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Empire Road (1978-79)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Empire Road (1978-79)
BBC Birmingham, tx. 31/10/1978 - 25/10/1979
16 x 30 min episodes in two series, colour
DirectorAlex Marshall
 Horace Ové
 Peter Jefferies
 Michael Custance
Written byMichael Abbensetts
ProducerPeter Ansorge

Cast: Norman Beaton (Everton Bennett); Corinne Skinner-Carter (Hortense Bennett); Joe Marcell (Walter Isaacs); Wayne Laryea (Marcus Bennett); Nalini Moonasar (Ranjanaa); Rudolph Walker (Sebastian Moses); Thomas Baptiste (Herbie)

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Day-to-day life among the West Indian community around Empire Road, Birmingham.

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Empire Road was the first serious attempt at a long-running drama on British television addressing Britain's growing multi-racial society. Where sitcoms such as The Fosters (ITV, 1976-77), Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76) and Mixed Blessings (1978-80) played it strictly for laughs, Empire Road sought, like soap operas such as Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-), accurately to depict reality with a combination of drama, comedy and tragedy.

Structured around the Bennett family, who live in the symbolically named Empire Road in the heart of multi-racial Birmingham, the series brought together some of the leading black actors of the day, extending settings and scenes which had hitherto only be seen in one-off plays.

In the first episode of series two, 'The Shark' (directed by Horace Ové, tx. 23/8/1979), Mary, a Nigerian mother, returns home to find her door padlocked by her landlord, Sebastian Moses. He is a notorious Handsworth-based landlord, now spreading his reach into Empire Road. Everton Bennett, the area's traditional Godfather, realises his status is under threat. He resolves to give Moses a dose of his own medicine by carrying out a sting operation in which Moses will be publicly humiliated. The plan steers a fine line between menace and comedy (though in these more sensitive times we could do without the racist and unfunny anti-Irish and anti-African jokes).

When Moses discovers he has been outwitted, the enmity with Everton is deepened - and a bitter rivalry worthy of any long-running series is set up. Despite these promising possibilities, Empire Road ran for just two seasons, a victim of internal BBC politics, lack of promotion, and poor viewing figures.

Onyekachi Wambu

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Video Clips
1. Sebastian the Shark (9:41)
Complete episode: 'The Shark' (26:23)
Abbensetts, Michael (1938-)
Baptiste, Thomas (1936-)
Beaton, Norman (1934-1994)
Ové, Horace (1939-)
Skinner-Carter, Corinne (1931-)
Walker, Rudolph (1939-)
Walters, Julie (1950-)
Black TV Writers