A Black Pioneer Meets His Hero in Newcastle
On the 50th anniversary of the great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s visit to the University of Newcastle in 1967 to receive an honorary degree, North East Film Archive remembers an amazing discovery of a rare TV interview with Dr King, which cast fresh light on black British broadcast history. Who was the forgotten pioneer who got to meet his hero on that day?
As part of Freedom City 2017, a city-wide cultural programme across Newcastle commemorating Martin Luther King’s momentous 24 hour visit 50 years ago to receive the only honorary degree awarded to him by a British university, North East Film Archive provided archive film of the event from our Tyne Tees Television news collections.
The ceremony is unusual as Dr King wasn’t expected to make a speech, but he did, and the film’s strength lies in Dr King’s delivery and eloquence.
Many of the film reels associated with our news programmes are stored in cans within slim cardboard boxes. On the outside of the boxes, label information lists the content of the news items on film. The box containing the degree ceremony had a brief description followed by the letters ‘Int’, which suggested an interview with Martin Luther King should have followed on from footage of the degree ceremony. However, this was not the case as no footage was found.
The interview was finally discovered more by luck than design. On another box with a date in October, some scribbled notes indicated an interview with Martin Luther King and the reporter’s surname ‘Alleyne’.
The film turned out to be much more than we expected. At just under two minutes long, we were witnessing two pioneers, one a global leader in the American civil rights movement, the other breaking a barrier by being the first black broadcaster on British television news.
The reporter’s full name was Clyde Alleyne, but other than that, little was known about him. After some research, we found that he had joined Tyne Tees Television in the spring of 1967, having worked for Trinidad and Tobago Television for five years, then a short stint with the BBC’s North Africa and American programmes. During his time at Trinidad and Tobago TV, he had interviewed major political figures including the then United Nations Secretary General U Thant, as well as pop celebrities such as the Beatles.
But, what of the man himself and the interview he conducted with Martin Luther King? We were eager to find more information, but we also knew that Clyde had died in his mid-forties.
After more research, we found out that Clyde had been good friends at Tyne Tees TV with legendary broadcaster and author Bob Langley.
This month Bob paid a visit to the Archive along with a news crew from ITV Tyne Tees to record an interview about the Martin Luther King interview and to talk about his friend, Clyde Alleyne, both personally and professionally.
Bob remembered Clyde’s reaction when he heard the news that Martin Luther King had been assassinated, only a few months after his visit to Newcastle. Bob described Clyde’s reaction as one of fury and anger that such a thing could have happened. He and Clyde talked at length about it.
Clyde Alleyne enjoyed his time in the North East, but he always felt he was in this unique position as the first black announcer/reporter on British television, a position he felt he had to live up to. He believed that he always needed to be on his best behaviour, an enormous pressure during troubled times in the 1960s.
Clyde also lived life to the full. When he left Tyne Tees, he married and moved to Paris and a job with UNESCO. Bob remembers visits to his friend were whirlwind affairs involving sightseeing by day, dining and nightclubbing in the evening. Bob said the he and wife had to take another holiday afterwards just to get over the first one!
An example of Clyde examining one aspect of Geordie culture is in his news report from the Newcastle ‘Hoppings’ from June 1967.
Bob said Clyde was also a man with a spiritual side, linked to his background in the West Indies. Clyde had told him that he had experienced a visitation, which lead him to believe he would die young.
Clyde’s legacy lives on in the work he did for Tyne Tees TV preserved at North East Film Archive, and especially in a short interview with one of the most important figures in modern history, Dr Martin Luther King.
Volunteer Archive Assistant, John Casey