Darcus Howe thinks Trevor McDonald isn't British

There is nothing British about Sir Trevor McDonald, except for his knighthood

Sir Trevor McDonald has announced his retirement from news broadcasting. He tells us that he wants to continue to do the "big interview", of the sort he did with Saddam Hussein. I wish him well. He arrived in London from Trinidad in 1969 and became a reasonably competent reporter for ITN by 1973. I remember him as being very ambitious, determined to reorganise his face to suit British television. His fundamental change of accent would set in motion different facial muscles.

He was a good athlete - not by any means superbly bright, never a sparkler. I cannot say to this day what his politics are. He has studiously avoided any controversial statement on any subject. While racial issues have been fought intensely, Sir Trevor has remained above the fray and far, very far, from the madding crowd.

Now, in an interview with a Sunday broadsheet, Sir Trevor has given his first comment on the race issue. He says he agrees with Trevor Phillips, also a former television broadcaster and now chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, that immigrants should be fully integrated here under the strict banner of Britishness. And he would be strong against those who resist.

"If you don't want to integrate, why come to Britain?" he asked boldly. In short, go back to where you came from. Shape up or ship out.

I waited for the man to deny the statement as a misquotation. Silence! I am surprised. There is not one ounce of Britishness in Sir Trevor, except for his knighthood. He could easily be mistaken for an African and, if you listen to him when he is among Trinidadians, he is in every way Caribbean. He could sing calypso with joy from as far back as my memories go.

He dances pure Caribbean-style. A graduate of Naparima College in the deep south of Trinidad, he bears all the characteristics of those of us who were surrounded by a solid working-class culture based on the sugar and oil industries. Even his now well-framed English accent has a deep south Trinidad lilt. He may think that his tiny poetry corner in the Telegraph, which contained dusted-down old verse, was the apogee of Britishness. It was merely harmless sentimentality.

As for knighthoods, these are given away rather loosely these days, in a multicultural rush.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 02 August 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Exodus: the great British migration