1910-1939 Mixed Britannia


A history of Britain's mixed-race community. In this episode, George Alagiah tells how Britain escaped laws preventing mixed marriage and the excesses of race science.

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When I first met Nicky, I just saw this beautiful woman with these


great big brown gorgeous eyes. She was coming home from work and I put


a lot of candles out in the lounge, and she came in and I got down on


my knees and I said, I love you, will you marry me. This is Nicky


Mehta's big day. The vivacious 34 year-old is getting married to


Nicholas Tegg. He is the nervous- looking one waiting in Coventry


registry office. They are one of thousands of mixed-race couples to


get married each year. He is definitely my soulmate. I can't


wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I'm here because this


wedding symbolises one of the truly great changes in British life. Once,


and it's not so long ago, such a relationship would leave you


It now gives me the greatest of pleasure to announce that you are


husband-and-wife. Would you like to seal it with a kiss?


British marriages are changing. They are no longer about bringing


two people together, quite often it is a mingling of two cultures. The


in-laws have not just come from another part of the country. Quite


often they might have started their journey in another part of the


world. 100 years ago, it took far less than a marriage to have the


fingers wagging. If you danced with a black man you were discriminated


against, because people didn't like it. The boys didn't like it, the


girls didn't like it. They came to the front door and said, where is


he? Where is the ligger? And she said, he's not here, so they


slapped my grandmother. Yet, through it all, mixed-race


communities have not just survived, they have flourished. We had seen


half of the picture of Shirley Temple, but we had to race home on


Well, they measured our heads like that and like that. And colour of


eyes and noted our complexion. Britain we have today, vibrant and


mixed, would not have been possible were it not for the brave couples


who fell in love in a much colder racial climate. I stopped and asked


this boy the way to Queen Street and he said I was losing my way to


the docks, and we started talking and I think we fell in love there


and then. One in 10 children in this country now lives in a mixed-


race family, and mixed race people are becoming one of the fastest-


growing ethnic minorities. Born in Sri Lanka, I met and married an


Englishwoman. This is our story, but it is also the history of our


Francis and I met at university and that was over 30 years ago. And I'm


not sure that we ever talked about colour or anything like that. I


think when he got married we were aware of a sort of meeting of


cultures. You can see that in the We've got two sons, Adam and


The recent history of mixed race Britain starts in port towns like


this one in South Shields. True, there were Africans in Britain


since the time of the Romans. Asians settled on the shores in the


1600s, and of course, there were freed slaves, but it is not really


until the turn of the last century that mixed-race communities, small


as they were, began to shape our collective history. Trade was the


great magnetic force, a booming economy based on coal and ships


sucked in workers from the Empire. Our ports, London, Liverpool and


Cardiff, and others, resounded with foreign tongues. In South Shields


there were Arab seamen from Aden, today's Yemen, recruited by the


Merchant Navy. As residents of the British Empire and its


protectorates, they were entitled They would spend months at sea,


stoking the fires of commerce When they came ashore, these men


were put into lodgings run by the private shipping companies. In 1909,


some of the men lived here in the Leigate district in what were then


boarding houses. It wasn't that they wanted to live separately,


they didn't really have a choice. The seamen were not actually


The reason? The age-old fear that this army of single men thousands


of miles away from their families would look for company and more


This is one of the last boarding houses that remain in South Shields.


Friends still meet to talk over the If it didn't have one household


where there was one married, they would stay at a bed and breakfast,


so they used to call them boarding houses and people used to meet


their as well. It wasn't just a bed and breakfast, it was like a little


community cafe as well. You have to remember they were not allowed to


go in English cafes. Were they not? Not when they first came. They


couldn't go in there or a tea shop, so they had to set their own place


up where they could meet. For years, the segregated groups of foreign


workers were too small to have any great impact, but that would change.


When Britain went to war in 1914, it needed sailors, lots of them, to


work on its merchant ships and the Empire was the obvious pool of


labour. With German U-boats picking off our ships and threatening the


British supply chain, these men played a vital part in the war


They are growing in numbers. Some of them would work in factories,


but they would arrive in ports like London, Cardiff, Liverpool and they


increased from a few hundred to a few thousand. It became ever more


difficult to prevent social mingling, and British women, who


played their part in the war effort no longer fitted the demure


stereotype. I think it transformed women's lives, because they had to


take on jobs that had been designated as jobs for men. Women


across the class from upper-class women who previously had been


chaperoned everywhere, the younger women, through to working-class


women, took on all sorts of work. They were tram drivers, road


sweepers. They went out and about, they went to pubs, they went to the


cinema. They learned a lot not just about themselves, but also about


sexuality and birth control, about things that were previously taboo


for many of these women. And then relationships start happening


between these foreign men and the white women. Why is that? Well, the


white women have not got the usual white men to have relations with,


and they found a lot of these black and Asian and Chinese men very


attractive, not least because they are different, they often are very


generous with money. Some of them come onshore with money to burn and


are kind. A lot of them talk about how kind these men are, relative to


the men they are used to. So they start having relationships with


So, by the end of the war, many of these men decide to stay. In ports,


you see the beginning of mixed-race communities, no longer isolated


individuals, but families with local roots. There were now perhaps


20,000 men from the Caribbean, the Imagine what it was like for the


Tommies returning home. They found new neighbours and things seemed


strange, including the women they had left behind. It goes up from


fivefold from 1913 to 1919. They just find they are not speaking the


same language, so they feel the gulf, that these women are kind of


alien and the women, I think, resent the men and resent the fact


that they want to go back to some status quo pre-war in which they


got to be the good little woman in the home, or whatever. So they say


You couldn't turn the clock back. Jobs were scarce. These war-weary


men were bristling with resentment and then they see their women with


foreigners. It is enough to tip them over the edge. In 1919,


rioting broke out in the port areas around Glasgow and spread to South


You've got to imagine hundreds of seamen here on the dockside, the


whites easily outnumbering the Arabs. Both sides had guns, bottles,


Most of the firing was into the air. Nobody actually got shot, but both


groups threw their missiles at each other. A local woman called Dora


Sharp who worked in one of the boarding houses was a witness to


the violence. In court, she spoke up for some of the Yemenis saying


she had seen a white man pointing a gun at an Arab in the heat of the


right. Magnificently she declared, I wouldn't leave the Arab house for


20 of you. I'm probably going to marry one of them tomorrow. Happy


days! The riots spread to Cardiff, another port city that had changed.


Before the war, there had been about 700 foreign seamen in the


city. By 1919, there were 3,000. One summer's evening a group of


these foreign men and their white girlfriends were travelling home


after a day out. It was like a challenge to local masculinity.


White men threw insults and then stones. It was the spark that lit


the Cardiff tinderbox. Within hours, violent disorder spread across the


city. The white mob split up into gangs and roamed the city,


attacking black and Arab men. Even On the day of the riot, one of the


neighbours ran to the front door and knocked the door and say to you


better get Joe out of there because they are coming to get him. Neil


Sinclair's grandmother was Agnes Jolly. She lived in Somerset Street


with a West Indian husband Joe Hedley and their eight-year-old


daughter, Beatrice, who passed the story on to her son, Neil.


grandfather didn't want to leave the house and leave his wife and


child alone, but Agnes Jolly said, they are after you, so get out. He


went out of the back garden wall Apparently there were 1,000 white


men in the street. They came to the front door and started banging on


the front door, so my grandmother and my mother went upstairs to the


landing and they could see the shadows and the lights as men broke


in through the front door. And then men just ran into the downstairs


and into every room and started to ransack the hall. So eventually


they got up to my grandmother and were saying, where is he? Where is


the ligger? She said, he's not here, so they slapped my grandmother.


They left and then my mother said her mother was very distraught,


because all her little china ornaments and knick-knacks in her


cosy home had been wrecked. Police came the following day and they


said to my grandmother it was her It is impossible to be certain, but


something like 15,000 people were involved in the riots in 1919. They


affected not just South Shields and Cardiff, but London, Barry, Newport


and Hull. In all, five people were killed and they have gone down as a


landmark in the history of mixed race Britain. You see, whatever the


wider social and economic problems of the time, it was the sight of


foreign men with white women that A letter appeared in The Times


shortly afterwards. Just listen to this. "Intimate association between


black or coloured men and white women is a thing of horror. It's an


instinctive certainty that sexual relations between white women and


coloured men revolt our very "What blame," it goes on to say,


"to those white men who, seeing these conditions and loathing them,


I think there was deep resentment and they felt not simply that these


men were taking their women, but they were taking their jobs. In


fact, that wasn't true. Actually, after the war, there was higher


unemployment amongst black men and Chinese men than white men. So the


definers of working class masculinity, which is linked to the


ab ility to get a job, the ability to get a woman, that is really


being challenged. In direct response to the riots, the


authorities resorted to some stringent legal measures. Laws


designed to restrict German nationals during the war now


covered all foreign seamen. It would limit their movements,


subject them to curfew, control employment and last for decades. In


You have to understand, in those days it must have been hard for the


British to accept mixed marriages. We used to say foreign devils in


those days. They didn't understand Chinese ways and Chinese customs.


Just a foreigner come to England to Doreen and Lynne's father Stanley


Ah Foo came to Liverpool back in 1912. Back then there were roughly


1,200 Chinese men in the city. He fell in love with and married their


mother Emily. Stanley's job on the steam ships took him away for long


periods of time. But when he returned, he was king of the


kitchen. Dad was a marvellous cook. Yeah, he was a good cook. And it


was lovely when he came home because we had the Chinese food.


Although my mother learned to cook Chinese. But my dad was special.


His cooking was really good. Doreen, when he was back home, what was he


like? He was always playing tricks on us. He was quite jolly. Very


jolly. He'd sort of flick your hair when you were walking past. He'd


jump out. We'd have real fun with him, yeah. Is that your memory of


childhood then? Yeah, happy. It was a very happy childhood. It was


Their carefree home life was a contrast to the restrictions that


Stanley faced when he stepped outdoors. Ever since the 1919 riots,


Stanley, like all foreign seamen, had had to register with the police


and carry an ID card bearing a Even Emily was not immune from this


humiliation. An early nationality law had a rather vicious sting in


its tail. Every inch an Englishwoman, once she had married


Stanley she lost her British Well, when my mum married my dad,


she became an alien. Your mum, who was British? Yes, she was an alien.


Here's a book that will tell you. That's my mum's. Once she married


my father, she was an alien. Looking back at the thought of your


mum, British born and bred, having to go and register, what do you


think of it now? I think it was disgusting, really. She was born


and bred in England. She was English, white. So why should she,


because she married an alien, have The law was applied differently


around the country. Liverpool had a curfew, and men had to report to


Incredibly, these restrictions remained on the statute books until


Doreen and Lynn remember the day when even watching a film was


interrupted by the curfew. We'd gone before the curfew and we'd


seen half the picture of Shirley Temple. And they suddenly realised,


my dad and his friend, it's 8pm, we'll have to go now. It was


disappointing, because we didn't see the end of the film. We had to


Despite the rules and regulations, mixed communities in port towns


The Yemeni enclave in South Shields, Norman and Maureen Kaier have been


married for 37 years. They are both second-generation mixed-race


Yemenis, though you'd be hard pushed to tell in Maureen's case.


Both have Yemeni grandfather's who came to South Shields. Maureen


remembers how hard the Yemeni men tried to fit in. I know when they


came here they were very smart. When they changed clothes, they had


to be very, very smart. They wanted to try and be like the English


people. They wanted to blend in. You always seen them in a trilby


hat. Lovely, immaculate shoes. Waistcoats. And it was all to help


them to blend in, so that they didn't stand out. And they were


One of these men was Norman's grandfather Mohamed Hussan. He


married Elizabeth Taylor, a Geordie. Their love affair was all the more


incredible given what was happening all around them. It would have been


very difficult for them because if you were in a mixed marriage, you


were called some dreadful names. You were classed as a prostitute.


Women were known to have been spat on in the street and verbally


South Shields was by no means unique. Prejudice towards mixed-


In London's Docklands, home to 700 Chinese people, intolerance coupled


with ignorance made for some dark Connie grew up in London's


Limehouse, the capital's original Chinatown. If you look at the


literature of the time, they talk about Chinatown. It was an opium


den and there were nightclubs and there were strange things going on.


You're laughing at me. Well, I used to read these rubbishy books when I


was in my teens. And I used to go to piano lessons and I used to have


to walk down these narrow turnings. And I used to look for the mist


rising from the river. And these earthy people standing in the


doorways. But I never ever found them. It was all fiction, was it?


Yes, yes. It must have been weird, as a teenager growing up in


Chinatown, reading these books about starlets coming, about drugs


and so on. But you're saying it just didn't happen like that?


we were just ordinary kids looking for a job after we left school,


No matter. Chinatown still attracted those with a taste for


the illicit. The opium dens and gaming houses, whether real or


imagined. Writers and film-makers made for Chinatown, drawn to the


exotic and forbidden possibilities In 1919, the American film director


DW Griffith's interest was aroused after reading a story, The Chink


And The Child, taken from Thomas This tale of love between an opium


smoking Chinaman and a teenage white girl was initially banned by


WH Smith refused to stock it because they felt it was salacious


In his film version, Broken Blossoms, Griffith had to work


around the unwritten rule that they could never be any kind of physical


When the film was released here in 1920, the Birmingham Mail received


a letter from a female reader in Edgbaston written, it's said, on


behalf of herself and her friends. She described the film as nothing


but the lowest type of sordid drama and she was particularly horrifying


that the hero of the film was a Chinaman and the villain, an


But two white women married to Chinese men wrote to the Daily


Graphic challenging this type of prejudice.


"We women dare not take our children out because people point


to us and laugh. And please remember these half-castes, as they


call them, are well fed, well clothed little kiddies who are as


good as most and better than many This film Broken Blossoms painted


quite a kind relationship between a Chinese man and a white, very young


woman. Was that real, did you think? Yes, but it was quite normal


in Limehouse. You didn't think it was controversial at all? No, no. I


think the Chinese liked the British In 1924, there were signs that


official attitudes towards the Chinese were hardening. They were


added to a list of nationalities to be avoided by potential brides.


Marriage registrars were supposed to warn women that some of the men


might be bigamists and not trustworthy. The original list


drawn up in 1913 by the Colonial Office, already include Hindus,


And pretty soon, the Home Office would join in, complaining that the


Chinese men were being far too choosy. Just listen to this.


"It is such a pity that a Chinaman is fastidious. He will not take a


battered old prostitute of the sea port, but want something young,


attractive. Above all, clean and free from venereal disease." Now,


even if you allow for the stilted, official language of the day, it's


All this in an age of inventiveness. The wireless and the flying machine


with their potential for shrinking the world were breaking through old


boundaries. Science seem to have the answer to all questions, even


Before long, the thoroughly scientific sounding British


Eugenics Society developed a controversial theory. It ran like


this. If the poorest classes could be discouraged from breeding, the


sum total of intelligence and virtue in the country would


increase. Eugenics saw itself as a new science for human advancement.


Influential writers like HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw, cabinet


ministers like Winston Churchill, they all thought it would save


Britain from moral and physical decline. There were similar


movements in America and Scandinavia. And in Germany, there


was the charmingly named Racial At a meeting in London in 1919, the


chairman of the British Society, Leonard Darwin, son of Charles,


announced that they would also look "What is urgently needed," he said,


"is a thorough scientific study of the mental and physical


characteristics of mixed races". Mrs Sybil Gotto, the society's


general secretary at the time, agreed saying, "Although I'm quite


ready to look upon the coloured races as our brothers, I do not


want to look upon them as our The inference, of course, was that


they were inferior. If they were proved right, the logical


conclusion would have been for Britain to introduce laws banning


mixed-race relationships. Following where others had led. Some American


states had laws dating back to 1661 preventing whites marrying native


Americans and African Americans. In Southern Rhodesia, a law was passed


in 1903 that made it an offence to have sex outside marriage between


And in Australia, the state had recently begun a policy of removing


so called half-castes from their parents to imbue them with European


values and, I quote, "Breed out COMMENTATOR: many of them are half


Japanese. Daughters of pearl fishing fathers and Aboriginal


mothers. Many again are almost So the British Eugenics Society


decided to investigate families of what they called mated Chinese and


English or Irish, and mixed race children with black fathers, to


test the theory that racial mixing led to inferior stock. The


unfortunate mixed-race children of Liverpool would be the first


guinea-pigs on which the theory Eugenics seeks to apply the laws of


heredity to examine the race. Everybody sound in body and race


should marry and have enough children to perpetuate their stock


and carry on the race. Just listening to the language they use,


they talk of native and stock, the kind of words you would use to


describe animals. The survey comprised just 15 families and 45


children. At its head was a wealth anthropologists -- Welsh


anthropologist. Along with his colleague he began to measure the


shape and size of the children's heads, noses, they years, even the


fold on their upper eyelids. They made careful notes of the colour of


the skin, their hair and the eyes. They were being treated as if they


were some so -- sort of exotic specimen. They were just boys and


girls, sons and daughters, all rooted in the local community.


is a period when many people, including scientists, geneticists,


etc, believed that Inter racial relations between races who were


deemed to be very far apart. That would become detrimental and would


lead to degeneracy. We looked in a mixed-race family and think, well.


It is beautiful and energetic and flamboyant. They thought exactly


the opposite. The word degeneracy was widespread. They thought people


would be inferior in every sense. They look to see if there was a


relation between physicality and intellect. They were subject there


in this poor house. They had rooms upstairs and we were told to go to


the rim. Ladies measured us and took our photographs. They asked us


questions. When you say measured, what did they do? They measured our


heads like that and like that. They looked at the colour of the eyes


and noted our complexion. That sort thing. When the results were


published the sample included the children of black fathers. The


professor was in for a surprise. Perhaps even disappoint. Did the


results support the basic idea that this was a bad thing to have?


interestingly, the so-called yellow-white hybrids produced


children of high intelligence. was a bit of a shock. But the black


and white hybrids, they were problematic, because they said the


children inherited the worst of both, inherited a happy-go-lucky,


carefree, lazy - and these were the words they used - of the Father,


and the slovenly, immoral nature of the mother, because it was assumed


the women were keen to prostitutes, if not prostitutes. They also came


to another conclusion about mixed race children. They wanted to see


to what degree they could pass as English, but the implication was


that none of the children could ever be English. In the first case,


even if they could pass, there might be 2% that could pass, but


given that their parentage was not English and their fathers were not


English, they could never truly be And if that flirtation with science


did not come up with all the answers they expected, they were


still good old-fashioned prejudice. -- there was still good old-


fashioned prejudice. You could depend on that. Even the Civil


Service was not immune. You would search in vain for its renowned


detachment when it came to matters of race. A memorandum in 1925 from


the Home Office to the Foreign Office summed up the feelings. "the


Negro is said to be more largely developed than the white man and a


woman who has been with a negro is said to find no satisfaction with


anything else. Those already inclined to resent them were goaded


on by newspapers. One reported that certain white women here in the


district were say that black men were better at six and white men.


As it happened, one group of white women seem determined to prove the


civil servants and newspapers right. The genie of Inter racial relations


was well and truly out of the bottle, and as the 20s roared on,


it was the upper classes leading In 1928, Nancy Cunard, the writer


and heir to the cruise line was scandalising high-society with


their relationships with black men. At one lunch party, Margot Asquith,


the wife of the former Liberal prime minister Henry was said to


have greeted Nancy's mother with the words, well, what is Nancy up


to now? Is it dope, drink or Was one of the sultans of door


managed a Scottish divorce. She was the latest in a long string of


whites. -- wide eaves. Incredibly the mosque had been built in the


1800s and was patronised by British aristocrats who had converted to


Islam. It was the venue for marriages between upper and middle-


class white women and Asian or Arab Shortly after the ceremony, the


Sultan and his latest wife, Helen Wilson travelled to Malaysia where


she was crowned the Sultana. The World Press fawned over the Salton,


even when he ditched the unfortunate Helen for someone new.


-- the Sultan. Upper-class licence and foreign wealth seem to freedom


of social taboos. -- free them of social taboos. But there were


limits. I cannot speak enough of this containment. It stops me here.


It is too much a Tchoyi and this, and this, the greatest discord that


our hearts shall meet. On 19th May, 1930, Paul Robison that the African


American singer and actor came to play her fellow here in Britain.


to play a fellow. If it were now, I would be most happy, and might


heart would be so absolute that not another night succeeds unknown.


who was Desdemona? She was a rather sheltered middle-class 23-year-old.


And her name was Peggy Ashcroft. That song tonight will not go from


my mind. I have much to do but to go all but one side and sing it by


-- like Paul Barber. In rehearsals, fear of public reaction made Paul


Robeson and comfortable. After all, his father had been a slave. That


girl could not get near to me, he said later. I was backing away from


her all the time. I was like a plantation hand in the parlour.


On that opening night, Peggy Ashcroft got rave reviews and the


audience, well, they were just ecstatic giving Paul Robeson at no


less than 20 curtain calls. But the sight of a black actor actually


kissing a white woman, well, that was rather too much for one


newspaper editor. He just walked out. Paul Robison himself told the


New York Times," I would not care to play those scenes in some parts


of the United States. The audience would get rough. In fact it might


become very dangerous. ". One at Southern paper agreed. He knows


what would happen, and so do the rest of us. And who knows what


would have happened here if they knew what was actually going on


offstage between the a fellow and his Desdemona. What the press and


public did not know was just how close the pair had become. 50 years


later, Peggy Ashcroft said that what happened between Paul and


myself was possibly inevitable. How could one not fall in love with


such a man. The whole episode was, she said, more than a theatrical


experience. It put the significance of race straight in front of me and


Hundreds of miles away in Cardiff, some have already made their choice.


Racial mingling, as some called it, was crying. -- growing. By the mid-


thirties, Tiger Bay was home to around 3,000 foreign sailors,


mainly Africans and Arabs. Many of them had been born and bred in


Cardiff, but were still treated as Nonetheless, they and their


descendants would go on to create one of the country's most proud


League mixed communities. My dad had just opened at the Cafe, not


long, and he happened to be standing outside on the front door.


And my mother, she was a nurse at the time. She had been to the


cinema. And she was trying to get back to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary.


That was where she lived. That was where her accommodation was. Olive


was 15 years old when she moved from the small town of -- a small


town in the Rhondda Valley to train as a nurse in Cardiff. I stopped


and asked this boy eat the way to Queen Street, and he said I was


losing my way to the docks and we started talking, and I think we


fell in love. The boy she met and asked for direction was a young it


Yemeni working as a chef in his own cafe. We got married when I was 16


and three weeks, actually. I had five children before I was 21! We


got -- had 10 children, five boys and five girls. When I got married


there was a great need to stay at home because the priest from the


church even came to say I was marrying the heathen. There was


I used to go in the Cairo cafe, and in the back they had a little Arab


school. Many of the kids used to go to the Arab school, even though we


were not Arabs or Muslims, but because your friends were going,


you wanted to go along. But we were a very integrated community. What


Tiger Bay was home to many different races. They all came


together to celebrate festivals like the end of Ramadan. We would


wake up and you might hear the sound of chanting. You would think,


So you ran out there, and you look for your friends and all of the


people of the Arab community, and they would be in their native dress.


They would parade in their street with flags in one hand and we would


follow along the parade and be part Then, when it came to the food,


they would off either foot or you could run home and actually get a


part and you would get curry and rice and you could take home --


Britain's mixed-race families were sharing each other's customs and


making their own rules. It was genuinely multicultural, but that


It was like that for Norman Kaier's mother Margaret in South Shields,


who was married to a Yemeni seaman, Abdo. My mother, she wasn't a full


practising Muslim, if you like. She still held a lot of the beliefs.


would your mother have run the house as if it was a Muslim house


as far as eating pork and that kind of thing? My father never ever ate


pork. My mother, on the other hand, to a certain degree... Why are you


giggling away? There's a little secret going on here. A lot of the


English women would eat pork when their husbands were out. When they


were out at sea or something? when they actually left the house.


Oh, really? During the day. For me, it was different because my mam


would eat what she wanted. So we had a separate frying pan, which


she had to keep in a separate cupboard from my father. You


couldn't use that. And he knew that. And he would often swear in Arabic


if he had seen the frying pan out. Because she had been cooking bacon


and that. But, the same as what Norman's mam did. But your mum was


These couples were makng it up as they went along, sharing some


customs and quietly ignoring those that didn't work for them. It was,


if you like, a delightful free for all and that just didn't suit some


people. In Cardiff, one man above all wanted to put a stop to this


The City's chief constable, one James Wilson, was becoming


increasingly concerned about Tiger Bay's reputation for immorality and


mixed-race marriages. And he reported his worries to his local


police committee saying that coloured men were coming into


contact with the female sex of the Their progeny, he said, were half-


caste with the vicious hereditary taint of their parents. Not one to


The picture the Chief Constable painted of the area was very


different from the reality. It had a bit of a reputation because there


was a lot of street gambling that used to go on. Being a port, there


was prostitution and that. But the actual people from Bute Town, they


were the nicest people you could When the Cairo Cafe was in its


heyday, we employed a lot of the women that lived in the Bay. They


came to work in the Cairo Cafe. And some of them would be babysitting


My mother was also, believe it or not, chairman of the Conservative


Club in the docks. Which caused great problems amongst the


In 1929, James Wilson started to call openly for a new form of


social control. Anti-miscegenation laws similar to those which have


been introduced in South Africa, banning sexual contact between


He was playing the race card and he put all his cards on the table.


"The time may come," said the chief constable, "when public opinion


will awake to the fact that our race has become leavened with the


colour strain. Someone must have the courage to strike a warning


note." And he clearly thought of himself as the man to do it. The


The issue erupted onto the front pages and many journalists actually


supported the chief constable. With one of them writing, "I feel that,


in the interests of our town's purity, it would be a good thing if


our swarthy friends were given the For the mixed-race communities, it


was an explicit attack on their families and their whole way of


life. The newspapers would say things, this promiscuity between


blacks and whites. Obviously, the white women could not be women of


good repute. They had to be women of ill-repute. They had to be


prostitutes or immoral women, which was quite untrue of my grandmothers


and many of the matriarchs of the old Tiger Bay community who made us


go to Sunday school, made us go to church, dress up on Sunday and so


on. And visit our aunties and In the end, Britain avoided the


kind of draconian measures the chief constable had in mind. Calmer


heads recognised that a law banning sex between races would be


impossible to enforce. And, ironically, the prospect of an


angry reaction in the Empire, those lands full of foreigners, played a


part too. Never again would Britain consider the idea of an outright


So, by the mid-1930s, Britain's mixed-race communities were pretty


well established. They had proved that they could defend themselves


and support themselves. And, crucially, they had seen off the


threat of those anti-miscegenation laws. In short, they were here to


Britain had played with science and flirted with repression but,


thankfully, never followed the path On the night of January 30th, 1933,


a huge torchlight parade marked the appointment of the new Chancellor.


Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, his blueprint for the Third Reich, that


race mixing was not only an affront to national identity and culture,


Soon, so called race scientists in Germany obsessed with the idea of


keeping the national bloodline pure, would begin visiting schools and


youth clubs in the Rhineland where many French African troops have


For the scientists, the very existence of mixed-race German


children threatened to contaminate The children were identified and


then taken to a local hospital where at least 385 of them were


You've got eugenics taking this rather sinister route in Germany.


That doesn't happen in Britain. We don't have race laws flowing from


eugenics. Why is that? Why are we different? One would like to think


it's because we're much more tolerant society and clearly,


Britain claims to have a history of liberalism and fighting for human


justice. But, on the other hand, we have a different relationship to


the presence of black peoples, because they are a small minority.


They weren't seen as kind of There may not have been a threat to


white culture, but there were places that were genuinely mixed


race. Take Liverpool in 1939. A young English novelist and


playwright arrived in the city. He'd been travelling through the


country to take stock of industrial and rural England for a new book.


The author's name was JB Priestley and, amidst all the paranoia about


racial mingling, he found cause for In Liverpool, he came across a


local primary school. He said all the races of mankind were there


wonderfully mixed. In fact, he described it as being like a


miniature League of Nations The children, he said, were all


shades with Africa and Asia peeping In his book, English Journey,


Priestley is clearly moved by what he found in the mixed-race


community in Liverpool. His writing helped to create a new version of


The tolerance he so admired in Liverpool was in stark contrast to


COMMENTATOR: Who are these men in flannels? West Indians of African


descent. They are keener and better cricketers than any, except a few


teams of European origin. Certainly better than any team of Scotsman or


Dutchmen, for example, who are much closer to the English than they are.


So, you see, all this Aryan nonsense and race superiority


business of Hitler's just isn't When the full extent of the horrors


of Hitler's final solution were discovered, the British followers


Our dalliance with race science was All I know is, the Tiger Bay


experience taught me what it was to be a true human being. The pseudo-


scientific studies measuring the size of our heads to see if we had


the right intelligence, brain size, what have you, these were fascist


concepts. And it has no bearing on how people come together and live


When I started looking at all of this, I thought, like most people,


but Britain's mixed-race communities only really began in


the late 1940s or so with the arrival of immigrants from the


Caribbean. But, in fact, as we have seen, you've got to go back much


further to those years before and after the Great War when some white


women, perhaps only a handful at first, allowed their hearts to rule


their heads. And, in so doing, felt the full wrath of so-called


I've been thinking quite a lot about those women. Just imagine how


brave they had to be. Not just brave but free-spirited and open-


minded. And I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that women like


Olive Saloman here in what was Tiger Bay were heroic pioneers of


And, because of those women, many mixed-race people grew up with a


unique British identity which prospers today. I've always felt


very strongly about my colour. And I've always defended it. And I've


never ever pretended I was anything other than a half-caste Arab. And I


am quite proud of the fact. I'm an Arab. I can't get away from that.


And I'm proud of the fact. I class myself as an Arab Geordie really.


Geordie with an Arab heart. Geordie with an Arab heart. Yes.


If I had my life again, you know, honestly, I was so happy being in a


mixed family. I'd like to do it And what of James Wilson, the Chief


Constable of Cardiff who wanted to ban into racial sex and had once


described mixed race children as half-castes with the vicious


Well, in 1946 he was knighted. But after the horrors of Nazi Germany


were made public, he was soon saying something very different


about Tiger Bay. He now held it up as a symbol, a good example of


Which is just as well, because what Sir James Wilson could not have


The previously untold history of Britain's mixed-race community and the many love stories that created it.

In the first of this three-part series, George Alagiah tells the story of romance in the First World War between female workers and foreign seamen, the street riots it led to, and how Britain just escaped laws preventing mixed marriage and the excesses of race science.

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