Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


VIRTUAL: Black in the British Frame 1936-1996

08 June 2021, 6:30 pm–8:00 pm

Black in the British Frame

Illustrated and inspiring talk on Black actors on British TV from 1930s to 1990s and their fight for equality of portrayal

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Sarah Parker Remond Centre / Black History Walks

This is an online event. Zoom link will be sent 30 minutes before the start.

This event is organised by Black History Walks in collaboration with UCL's Sarah Parker Remond Centre

With this rare presentation, Stephen Bourne will take us through a fraction of his thirty years of research into the African/Caribbean experience on television with this book as a reference.

Black in the British Frame: Black People in British Film and Television, 1896-1996 by Stephen Bourne. First published 1998, currently out of print.

'...Informative and accessible...an indispensable work of reference for anyone with an interest in this crucial area of study.' -- Dr. Lola Young, Black and Asian Studies Association

'...a valuable book which uncovers an almost hidden history of a wealth of talented men and women.' -- Film Review

Focusing on drama and light entertainment, this text documents a range of experiences and representations of people of African descent in British film and cinema. It includes chapters about silent films, the British films of Paul Robeson, black film extras of the 1930s, Trinidadian singer and actor Edric Connor, early black filmmakers and writers, including Lionel Ngakane, Lloyd Reckord and Michael Abbensetts, actor Gordon Heath, black women in early British television, entertainer Winifred Atwell, actress Carmen Munroe, soaps, film and television drama since 1959, lesbians and gays, actor and writer Errol John and two landmark television plays: the BBC's "A Man from the Sun" (1956) and Channel 4's "The Final Passage" (1996)

About the author:

Stephen Bourne is a writer, film and social historian specialising in black heritage and gay culture. As noted by the BBC among others, Stephen ‘has discovered many stories that have remained untold for years’. Bonnie Greer, the acclaimed playwright and critic, says: ‘Stephen brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate and surprising. You always walk away from his work knowing something that you didn’t know, that you didn’t even expect.

Stephen was born in London. He graduated from the London College of Printing with a bachelor’s degree in film and television in 1988, and in 2006 received a MPhil. at De Montfort University on the subject of the representation of gay men in British television drama, 1936–79. After graduating in 1988, he was a research officer at the British Film Institute on a project that documented the history of black people in British television. The result was a two-part television documentary called Black and White in Colour (BBC 1992), directed by Isaac Julien, that is considered ground-breaking.

In 1991 Stephen was a founder member of the Black and Asian Studies Association. In 1991, Stephen co-authored Aunt Esther’s Story with Esther Bruce (his adopted aunt), which was published by Hammersmith and Fulham’s Ethnic Communities Oral History Project. Nancy Daniels in The Voice (8 October 1991) described the book as ‘Poignantly and simply told, the story of Aunt Esther is a factual account of a black working-class woman born in turn of the century London. The book is a captivating documentation of a life rich in experiences, enhanced by good black-and-white photographs.’ For Aunt Esther’s Story, Stephen and Esther were shortlisted for the 1992 Raymond Williams Prize for Community Publishing.

In 1998 Stephen researched and scripted the BBC Radio 2 series Their Long Voyage Home, presented by Sir Trevor McDonald, for the BBC’s Windrush season. For his acclaimed book Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television (2001), Stephen received the Southwark Civic Award. In 2004 Stephen began contributing biographies about black Britons to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and by 2016 Stephen’s total had reached 40.

In 2008 he researched Keep Smiling Through: Black Londoners on the Home Front 1939–1945, an exhibition for the Cuming Museum in the London Borough of Southwark, and that same year he worked as a historical consultant on the Imperial War Museum’s War to Windrush exhibition. In 2014 Stephen’s book Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War was published by The History Press to coincide with the centenary of Britain’s entry into World War I. Reviewing it in the Independent (11 September 2014), Bernadine Evaristo said: ‘Until historians and cultural map-makers stop ignoring the historical presence of people of colour, books such as this provide a powerful, revelatory counterbalance to the whitewashing of British history.’ For Black Poppies Stephen received the 2015 Southwark Arts Forum Literature Award at Southwark’s Unicorn Theatre.

In 2017 Stephen received a Screen Nation ('Black BAFTA') Special Award, an Honorary Fellowship from London South Bank University and his Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars was published by I B Tauris.