for me were to become a lawyer or doctor. So you can imagine the shock I gave them when I told them that I had wanted to pursue a career in journalism,” says Clive. Trevor clearly identified with Clive’s dilemma when approaching his parents with the subject of career choice. He said: “Guyanese parents have very high expectations of their children – they see them as doctors or lawyers but never as journalists because its not viewed as an honest and hard-working profession.”

Television News

Clive Myrie in conversation with Trevor Phillips

Any parental disapproval of their career choices was quickly put to bed when the two journalists became regular faces on prime time tv during a time when the screen had previously been dominated by middle class white males. Clive, a familiar face on BBC Evening News, had applied to a BBC Training Course where he managed to sternly beat off thousands of entrants to secure himself one of the 12 offered places. “For as long as I can remember, I have always loved telling stories,” begins Clive, who adds: “I wanted to see a world beyond the four walls of Bolton. So when, to my delight, I was offered one of those 12 spaces on the BBC Training Course, I quickly said goodbye to law and now the rest is history.” For Trevor, the ambition was always to be involved in a management role. He said: “My parents’ high expectations were matched by my desire to be in charge of something.” Firstly, Trevor went on to become a presenter on ITV London Weekend Television before being promoted to Executive Presenter. Later on, he would become Chairman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now is currently the President of the partnership council of the John Lewis Partnership. “My parents’ strong work ethic along with their high expectations for me and my desire to become a manager were the stepping stones which paved the way to where I am today,” he said. 

Diversity in British Broadcasting

Although Trevor (at age 62) is 10 years Clive’s senior, both journalists have over 20 years experience in the profession. During those years there have been some changes in the representation of diversity in news though perhaps not on a seismic level. “Diversity in broadcasting is now slightly more widely represented than it was before but its still not enough, especially at executive levels,” says Clive. Trevor agrees with Clive’s analysis of the current situation. He said: “My career began 10 years before Clive’s and I along with Sir Trevor McDonald and Moira Stewart were, at the time, just a handful of the faces to be diversely represented on television news. I was very fortunate to get to an executive level but while there are more of us on the screen nowadays, not enough progress has been made during the last 20 years.” Both presenters believe there needs to be a fairer reflection of diversity in more senior and executive roles. “Today, Clive is a leader in his field but behind him there is no one,” says Trevor. He adds: “There are virtually no television executive roles being occupied by those from ethnically diversed backgrounds. Consequently we are in a disturbingly worst state now than we were in my time as an an executive.” Clive points out that the decline in journalism as a profession along with its conditions of pay are also partly to blame. He said: “Journalism doesn’t pay much now like it did before. Working for a local newspaper doesn’t pay the bills. While work experience and apprenticeship schemes are good they do not always guarantee a paid job at the end of it.” Trevor agrees. He said: “It is because of the lack of representation in the media along with the decline in the profession and its pay that journalism, as a career, is not made readily attractive to those from diverse backgrounds.”

Moira Stewart with Sir Trevor McDonald

The Future

For both Clive and Trevor, the future of diversity in British Broadcasting can begin to look brighter with the entrusting of a more diverse presence within both senior and executive roles so as to reflect the society we live in today. The two journalists hope that their experiences within the industry can inspire others to follow the same path. “Being in Moorhouse College in Atlanta in 2008 was one of the best stories I covered in my role as the BBC Foreign Correspondent,” says Clive. He added: “To be surrounded by thousands of people in tears as we witnessed the historical election of Barack Obama to President of the United States of America in the same place where Martin Luther King Jnr received his education was an incredibly humbling experience.” For Trevor, the fight to make it in the industry must go on. He said: “I don’t see myself as a controversial figure although in the past some have viewed me as one. I just believe in democracy, arguing and fighting for what you believe in.” Having both fought to get to where they find themselves now, Clive and Trevor strongly encourage the media aspirants of the future to do the same.

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip 

An Evening with Paul Beatty: The Sellout (Monday 17th October 2016)

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Man Booker Prize nominated author, Paul Beatty, made a flying visit from America to London to talk to readers about his most critically acclaimed novel yet: The Sellout. Speaking to an audience at the Waterstones book store in Islington, Beatty delved way back into his childhood, sharing memories of his time in Los Angeles. He said: “I grew up in an integrated middle-class area of LA so I wasn’t consciously aware of my race until I found myself in other neighbourhoods such as the East Coast.” Beatty describes his first encounter with race as coming after his reading of Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings. He said: “When I read that book, it did not sit well with me because it almost felt as if it was a project. Perhaps I think too deeply about things. Like when I obsessed over the fact that all my family members excluding myself and my 2 sisters were all right-handed. Or the fact that communism in Germany was an experiment – which though well intentioned can be hard to accept when you’re the lab rat. Perhaps my background in psychology explains all my thinking.”

Education

Beatty remembers his school life with some interest. “I grew up in Santa Monica where it was all white. My sisters and I were the only blacks in elementary school. However, it felt normal because of the area in which we lived. So just imagine the weird culture shock we would experience when mum would move us to an all-black school! These experiences helped to shape who I am today and form some of the themes to be explored in my latest novel – The Sellout.” The book has been described as a great American satire on race and comes at a time when a lot is going on in the U.S. in terms of race relations as evidenced through the Black Lives Matter campaign as well as the election trail to succeed out-going President – Barack Obama. “This book is about my discomfort” says Beatty. He adds: “I’m not trying to make others uncomfortable. In fact, I use the word comfort in the book all the time. I love being lost and always often start writing from a place of discomfort.” Beatty was aware of this discomfort from an early age. He said: “When I first started writing it was because I wanted to. I was from the West Coast but went to school in the East Coast, so, in some ways I felt like an odd ball. There was always a struggle within myself to get my voice on the page. I wanted to sound unique, to write like me.”

Writing

Paul Beatty at the 2016 Man Booker Awards Ceremony

The first poem he wrote to his liking was what he describes as a long monologue to himself about an experience he had with a bully. He said: “I felt more strongly about this poem than some of my professors did. I remember one professor giving me a C+ for an assignment after which he told me that I’d be wasting my time in pursuing a career in writing, while another professor told me that people will learn to read you. But it was Professor Allan Gingsberg who, after reading my poem, said that he had liked it and encouraged me to continue as I had something special there.” 

Cultural appropriation debate

The writer speaks with Paul Beatty

When Beatty was asked where he stood on the whole cultural appropriation debate as derived from a speech presented by author, Lionel Shriver, he said: “I don’t believe in ownership. Basketball is not a black only sport neither is that the case in the hip hop genre of music. When you put it out there, it belongs to the world. However, on another level, there are things you like which you really shouldn’t. I find it fascinating the variety of ways in which people see the concept of blackness. For the black writer, there is almost always a burden to give a certain segment of the population an explanation for what you write, though I personally do not take this burden on myself.”

Room to fail

Man Booker Prize Winner (2016)

So having written three novels prior to his latest Man Booker Prize nominated book ▪ what’s next on the horizon for Beatty? With a wry smile he concludes: “Well, I wish I could have stolen the answer Colson Whitehead (author of The Underground Railroad) gave to this question. He said the shelves can never be big enough. I’m just giving myself some room to fail. When Colson said that, I was like, ahh man, I wish that was me (that said that). That’s just pure genius.”

▪ The Sellout (2016) by Paul Beatty (published by Oneworld) was on the night of Tuesday 25th October 2016 duly awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It is currently available from all major book stores.

2016 Man Booker Prize Winner: Paul Beatty

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip