Darcus Howe on 20 years of adventure with Channel 4

My Channel 4 adventures, with ice picks, Zulu war cries and kidnapping threats

Channel 4, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, has been an integral part of my life for nearly all that time. Just before its launch, Jeremy Isaacs, its chief executive, visited a Home Office minister to outline his plans. The minister congratulated Isaacs, then issued his parting shot: "As long as you do not have that Darcus Howe on the station."

Isaacs returned to his office, called me in Brixton and invited me to participate. Channel 4 broadcast the Bandung File, which I produced along with Tariq Ali. I travelled the world, interviewing Robert Mugabe, Rajiv Gandhi, Michael Manley and a host of other political figures. I produced a documentary on Trinidad titled The Gathering Storm, suggesting that a social explosion was imminent. I learnt that the commissioner of police (now dead) and his cronies intended to plant arms and ammunition on me when I returned to the island. I went back with an affidavit, sworn before solicitors, which itemised everything in my suitcase. When I arrived at the airport, I had three lawyers ready to witness any search. "Anything to declare?" the head of customs asked. I produced the affidavit. The officers were mesmerised.

After the Bandung File came Devil's Advocate. It involved sharp questioning of people in the news. The late Bernie Grant, the black MP for Tottenham, was questioned about his support of black repatriation. He denied ever using the word "repatriation". We produced a tape where he used the word several times. "Is that your voice?" I asked. He shuffled off in tears and thereafter referred to me as "that idiot Darcus Howe". Some of his supporters surrounded me at a public function in Acton and moved to beat me up (he had nothing to do with it) and I was threatened with an ice pick.

After another programme, which questioned Rastafarian beliefs, the head of the Rastafarians in Brixton sent two men to my house to take me to their headquarters for a trial. They left without me. Then there was Chief Buthelezi, the head of the Inkatha Freedom Party in South Africa, who, we proved, had taken money from white South African intelligence officers. The programme ended with the chief issuing the Zulu war cry.

Now Channel 4's multicultural department, which generated these adventures, is no more. The new chief executive, Mark Thompson, has decreed that programmes involving blacks and Asians will be spread over all departments. I wish him well.

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 18 November 2002 issue of the New Statesman, NS Interview - Jack Straw