When I started a two-week placement at TfL in Victoria, I knew at best what most people know about Transport for London. TfL runs the tube and bus services in our capital. TfL hires thousands of bus drivers, London Underground staff and a network of engineers and other employees. What more was there to it? Weren’t they now part of our new Mayor’s empire at Greater London Authority?
Years ago, I wrote a one-off TV drama on a fast track programme for budding UK writers, headed by Jane Tranter, then at Channel 5.
The story of an up-and-coming actor stalked by a crack smoking South London cabbie was loosely based on real events. Tranter described it as “dark, disturbing and violent.” And I thought, that sounds good to me. But she felt it was not something she could develop. In fact, it scared her half to death, she said. So much so, that she would “never go to Brixton again.” And that was that. My chances of a career as a budding screenwriter spent. In a later redraft, I changed the location to Notting Hill Gate–in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where I lived. But I never sent the script out to anyone else.
What I remember most about the session is that we were a varied group of ten writers each selected from across the country, based on some degree of success writing for theatre. Their ideas for TV ranged from the return of a lesbian Boadicea charging naked through the streets of England to a crop of gangland shootouts across London’s East End, and the usual bog-standard sitcom concepts that barely drew a chuckle from me. Reading them one-by-one in the comfort of my home, none of it felt real to me at all. No authenticity of people, place or time. But whilst I could talk to them intelligently on any subject and offer my constructive criticism of their writing when asked, they all remained eerily silent in return when it came to any discussion of my work. It was a collective “silent treatment,” as if they didn’t want to help or contribute in any way to my success. I was puzzled at first. “Is that all you have to say?” I’d ask. But nothing. Silence.
Their faces remaining completely blank as if they’d just read something in English when they only read and understand French. It was the same experience years later, on an MA degree in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Being the only non-white student in the entire English department based in ethnically diverse New Cross, my peers listened intently as I discussed the merits of other people’s writing, but had few comments to offer up about my own or the work of any black authors. The same silent treatment had caused me drop out of a BA degree course in Theatrical Arts at University of Birmingham many years earlier. At least this time around, I actually managed to complete the master’s programme. It was really only six months, one day a week, thankfully. Any longer, and I might have got bored.
Can you relate to being on the end of the silent treatment from colleagues or friends? How did you handle it?
Gary Barlow shattered the dreams of X-Factor hopeful Misha Bryan by telling her she won’t win the X-Factor because of wrongful bullying allegations made by his fellow judges. And much has be written suggesting that Misha is too Black to win the competition, while others have pointed out that Black contestants have won in the past. But is there a difference between then and now?
Leona Lewis won the third series of X-Factor in 2006 because Simon Cowell championed her cause; and she is after all bi-racial with coloured eyes and ‘blonde’ hair, which the British public ‘connect with’ more than the attributes of dark-skinned brown-eyed women of obvious African descent. Furthermore, she has a good, commercially appealing Mariah Carey-style voice and with that “international beige” complexion that is said to sell more records even without any talent attached in this supposedly ‘colour-blind’ world. Yet, the programme makers still found it necessary at the time to bring out Leona’s white mother and grandmother just to remind the good British public that Miss Lewis was in fact just one of them, if a little dusky round the edges.
Alexandra Burke, on the other hand, won the fifth series of X-Factor in 2008 largely because of the Cheryl Cole factor. As her mentor, Cole tried every trick in the book to persuade the folks at home to vote for her protégée, which of course indirectly meant a vote for our Cheryl. If you recall back then, Cheryl performed in-between the voting and all manner of other attempts were made throughout the series to persuade us that we were really voting for Cheryl Cole, our new English Rose, to win the competition between judges that year. Who knows how Dannii Minogue must have felt about it all, but for Cowell, it was an absolute Godsend, driving even more viewers to his moneymaking venture.
That’s not to suggest that Alexandra Burke had no talent, she had it in abundance, but those who know how racially motivated Britain can be were waiting with baited-breath to see if a dark-skinned woman of African descent could actually win this thing. That Burke was taller, leggier, and eurocentrically ‘better looking’ than Misha B, false hair ‘n’ all, played an important role. But we were grateful nonetheless to think that change had come to Britain. It is interesting to note that Burke’s career has never gone beyond the highpoint of her X-Factor win or the Hallelujah single that followed it. It seems that after X-Factor, no one really knows quite what to do with her talents, and she has ended up looking like some forlorn drag queen rather than the international artiste we all presumed she would become. But that mantle is reserved for Leona Lewis in the Cowell stable, and even he still believes lighter is brighter, and will no doubt be backing the Leona Lewis clone, Melanie Amaro, now that Drew is out of the runnings on X-Factor USA. But I digress.
Back in Little Britain, and many are wondering what is it exactly that the British public have against Misha B or her gorgeous mentor, Kelly Rowland, and the fact is they’re just too damn dark and too good for this place. And without Simon Cowell or Cheryl Cole to indirectly big them up, just who the hell do they think they are, anyway, with all that brimming confidence as if they’re better than everybody else is. And that’s just it, they are better than everybody else on that show is, and Britain doesn’t like it one little bit. But the good British public will never express their racist feelings outright (as many Americans might), but like Tula Paulinea “Tulisa” Contostavlos, herself a foreigner, they will find some trumped up excuse to justify their envy and xenophobia or simply put it down to they’re just not likeable or like us, meaning “white” or “English.”
In the final analysis, the only bullying that’s taken place on this year’s X-Factor is the bullying of Misha B. But should she win this eighth series of X-Factor UK, we could safely say that Simon Cowell’s moneymaking ‘talent show’ has single-handedly changed the social consciousness and fabric of Britain and Britishness forever. But that’s unlikely to happen me thinks. The truth is that whether Misha wins this show or not, she truly belongs in the USA as an export to Britain alongside the likes of Missy Elliott or the evergreen Grace Jones. Thank God for producers like Jay-Z with the money, power and influence to make her dreams a reality in this so called entertainment business. I’m sure that with a word from his friend Kelly Rowland, he can see Misha’s talent and hear the ca$h tills ringing. Simon Cowell isn’t the only music mogul in town.