ALEX PASCALL

CHAMPIONS

Pioneering broadcaster and entertainer Alex Pascall OBE hosted a radio show that was considered the voice of the black community in the 1970s

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Back in 1974, Grenadian-born entertainer Alex Pascall began hosting what was then Britain’s one and only black radio show. Part news, part phone-in and part music, the legendary Black Londoners started out once a month but proved so popular that it ended up being broadcast daily for 10 years.

The show emerged during a seismic period in race relations and alongside interviews with stars like Mighty Sparrow and Muhammed Ali, there were authentic reports from the frontline of Britain’s inner cities accompanied by the sort of open debate unheard of elsewhere in the media.

“It was a very tense time,” recalled Alex. “Mrs Thatcher went from talking about Britain being swamped by immigrants to ignoring the news that 13 black children had died at New Cross [in a house fire] – the programme raised £21,000 for the victims’ families.

“At the same time, young people were finding it hard to get work, hard to get a good education and couldn’t walk down the street without the risk of being stopped by the police. But when the riots came the authorities were completely taken by surprise.”

Despite its popularity, the BBC decided to pull the plug on the programme in 1986, a decision that led to a huge falling out between Alex and the corporation that continues to rumble to this day. “I have no regrets about what I said at the time – years later the director general himself, Greg Dyke, accused the BBC of being ‘hideously white’,” said Alex, who became an OBE in 1996.

Composer, singer, drummer and playwright rolled into one, he arrived in Britain in 1959 aged 22, founding The Alex Pascall Singers a year later.

Specialising in Caribbean folk arts, he has spent a lifetime in performance and promotion, in 1984-89 heading the carnival and arts committee of the Notting Hill Carnival.

In 1982 Alex worked with publisher Val McCalla to establish The Voice newspaper and continues to be a leading member of the National Union of Journalists’ Black Members’ Council. He is also a trustee of the Tabernacle Arts and Community Centre in west London in 2016, Alex was back on the airwaves exuding his customary warmth and charm with Alex Pascall’s Londoners, an online talk show that included now historical archive material from Black Londoners.

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