It was through my “morning pages” I uncovered my first two Specialist Factual pieces. “Brides and Prejudice” and the controversially titled “Why Should I Get Married?”
It was through writing and rewriting pages of A4 that I discovered there were things on my mind that were similar to the things that were on lots of ladies’ minds of my age. So I started writing.
And it got me thinking about Jane Austin and how all those years ago women were forced into roles that they did not want. Roles that they did not need, that forced them to be a shadow of themselves, when they could be more and have more out of life. We were seen as no other use to society than being the mother, the wife or the bearer of children. And I had bigger fish to fry.
I loved my writing. I loved to have my Ideas completely unfettered. I had been working for five years in a Creative agency in London and we would get regular briefs. I would write three ideas then a little script. The things I wrote for, TV spots, they would be thirty, forty or sixty seconds long
So as you can imagine, even though I loved the variety and pace of writing promos there came a time when I wanted to write more than a thirty or forty second spot.
I realised I was attracted to the world of television programme-making and to the people who had the time and space to create something that was thirty, forty or sixty minutes long. The people that were given free rein to let their creativity spill forth. I admired them and I envied them.
Until the point where I realised I could do that too. I too could be one of them. And that the only thing that stopped me was my imagination and my self-belief. So the first thing I thought of doing -in what turned out to be my last year of my time at the agency – was to think of all the people I would love to connect with. People who were already living their passions.
There were people out there that were doing some amazing things. At the time we had people like Levi Roots the Reggae Reggae sauce man who came on Dragons Den. He famously strutted in with his guitar, pitched his idea, got all the numbers wrong and still walked away with a massive investment from Entrepreneur Peter Jones. He launched his sauce, his restaurant and got his product into supermarkets up and down the country.
There were people like inventor Mandy Haberman who invented her baby sucking device so that children without pallets could drink and suck properly from an early age. There was controversial Muslim teacher turned comedienne Shazia Mirza and so many others I could think of that I wanted to interview.
I had to sit down and write a long list. Before I could finish the list I already had the idea for the name of the series I wanted to create. They were used to getting their ideas off the ground. They heard all the no’s and yet they still kept on coming. They pushed aside their fears to make an impact. I had the idea of calling it Make Your Mark. It wasn’t earth shattering but back then it felt like a breakthrough.
Still there was no way I was ever going to get a chance to make this series. Or so I thought at the time. But then, as luck would have it, a colleague of mine was leaving the agency and he was starting up a new TV channel with a friend of his. I don’t know how it came about but I ended up emailing him a list of show ideas that I had planned for Make Your Mark and all the people I wanted to interview. I had a full-time job and long hours in the edit suite. I was up to my eyes in work but still knew I wanted to make this show. I was writing scripts in the night and I was doing my job in the day. I had to find a way!
People would ask me why are you always here? Why are you so busy? I couldn’t tell them my idea in case everything fell apart. Throughout all of this I kept on writing. I wrote to my potential guests. I wrote a budget because we didn’t have a production manager on board so I used the show budget the channel offered as a guide and worked out how much we would spend. I broke it down, area by area. This much on locations, this much on transport. This much for lighting and camera. This much for crew and this much for post-production and audio.
I thought, how can I spend all this money cost effectively to get all these interviews filmed and edited and out on air. Twelve interview for twenty thousand pounds. Back then it was thought of as madness. We didn’t have all the apps and transcription software. We didn’t have DITs and offline workflow. I kept tweaking. I kept on pushing. And I kept on writing.
I kept on writing, I revised my budgets, I kept on writing. I booked my cameraman, I kept on writing, I booked locations. I wrote letters next. I wrote to Levi Roots. I wrote to Mandy Haberman. I wrote to Sophie Morgan the wheelchair activist, presenter and model from the Channel 4 Paralympics. I wrote to Shazia Mirza the controversial Muslim comedienne. I wrote to Danny Kruger MBE, David Cameron’s chief Speechwriter and the ex-leader writer who is now the current MP for Devizes. Back in 2009 he had a charity, Only Connect, that was devoted to helping Ex-offenders rehabilitate themselves when they left prison. His Charity work with his wife Emma really stood out and in 2017 earned him n MBE. I wrote to anyone and everyone I could think of who I thought had a fantastic idea and who was truly changing the world we lived in and Making Their Mark.
And that’s when I realised the power of writing. On the page I didn’t have a colour. I had an idea. On the page, if the idea was good enough, you were good enough. On the page, if they liked the concept they would go with it. When I sent my treatment I was surprised to get the message the Channel Head had said yes. He wanted to commission the series.
That was one of many series that I created for that channel. The Channel was called OHTV and sadly it no longer exists. However back in 2009 it was an absolute powerhouse. For Black Entertainment it punched way above its weight and was positioned alongside BET, another Black Entertainment Channel.
OHTV, was really pushing back boundaries on TV and won numerous Awards including Channel of the Year. Sitting on Sky channel 199 alongside BET the American Entertainment Channel, was also a boon. It meant people often fell onto us by chance and never left. Sadly, whilst it fell victim to underfunding and poor business choices, the American Channel BET has gone from strength to strength and is now recognised as being one of the biggest black entertainment channels out there at the moment.
So yes, to cut a long story short the writing did it. It was all about the writing. Ultimately a succession of words strung together in a particular way, made a connection. They reached out and touched somebody and made a difference.
My second piece of work for the channel was “Brides and Prejudice”. As my first authored piece, it had an even bigger impact and touched even more people. Written by me about my relationship struggles my Executive Producer had said, “It’s your story. Why don’t you present it?” Feeling exposed and ill-equipped I took a chance and trusted his advice. The story was bigger. It was about the plight of the growing group of Single Black Women in the UK. It examined their high numbers compared to their white counterparts. It seemed at the time that all races were turning their backs on them but the biggest sleight of all was coming from Black men.
I interviewed these women and their voices resonated through the TV screens. Because our COO was a genius of marketing and had created the OHBOX, These women and their stories resonated across the globe. We had a Hairdresser, a Journalist a Teacher, Barbers, a Makeup Artist even a Vicar all offering their perspectives on why the situation for Black Women was so dire. We had a Dating Coach and a Flirting Expert all sharing tips on how to successful bag a man and we came to conclusions about what these women could do to move their lives forward and become more committed and successful in their search.
Back in 2010 people from all over the world, from Africa, America, Mexico, Spain and the Caribbean were all reaching out to me to say “we loved your show”. We saw it over here and we thought it was “hilarious” or “heart-warming” or “really sad”. They watched me practicing flirting technique on unsuspecting strangers and tweeted me their approval. They said, We want to know more about you,” and also, “we are going through the same thing these women are going through.” And the more pertinent and pointed, “Have you met anyone yet?”
The series was all about Single black women in the UK struggling to find a partner. So many of these women would be forced to leave the country disappointed by the reality of dating in the UK. The struggles went on and on and these people were desperate and saddened by all they felt and all they saw. Some went off to Africa or Caribbean to seek love there. One couple even got together after our show!
The statistics showed that the highest percentage of single people were single black women in the UK. These women often threw themselves into work and indirectly this led to them having the unique achievement of become the highest earning women in the UK due to the fact they focused on their career and seldom took time out to start a family. (Telegraph, 2010).
I’m glad to see that ten years on we have more and more and more black female role models who are proudly announcing that they feel desirable, seen as attractive and who are seen in relationships with all races including black men. They seem happy in whatever relationship they choose to be in and keen to move on. There are more avenues to see attractive Black Women and we have more exposure to powerful and beautiful Black Women and their stories through websites and social media like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Our UK Broadcasters have been slow to take up the mantel and therefore have left the field wide open for the streamers like Amazon Prime and Netflix to champion Black female talent with shows like Insecure, Dear White People, Self-Made and Black Earth Rising.
OHTV had big connections in Africa and it was not afraid to champion the Diaspora. Sadly, it did not have deep enough pockets to create the quality that audiences so deeply craved. Despite this it’s important to say that back in 2010, OHTV, as it was back then, was dealing with all these issues. OHTV dealt with the discrimination of black women and the oppression and marginalization of black men. It was dealing with the way people saw us and our identity.
Sadly, as mentioned before, it was a black television station and it was underfunded and now it’s moved onto the Internet where certainly gets big numbers but doesn’t have half the creative support it had back then.
So to get to the point if we hadn’t written the stories we wrote and made the shows we did we would not have come to the understanding that we had with all these amazing talents in our team. And because the projects we worked on were often for micro-budgets and under supported the people who get together to create these powerful forces and these unique pieces of content disband and go and find other work. The work is devalued and worse they’re not kept in the television industry and again the talent is all wasted. it’s all for nothing.
The young people coming up through some diversity scheme or working for these channels think their work will be respected and it’s ignored because the quality is not there and there is no empathy for the stories. Back then, commissioners struggled to see the relevance of black life stories and therefore didn’t commission them. “We’ve had one already of those this month, we’ve already got one black comedian. We’ve got one black person on the panel show. We can’t have one more.
And these are the things we have to deal with on a regular basis. For changes to happen throughout different industries, throughout the TV industry and the film industry and the music industry and all the other industries, we have to accept that black people are part of the fabric of society. UK Black History is British History and Black stories matter. Just as you can have a variety of white stories you should have no problem hearing multiple black stories, with multiple black characters.
That for me is true Diversity in Acton.
And that’s why I write our stories. I write to right them.
By Michelle Brooks
The Black Female MD