Darcus Howe

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Darcus Howe
Born 26 February 1943 (1943-02-26) (age 73)
Moruga, Trinidad and Tobago
Residence Brixton, South London, England
  • Broadcaster
  • Columnist

Darcus Howe (born 26 February 1943)[1] is a British broadcaster, writer,[2] and civil liberties campaigner. Originally from Trinidad, Howe arrived in England intending to study law, where he joined the British Black Panthers, a group named in sympathy with the eponymous US organisation.[3][4] He came to public attention in 1970 as one of the Mangrove Nine, when he marched to the police station in Notting Hill, London, to protest against police raids of the Mangrove restaurant, and again in 1981 when he organised a 20,000-strong "Black People's March" in protest at the handling of the investigation into the New Cross Fire, in which 13 black teenagers died.[5]

He is a former editor of Race Today, and former chair of the Notting Hill Carnival. He is best known in the UK for his Black on Black series on Channel 4; his current affairs programme, Devil's Advocate; and his work with Tariq Ali on Bandung File. His television work also includes White Tribe (2000), a look at modern Britain and its loss of "Englishness"; Slave Nation (2001); Who You Callin' a Nigger? (2004); and Is This My Country? (2006), a search for his West Indian identity.[6] He writes columns for New Statesman and The Voice.

Early life and early career[edit]

Howe (christened Leighton Rhett Radford)[1] was born in Moruga,[7] Trinidad, the son of an Anglican priest. He first moved to England at the age of 18,[8] arriving on the SS Antilles at Southampton.[9] He intended to study law at Middle Temple, but left the law for journalism. He returned to Trinidad, where his uncle and mentor, radical intellectual C. L. R. James, inspired him to combine writing with political activism. A brief spell as assistant editor on the Trinidad trade union paper The Vanguard was followed by a return to Britain, where he served as editor of the magazine Race Today from 1973 to 1985.[10]

He became a member of the British Black Panther Movement, and in the summer of 1970 took part in a protest against the frequent police raids of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, where he worked on the till. The restaurant had become a meeting place for black people, serving as what Howe called the "headquarters of radical chic".[11] It was raided 12 times between January 1969 and July 1970 by police looking for drugs, and so 150 demonstrators marched on the local police station in protest, a demonstration that ended in violence. Six weeks later, Howe and eight others—the Mangrove Nine—were arrested for riot, affray and assault.[12] He and four of his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges after a celebrated 55-day trial in 1971 at the Old Bailey, which included an unsuccessful demand by Howe for an all-black jury, and fighting in the dock when some of the defendants tried to punch the prison officers.[13] The judge stated that there was "evidence of racial hatred on both sides"—the first acknowledgement from a British judge that there was racial hatred in the Metropolitan Police Service.[14]

In 1977 Howe was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for assault, after a racially motivated altercation at a London Underground Station, but was released upon appeal after protests over his arrest.[9][15] Linton Kwesi Johnson contributed a song, "Man Free (For Darcus Howe)", to the campaign for his release.[16]

Broadcasting career[edit]

In 1982, Howe began his broadcasting career on Channel 4's television series Black on Black, later co-editor with Tariq Ali of Bandung File and more recently White Tribe, a look at modern day Britain and its loss of "Englishness". Howe has continued to write in the New Statesman[17] and fronted the Channel 4 current affairs programme Devil's Advocate. He was a keynote speaker at the 2005 Belfast Film Festival's "Film and Racism" seminar and presented his documentary Who You Callin' a Nigger? at the festival.

In October 2005, Howe presented a Channel 4 documentary Son of Mine, about his troubled relationship with his 20-year-old son Amiri, who had been caught handling stolen passports, shoplifting, and accused of attempted rape.[18][19]

Howe appeared on the discussion programme, Midweek (on BBC Radio 4), to promote the documentary on 19 October 2005 and, live on air, became involved in an angry debate with American comedian Joan Rivers. The dispute began when Howe suggested that Rivers was offended by the use of the term "black"; Rivers objected strongly to the suggestion that she was racist and accused Howe of having a "chip on his shoulder".[20][21]

Howe was one of several public figures who fell foul of perennial satirist and prankster Chris Morris on Morris' show Brass Eye, in the final episode, "Decline".

BBC interview[edit]

Howe was interviewed by Fiona Armstrong for BBC News on 9 August 2011 at the time of the 2011 England riots.[22] During the interview, Armstrong twice referred to him as "Marcus Dowe," then asked: "You are not a stranger to riots yourself, I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself." Howe denied this, saying: "I have never taken part in a single riot. I've been part of demonstrations that ended up in a conflict. Have some respect for an old West Indian Negro, and stop accusing me of being a rioter. Because you wanted for me to get abusive, you just sound idiotic—have some respect."[23] The BBC apologised for any offence the interview caused,[24] and said "it had not intended to show him any disrespect".[25]

Asked about the unfolding situation in London, Howe discussed the death of Mark Duggan: "What I am not – what I'm concerned about more than anything else, there's a young man called Mark Duggan. He has parents, he has brothers, he has sisters, and two yards away from where he lives, a police officer blew his head off."[26]

Personal life[edit]

Howe has been married three times and has seven children. The 2005 Channel 4 documentary Son of Mine examines Howe's relationship with his 20-year-old son Amiri, who faced jail for charges related to stolen passports.[27] His daughter Tamara was a director of production for London Weekend Television. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2007 and has since campaigned for more men to get tested.[28]

Academic legacy[edit]

Darcus Howe: a Political Biography, by Robin Bunce of Cambridge University and human rights activist Paul Field, was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Academic.[29]

The Darcus Howe Papers – containing "correspondence, writings, interview transcripts, court reports and transcripts, printed material, and audio and video tapes regarding the life and work of journalist and activist, Darcus Howe—a British citizen and native of Trinidad" – are archived at Columbia University Libraries.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Darcus Howe Papers, 1965–2008", Columbia University Libraries.
  2. ^ Howe, Darcus (16 August 2011). "Darcus Howe: 'My father curfewed me and I jumped through the window'". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
  3. ^ "Darcus Howe: A Political Biography", London: Bloomsbury, accessed 13 August 2011.
  4. ^ "The Amazing Lost Legacy of the British Black Panthers", Vice, 8 October 2013.
  5. ^ Darcus Howe profile page, The Guardian, accessed 13 August 2011.
  6. ^ "Darcus Howe season", Channel 4, accessed 13 August 2011.
  7. ^ Darcus Howe at IMDb.
  8. ^ Howe, Darcus, "The heroic struggle of black parenthood", New Statesman, 12 March 2007.
  9. ^ a b Howe, Darcus (5 March 1999). "For every racist, I've met scores of kind people". New Statesman. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  10. ^ Dr Evan Smith (2010). "Conflicting Narratives of Black Youth Rebellion in Modern Britain" (PDF). Ethinicity and Race in a Changing World: A Review Journal. 1 (3): 29. 
  11. ^ Howe, Darcus. "If I pleaded guilty, said the lawyer, I'd only get five years", New Statesman, 4 December 1998.
  12. ^ "Racists in Setback". Internationaltimes.it. 28 January 1971. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  13. ^ For the demand for an all-black jury, see Bunce, Robin, and Paul Field, "Mangrove Nine: the court challenge against police racism in Notting Hill", The Guardian, 29 November 2010.
  14. ^ "Mangrove Nine: the court challenge against police racism in Notting Hill", The Guardian, 29 November 2010.
  15. ^ Staff (1 February 1977). Race Today. Institute of Race Relations. p. 100. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  16. ^ Christian Habekost (September 1993). Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry. Rodopi. p. 162. ISBN 978-90-5183-549-6. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  17. ^ "Writers". New Statesman. Retrieved 23 Feb 2017. 
  18. ^ "Son of Mine", Channel4.com.
  19. ^ Darcus vs Joan on YouTube, Midweek Interview Audio, 28 November 2009.
  20. ^ "Race row disrupts Radio 4 debate", BBC website, 19 October 2005.
  21. ^ "Transcript of BBC radio race row", BBC News, 20 October 2005.
  22. ^ "London Riots: BBC Interview Gets Testy", Huffington Post, 10 August 2011.
  23. ^ Hughes, Sarah Anne. "BBC apologizes to Darcus Howe for ‘poorly phrased question’", The Washington Post, 11 August 2011.
  24. ^ BBC News, England riots coverage, BBC complaints website, 10 August 2011.
  25. ^ "As it happened: England riots day five", BBC News.
  26. ^ DJ Pangburn, "Writer Darcus Howe Rips BBC on Coverage of London Riots", Death and Taxes, 9 August 2011.
  27. ^ Decca Aitkenhead (3 November 2005). "Interview: Darcus and Amiri Howe | Media". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  28. ^ Darcus Howe (17 November 2009). "My battle with prostate cancer | Society". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  29. ^ Darcus Howe: A Political Biography, by Robin Bunce, Paul Field, Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1849664950.

External links[edit]

  • "Bio" at the Wayback Machine (archived 1 February 2009), BlackinBritain.co.uk, accessed 13 August 2011.