Greg Ainger, one of the first producers of Six-Fifteen, had been expelled from Uganda in 1972 witnessing the cruel treatment by President Idi Amin’s soldiers during the mass expulsion of Ugandan Asians.
Growing Asian immigration from East Africa to the UK led to a toxic racial atmosphere in Leicester. In May 1976 the fascist and racist political party the National Front won 18.5% of the vote in the City Council elections.
Owen Bentley, Station Manager of BBC Radio Leicester, responded to growing support for the National Front by devising a new five nights a week programme to improve community relations. Launched in October 1976, the first six months of the programme were paid for by a grant of £900 from the Leicester Community Relations Council. Presented by Don Kotak and Mira Trivedi, later joined by Vijay Sharma and Mike Allbut. Six-Fifteen became an instant hit, broadcast in English four nights a week with the slogan “get to know your neighbour”.
The programme reached out to the 40,000 strong Asian communities in the city, improving race relations and connecting with young British Asians caught between two cultures. By the 1980s it became known as the Six O’Clock Show. This revolution in Asian programming helped drive social cohesion in Leicester and has a direct link to the current BBC Asian Network launched in the city in 1989.
This story shows the important community role played by broadcast media, in this case to address a specific issue – the rise of extremist racist politics – by promoting ways neighbours could come together.
Today’s equivalents – various social media platforms and podcasting – mean that anyone can be a broadcaster and influencer. However, with so many examples of how this technology is forcing us apart into our own sealed ‘bubbles’, really positive action would be finding ways to use social media to bring people together across divides.