Home Television Drama Empire Road

Empire Road

1 9 7 8 – 1 9 7 9 (UK)
15 x 30 minute colour episodes

The first British TV drama to be written by a black writer (Guyanese Michael Abbensetts) for an all-black cast, this BBC serial was set in a suburban Birmingham street populated by West Indians and Asians.

It centred on Guyanan landlord Everton Bennett (Norman Beaton who later starred in Desmond’s), whose son Marcus (Wayne Laryea) was dating an Asian girl, Ranjanaa (Nalini Moonasar) – a Romeo and Juliet device which allowed interracial hostility and generational differences to be explored.

empireroad7

Bennett’s stammering brother-in-law, Walter (Joseph Marcell), supplied the light relief.

Inevitably it was tagged as ‘a black Coronation Street‘ though it was never as cosy.

To accentuate this, producer Peter Ansorge chose an especially run-down house in Westbourne Road, Handsworth, as the main character’s home.

Unfortunately, the real residents misunderstood and thought they were helping the BBC by painting it bright green.

Ironically, some among Westbourne Road’s 15% white population were upset because they didn’t want their street branded ‘immigrant’.

Several critics praised the writing of Abbensetts and the acting of Norman Beaton, the West Indian ‘Godfather’. But it was only with the second series, shown in 1979 at a better time (8:00 pm instead of 6:50 pm) and now with two white women playing long-established residents in the street that the series began to knit together.

During the second series, Love Thy Neighbour‘s Rudolph Walker also did a pleasantly heavy turn as sinister landlord Sebastian Moses.

The final episode focused on Marcus and Ranjanaa’s wedding and the hopes it brought for racial harmony in Empire Road.

Everton Bennett
Norman Beaton
Marcus Bennett
Wayne Laryea
Walter Isaacs
Joseph Marcell
Hortense Bennett
Corinne Skinner-Carter
Ranjanaa Kapoor
Nalini Moonasar
Sebastian Moses
Rudolph Walker