The Oxbridge mafia and the hollow promise of equal opportunities

Posted: May 8, 2013 in Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

On the morning of May 2nd the Today programme reported the story of a performance by Black comedian Reginald D. Hunter at the Professional Footballers’ Association’s annual awards dinner.  Hunter is known for using the ‘n-word’ in his comedy routines, and this night’s performance was no exception.

Reginald D. Hunter - no stranger to the 'n-word'.

Reginald D. Hunter – no stranger to the ‘n-word’.

This was particular embarrassing for the PFA as they have been fighting the battle against racial abuse in the game for some years now, not least in their promotion of the ‘Lets Kick Racism Out of Football’ campaign.  Now the use of the n-word is a contentious issue. As I have previously said on this blog I feel that white people should never use the word in any circumstance, but I acknowledge that many African-Americans reserve the right to use the term in an attempt to reclaim it. But this post is not about who or when it is appropriate to use that word.  What’s got my back up is who the Today programme thought was qualified to discuss the issue. The best participants for the debate would have the Black PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle and Reginald Hunter himself.  But no such luck.  If they were unavailable then how about a representative from the ‘Kick it  Out’ campaign, or a Black ex-footballer like John Barnes who experienced having this term shouted at them from the terraces? No?  Well how about a Black comedian? No, to debate this sensitive issue the Today programme chose white comedian Marcus Brigstocke and white comedienne  Rhona Cameron. So on BBC Radio’s flagship news programme we have the spectacle of three white people, none of whom have ever been on the receiving end of that term, discussing in which (comedic) circumstances it is allowable to use it.  Could no-one on the production team see what was wrong with this picture? They really couldn’t find anyone more suitable – no Black comedian, no anti-racist campaigner, no one?  Did they try and fail or could they just not be bothered?

Marcus Brigstocke -surely not the best person for the job?

Marcus Brigstocke -surely not the best person for the job?

The anomaly was made all the more stark by the fact that not one but three Black comedians had featured on this same station’s airwaves just the night before!  Felix Dexter is a regular feature on the comedy series ’Down The Line’ (Wednesdays at 6pm) and both Nathan Canton and Curtis Walker appeared on the late night radio sit-com Can’t Tell Nathan Caton Nothing (Wednesdays at 11pm). Is it possible that a Black comedian can appear on Radio 4 and yet no Today programme researchers can get hold of their phone numbers?  Or maybe Black comedians don’t get up early enough to appear on Today.  (The BBC must think that all Black people keep vampire hours, as any show for us seems to be broadcast after 11pm!)

Let me restate, this blog-post is not about the ‘n-word’, it is about the BBC’s attitude to diversity.  It’s now over a decade since the BBC’s then Director General Greg Dyke declared that the BBC was ‘hideously white’.  Since then little has changed in terms of its employment practices.  Back in 1997 when I worked for a brief period in the Radio 1 press office, there were only two other Black men in the building – one fixed the computers and the other one was the security guard. And this was hip and trendy Radio 1. Imagine what it was like at stuffy Radios 3 and 4?  Whiter than a snow storm! And though the BBC pay lip-service to increasing the diversity of their work-force, things don’t seem to be changing.  Even the ‘institutionally racist’ Metropolitan Police are doing better, (at least they let in working-class whites) and this lack of respect on the Today programme shows why.  The producers, presenters and execs continue to recruit from their tight little circle of white, middle-class Oxbridge cronies, even when they are debating Black issues! It is a horrifying fact all the male Executive Directors on the BBC Executive Board are white, privately educated and went to either Oxford or Cambridge. So much for diversity!

Jo Johnson and David Cameron - 'Eton Mafia', 'Old School tie', 'Jobs for the boys', call it what you want, it adds up to the same thing.

Jo Johnson and David Cameron – ‘Eton Mafia’, ‘Old School tie’, ‘Jobs for the boys’, call it what you want, it adds up to the same thing.

It is the same situation in many institutions, not least our own government. Witness only last month, the appointment of Jo Johnson as the head of the Number 10 Policy Unit. Mr Johnson, like Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Osborne, and so many in the Tory cabinet is an old Etonian, Oxbridge graduate and former member of the infamous Bullingdon drinking club.  Oh, and co-incidentally he’s also the younger brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson.  David Cameron dismissed accusations of cronyism, arguing that he’s only hiring the best brains for the job.  But can’t he see how bad it looks?  This small band of white, middle-class, public-school boys dominate our government, our judiciary and our media, and it seems no-one outside of their clique can get a look in.  They not only control our parliament, but also our airwaves. They not only make the laws, but also set the political and news agenda.  From the outside, it looks like if you’re Black and/or working class the only way you can get a full-time job at Broadcasting House or the Houses of Parliament, is if your pushing a mop or checking security passes.

In closing I would like to remind our heads of government, and those at the BBC, of the words of an old song by Billy Paul.

“Somebody’s knocking on the door, somebody’s ringing the bell,/ Do me a favour, open the door, and let ‘em in.”

If you’d like to read more about the issues raised in this blog post, click on the link to check out my new book ‘The Problem With Black Men’, available now on Amazon.


  1. Scottish-Lady says:

    You’ll soon be chasing me off your Blog!
    Okay, I have nothing to add about Black representation on the BBC except to say, is this 2013 or 1973? Sometimes I think the latter.
    A parallel subject though – representing women. (We’re a sort of “minority” on The Today Programme’s terms.)
    I have heard that it’s now BBC policy to have more women on Today. To the point where they don’t always ask the person who is mentioned in the article. So they phone Mrs A to talk about Mr B’s theory. Mrs A says, “You’d best ask Mr B”, and the BBC says “No, we want to ask you”.
    If you think that’s unlikely, stop & think. The two people who discussed the comedian knew nothing about Football, were not Black, but (Hallelujah!) they had gender balance!
    Yes, they ticked one box & forgot there may be a more important issue.

    • leepinkerton says:

      Thanks Anne. no i could never chase away one of my most ardent supporters! Re the woman on R4 issue, yes I’ve heard the discussions. Infact this issue of representation there is even worse, as women are not a minority, they are a majority (51 or 52% i think). the blog post could also have been entitled the tyranny of the male, pale and stale, but those who have power, never give it up voluntarily!

      • Scottish-Lady says:

        Now when I hear a woman on Today I wonder, B List?
        They tick a box and consider the problem solved.
        Having said that, I couldn’t live happily without R4. Even if they do ignore my emails, calls etc! I must be on their Little List of pests.

  2. Louise Bennett says:

    I really relate to this blog post. I also have a job in a media and have achieved a level of seniority at my organisation – now I can’t find a similar role in my industry. I even had an interview for a job junior to my role – it seemed to go great – but i didn’t get the role – even though I have seven years of solid experience. I try very hard not to think my race is a factor in my lack of recent job success – if only to keep me confident and motivated. But it’s been hard recently, this job in question – the role is still advertised – even though they told me they had chosen someone else for the position and they would apparently definitely consider me again for future roles with them.

    Institutions, especially when you get higher up the echelons are disgustingly white and middle class. And when a black person breaks through, take the MP Sam Gyimah who is private secretary to the PM – they have to be as white as possible. (Sam went to Eton, and I believe Oxbridge). It’s a little club where they help each other – and unfortunately I don’t see how the ring can be broken.

    • leepinkerton says:

      You are dead right Louise. Check the Cvs of those Black people who have made it into Parliament – Dianne Abbot – Cambridge, Keith Vaz – Cambridge, David Lammy – Harvard. This is an exclusive club, a priviledged elite who claim to represent our views and interests. Chaa! Those days of mans like Bernie Grant are long gone!

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