Tag Archives: floella benjamin

Floella Benjamin on trouser suits, pioneering pregnancy at work and fighting for gender and race equality

As recently as 1981, Floella Benjamin was a trailblazer at the BBC. It wasn’t the done thing to be pregnant and be a tv presenter. She did it. In a fascinating speech in the Lords on Monday, she talked about her life and various careers and campaigns. I actually can’t believe where she started off her working life. Enjoy.

My Lords, I rise to speak in this important debate and declare an interest as a woman who, like other noble Baronesses speaking here today, has had a long journey to reach this Chamber. Many of us, as we stand on the summit of life’s mountain looking down at the valley of experience, think, “Who would have thought?”.

In 1966 I started my journey as a lowly clerk in the chief accountant’s office of Barclays Bank, a place dominated by men in grey suits and bowler hats. At that time it was my ambition to become the first black woman bank manager in the country. Sadly, it did not take me long to realise that there is a difference between ambition and fantasy. I did, however, cause uproar when I dared to go to work wearing a trouser suit instead of the obligatory skirt. Many of my female colleagues soon copied me, much to the consternation of our male counterparts.

In 1981, at the height of my career as a regular presenter on BBC children’s programmes, getting pregnant was considered a serious error of judgment. In those days it was almost certain that it would be the end of your career, as you were expected to disappear gracefully, with babe in arms, to a life of wifely domestic servitude. Pregnant women were certainly not to be seen below the waist on television when their pregnancy started to become evident. Fortunately for me I had a visionary producer, Cynthia Felgate, who at one time was in the Guinness book of records for producing the most television programmes in the world. She allowed me to continue working and presenting until I was eight months pregnant. This was unheard of and made national and international news. I was seen by millions of viewers fully pregnant, and once I even stopped mid-dance to declare, “I can feel the baby kicking”—the children watching loved that moment. Other female presenters were grateful for this pivotal moment, because they, too, could become pregnant and carry on working onscreen throughout their pregnancy.

It was around 1968, living through the civil rights movement and the race riots here in Britain, when I started to become conscious that more women’s voices were needed in politics. So I organised political meetings and events for fellow Caribbeans in London who felt excluded from society—something that the legendary Claudia Jones had earlier fought against by establishing the West Indian Gazette and the creation of what we all know now as the Notting Hill Carnival. Because of these influences, over the years I began to speak out more and more: I wrote letters to political leaders and campaigned on issues such as seat belts on school ​buses, diversity in publishing and in the media, and, for 20 years, for a Minister for Children—until we finally got one. It is such a shame that that position has now been downgraded from a full ministerial post. I hope that the Government will reconsider this change and correct this short-sighted mistake.

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LibLink: Floella Benjamin on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Floella Benjamin has written an article on Huffington Post titled: Let’s End Discrimination in All Its Forms

She writes:

I have been dealing with the issue of diversity all my life and professionally for over forty years. That started when I asked a television producer why we couldn’t have a more diverse portrayal of professional black characters, such as lawyers and accountants and he dismissively told me ‘that is not realistic’!

I knew it was blatantly not true because my family were all high professional achievers and I was surrounded by ambitious and successful people from minority groups.

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Do you agree with Floella Benjamin on mandatory sugar reduction targets?

Here’s a bit of controversy to liven up a Wednesday evening.

Floella Benjamin has written for Politics Home’s Central Lobby arguing in favour of mandatory sugar reduction targets. It’s another of these issues that you can use liberal principles to argue both for and against:

Many overweight children grow up to be obese adults and there are often serious health consequences for those affected, leading to tremendous pressures on the NHS, through the dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes, heart problems, some cancers and a wide variety of other conditions that require treatment. High sugar consumption is resulting in early tooth decay and is by far the highest cause of hospital admissions amongst 5-to 9-year-olds.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 45 Comments

LibLink: Baroness Floella Benjamin: Positive role models can break cycle of despair

Baroness Floella Benjamin has written for the Voice website about what the government is doing to help young black people find jobs.

More than 30 million people are now in work and since the 2010 General Election, the number of people claiming the main out-of-work benefits has fallen by 566,000. This is great news and my party, the Liberal Democrats, have worked hard in government to achieve success stories like these, listening to people’s concerns and ensuring the right support is being put in place.

But disappointingly there’s no denying that unemployment is still disproportionately high amongst young black people, especially men

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Tim Farron writes… Join the Lib Dems YES! to Fairer Votes campaign

Tim Farron launches the Lib Dem YES! campaign

This morning I launched the Liberal Democrats’ Yes! To Fairer Votes campaign in Manchester.

Over 100 local members and supporters came along to hear speeches from Simon Hughes, John Leech, Gordon Birtwistle and Floella Benjamin about how monumentally essential it is that we win this Fairer Votes referendum.

As Nick Clegg has already argued, this is “a battle between reformers and conservatives” and this is our chance, our one opportunity for genuine electoral reform.

By winning this referendum …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , , , and | 6 Comments

LDVideo: A fairer, more democratic, greener, liberal country

Posted in Lib Dem TV | Also tagged , , and | 9 Comments

LibLink: Floella Benjamin – I want to be judged on my actions in a political place

Today’s Independent on Sunday features an interview with Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham – Floella to the rest of us – which ranges over a variety of topics, from Floella’s childhood, her work on stage and TV, her charity and campaigning work, to her future ambitions.

Some of the stories featured in Floella’s recent maiden speech in the House of Lords, but there are some unfamiliar ones, which she has included in her new book about her teenage years Arms of Britannia:

Posted in LibLink | Also tagged | 1 Comment
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