I'm Barbara Blake Hannah
Barbara Blake Hannah became the UK'S first black TV news journalist when she joined the London evening show “Today With Eamonn Andrews“ on Thames TV aged 27 in 1968. Her big interviews and showbiz friends are as striking as Barbara Blake Hannah’s incredible career: Harold Wilson, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Michael Caine and Sammy Davis Junior were among the stellar names to get a grilling by the journalist who worked with former This Is Your Life presenter Eamonn Andrews. Now over 80, Barbara is hailed for her pioneering influence on the UK media, blazing a trail for the likes of Trevor McDonald and Moira Stewart to follow. At 27, in 1968, she was an on-camera reporter for daily evening show Today With Eamonn Andrews on Thames TV. “We journalists went out and did our stories and as the host Eamonn would do the key interviews. People who were children at the time still tell me that their parents would tell them to come in and watch me.” Barbara’s stay at Thames TV was infamously cut short by the racist reaction she received, as people wrote letters and called in to the show saying they did not want to see a Black face on their TV “I’ve had so many young Black journalists, especially women, get in touch with me over the years saying: ‘We’ve read about you, we heard your history and you inspire us, you're a pioneer. They are all my children. I am just so thrilled to meet them now.” A devout Rastafarian, she gives all the credit for the esteem in which she is held by all to God, whom she calls JAH. Barbara, who went on to work on the BBC documentary series ‘Man Alive’, gave her name to a new British Journalism Award in 2020, backed by the British media bible Press Gazette, to inspire young Black journalists to break down barriers as she did. “This award opened up a door 50 years later,” she said. “And that was 50 years after I’d left England in 1972. Now here we are in 2020 with the media doors just opening, but it just seems like yesterday.” Her dad Evon Blake co-founded Spotlight magazine in 1940, the Jamaican Press Association in 1943 and the publication New Day in 1956. It was there that Barbara landed her first job in the industry. Barbara would go on to work in PR for the Jamaican government before moving into print journalism in the UK.
Barbara’s list of celebrity interviews includes a brush with Saddam Hussein that is described in her memoir Growing Up - Dawta of JAH. “In 1976 I met an Israeli while I sat on a film festival jury in Leipzig, East Germany, who’d made a film about the Palestinian cause which I knew something about. I was so interested in interviewing him, that he arranged for me to be invited to a Palestinian Film festival in Iraq. That's how I got to Baghdad. It was a lovely place to be. I was so impressed. The film festival was a huge event. Gina Lollobrigida was one of the guests and Vanessa Redgrave, we were the three female guests.”
“Saddam Hussein was President and at one point we journalists were all taken to his palace and allowed to interview him. They made me ask the first question. I should have told him no and let somebody else go first, but I took the opportunity and asked him the first question. .” Spanish-speaking Barbara impressed Castro with her direct interviewing style but things didn’t go as well with Harold Wilson. “I interviewed him when they held a Commonwealth Prime Ministers conference in Jamaica and I got to interview him for Jamaican television. I was very rude to him because I asked him about his support of Ian Smith’s Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia. He was very annoyed but he kept his temper and just answered like a Prime Minister.” As for her future plans, evergreen Barbara remains ambitious. “I want to make a feature film,” she said. “based on Bob Marley, who was another of my friends.” Are there still any big interviews that have so far escaped her? “The American civil rights activist Angela Davis,” Barbara said. “She is my heroine. I’d love to sit down with her and talk.” Barbara has written 8 books, two of which are novels, made 8 films, organized 6 Reggae film festivals, served as an Independent Senator in the Jamaican Parliament (the first and only Rastafari to do so) and worked as Cultural Liaison with the Jamaican Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport. She was recently inducted with a Gold medal as an Officer of the Order of the Star of Ethiopia, by the Chairman of the Crown Council of Ethiopia, H.I.H. Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie, in recognition of her continuing work for Ethiopia. Barbara has no plans to stop working. “There’s still so much to do to make the world a better place,” she says with a smile. “That’s why I accepted my role in “The Light Must Unite”. It’s the best way I can channel my abilities and connections to achieve that objective.”