University professor uses his family's Windrush arguments as basis for BBC radio series

19 May 2023
Man and woman standing close together wrapped up for cold weather

A University of Winchester academic has turned a long-running family argument into a BBC Radio 4 series dealing with the experiences of the Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation.

Professor Robert Beckford, Director of the University’s Institute for Climate and Social Justice has made the programme, Windrush: A Family Divided, with his wife, Jennifer.

The couple (pictured) are of Jamaican descent. Robert’s family came to Northampton, where he was born, in the 1950s while Jennifer, the daughter of a diplomat, arrived in the UK in the 1970s as a teenager.

He takes a positive position on the Windrush experience while his wife takes the opposing view.

While Robert has been making programmes for the BBC and Channel 4 for 25 years, Jennifer is new to broadcasting.

Robert explains: “This is based on a genuine family argument which we have been having on and off ever since we’ve been married.

“This is not unique to our family – this is debate that most Caribbean families have but don’t make public.

“I got fed up with rowing over the dinner table and thought: ‘Why don’t I pitch this to the BBC as a programme idea?’”

The series is made up four episodes. The first three each have an individual theme - identity, economics and politics – the fourth will be a live debate, chaired by Clive Myrie.

Robert and Jennifer bring in people from all walks of life to support their arguments.

Among those appearing are former England footballer John Barnes, whose family are from Jamaica, who does not regret coming to the UK.

Jennifer calls on the experiences on Barbara Blake Hannah, the first black reporter on British television in the 1960s, who returned to her native Jamaica to escape racism.

The Beckford also draw on sources closer to home.

Robert speaks to his Uncle Ken, who came to Britain because he could earn far more as a cabinet maker in Coventry than in Jamaica. He bought his own house at 21 and ended up a wealthy property developer.

On the flipside of the coin, Jennifer speaks to her niece, a teacher born in the UK, who has moved to Jamaica as part of what has become known as the ‘Blaxodus’.

The programme also considers the effects of the Windrush migration on the West Indies.

“We look at how the Caribbean was affected and what would have happened if many of these well-qualified people had returned after a few years,” said Robert.

The first part of Windrush: A Family Divided is due to go out on 5 June at 11am.

Robert hopes the series will be as well received as his last broadcasting project, which also had a Caribbean flavour.

After The Flood: The Church, Slavery and Reconciliation, a documentary which Robert developed and narrated, premiered in 2022 and is now in the running for an award.

The film, which explored how the church in Barbados exploited slaves, is up for a Sandford St Martin Award in the TV/Video category. The awards recognise the best UK broadcast content exploring or engaging with religious, ethical or spiritual themes. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Manchester on June 21.



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