Life peer Baroness Floella Benjamin gave up her job in a bank to become an actor, reaching national treasure status when she began presenting the children’s TV show Play School

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One of six children, Floella Benjamin was born in 1949 in Trinidad and came to England aged 10 to join her mother and father, a jazz musician.

They finally settled in Beckenham, Kent. She left school at 16 to work as a bank clerk for three years but took a break to try her luck with acting. She never went back to the bank. In 1972 she appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar and starred in the Black Mikado alongside Norman Beaton and Derek Griffiths.

Floella’s television break came in the prime-time prison drama, Within These Walls with Googie Withers. The work rolled in and other credits include; Angels and Send in the Girls.
In 1976, Floella became a household name when she joined the team of the BBC’s Play School, demonstrating her skills as an energetic presenter, singer and dancer.

“I did Playschool for 12 wonderful years and loved every moment of it,” she recalled. “Working for and with kids is the best job in the world. It’s also like an insurance policy – they grow up being faithful to you.”

In 1977 she went to the Cannes Film Festival with, Black Joy, a film about migrant life in London starring Norman Beaton.

Floella has campaigned for diversity in the media and the arts for the last four decades. In 1987 she formed her own production company, Floella Benjamin Productions, where she produced and presented mainly children programmes including, Hullaballoo and Jamboree, as well as life-style programmes such as A Taste of Caribbean, Africa on a Plate and Statues and Monuments.

She has written more than 30 books. The most well-known, Coming to England, chronicles her childhood experiences of being part of two cultures as a child of the Windrush Generation.
In 2010 she was appointed a Liberal Democrat life peer, titled Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham.

Floella is vice-president for the children’s charity Barnardo and has run 10 consecutive London marathons to raise money on its behalf. In 2001, she received an OBE for services to broadcasting and in 2012 the JM Barrie Award for her contribution to children’s arts.

During the Empire Windrush’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018, she received an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal for her Windrush Garden display.

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