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‘Hope came from television’ – David Olusoga on the racism he faced growing up

David Olusoga (second from right) at the BAFTA TV Awards 2016 (Ian West/PA Wire)
David Olusoga (second from right) at the BAFTA TV Awards 2016 (Ian West/PA Wire)

Presenter David Olusoga has said he would “die in a ditch for the BBC” because television showed him a world beyond his own tough circumstances when he was a child.

The historian, 49, was born to a white British mother and a black African father and raised in a council house on the south bank of the Tyne, and said he was “brought up amid a lot of violence” and suffered racist attacks.

Television, he told Radio Times magazine, showed him what was outside of his own environment and allowed him to learn from people such as historian and broadcaster Michael Wood and Sir David Attenborough.

He said: “We were a mixed-race family on a council estate and it was really, really difficult.

“I used to come out of school in Gateshead and would walk until I found a bus stop with a white person at it because buses didn’t stop for black people.

“Sometimes my sisters and I would walk all the way home because we never got to a bus stop where there was a white person.”

Olusoga went on: “You can’t say you had a happy childhood when people were trying to drive you out of your home.

I was brought up amid a lot of violence. There was violence at school and there was also violence from older men outside of school.

“Black people were just hated. I was even attacked on the Tube when I was 15, on a school trip to London. The 80s was a violent time.”

The presenter said hope came from watching television, and added: “We had no money, but my mum would circle things in the Radio Times and say, ‘Watch this’. That way she opened up the world to her children.

“I bought my first book on art because I watched Artists and Models on BBC Two in 1986.

“When I was a teenager I went backpacking because I wanted to see the animals David Attenborough had shown me.

“My interest in history came from seeing Michael Wood’s TV film about 1066 [In Search Of William The Conqueror, 1981].

“I’d die in a ditch for the BBC. It showed me a world beyond my circumstances.”

Olusoga discusses his forthcoming show A House Through Time in this week’s Radio Times, out on Tuesday.

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