Floella Benjamin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Baroness Benjamin
Official portrait, 2023
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
26 June 2010
Life Peerage
Personal details
Floella Karen Yunies Benjamin

(1949-09-23) 23 September 1949 (age 74)
Pointe-à-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago
Political partyLiberal Democrats
Keith Taylor
(m. 1980)

Floella Karen Yunies Benjamin, Baroness Benjamin, OM, DBE, DL[1] (born 23 September 1949[2]) is a Trinidadian-British actress, singer, presenter, author and politician. She is known as presenter of children's programmes such as Play School, Play Away, Jamboree and Fast Forward. On 28 June 2010, Lady Benjamin was introduced to the House of Lords as a life peer nominated by the Liberal Democrats.

Early life[edit]

Floella Benjamin was born on 23 September 1949 in Pointe-à-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago, one of six siblings, with one older sister, three younger brothers and a younger sister.[3]

When her father, "a policeman and a talented jazz musician",[3] decided to emigrate to Britain, with her mother later joining him along with Benjamin’s younger sister and youngest brother, the four older children were left in the care of family friends, with Benjamin and her older sister, Sandra, being separated from their brothers. The people looking after Benjamin and her sister were secretly abusive. Benjamin and her sister often tried writing to their parents to tell them about the abuse, but the letters were always read and censored before they were sent. In 1960 the children went to join their father in Beckenham, Kent. Floella Benjamin has discussed the racist experiences she had when arriving in Britain as an immigrant, such as with neighbours and at school.[4]

Having left school to work in a bank, she studied for A-Levels at night school.[5] After a spell as a stage actress in West End musicals, she began presenting children's television programmes in 1976, notably Play School for the BBC.


Benjamin has appeared in Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Black Mikado and The Husband-In-Law, as well as several pantomimes. On screen, she appeared in the 1975 horror film I Don't Want to Be Born and starred in the 1977 film Black Joy. Her television credits include Angels, Within These Walls, Crown Court, The Gentle Touch and Dixon of Dock Green. She appeared as Juniper in the first episode of Bergerac (1981).[6]

Benjamin read two stories for the Story Teller magazine series (1983 and 1984). She was chief executive of Floella Benjamin Productions Ltd, which had produced television programmes since 1987 and was dissolved in 2014.[7] She had done the voice work of "U" and "PG" Video Standards Council information clips. In 2006, she appeared in an episode of The Line of Beauty.[8]

Between 2007 and 2011, she guest-starred in the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures as Professor Rivers of the Pharos Institute in the stories The Lost Boy, The Day of the Clown, The Eternity Trap, and Sky. She also narrated three "making-of" documentaries on the Doctor Who DVD boxed set The Black Guardian Trilogy.[9] In 2007, she played a small role in the British comedy Run Fatboy Run.

She sings with Damn Right I Got The Blues, a rock and blues band, and has said, "When I sing I am in my element."[10]

She featured in the 2023-24 New Year's Eve fireworks display in London, reciting the poem "In This World" by the late Benjamin Zephaniah as part of the segment celebrating the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush.


Benjamin's 20th book, a memoir, Coming to England, about moving from Trinidad, was published in 1997, and is now used to teach modern history to young people.[11] It was made into a television film by CBBC in 2005.

Other books written by Benjamin and published by various houses include titles such as Floella's Fun Book, Why the Agouti Has No Tail, Caribbean Cookery and Snotty and the Rod of Power. Many of her titles are aimed at children and development.[12][10]

Honours and offices[edit]

Bust of Benjamin outside the University of Exeter's students' guild. Artist: Luke Shepherd

Benjamin was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2001 New Year Honours for services to broadcasting.[13] At that time she was chairperson of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). She has also won a Special Lifetime Achievement award from BAFTA. She was chairperson of the Women of the Year Lunch[14] for five years and a Millennium Commissioner. She is president of the Elizabeth R Commonwealth Broadcasting Fund and a governor of the National Film and Television School. She was a governor of Dulwich College, where her mother once worked and her son had attended.[15]

Floella Benjamin
Benjamin in 2009

In 2006, she was awarded the degree of honorary D.Litt. (Exon) by the University of Exeter for contributions to the life of the United Kingdom. Benjamin succeeded Lord Alexander of Weedon as Chancellor of the University of Exeter.[16] She famously hugged graduates instead of traditionally shaking their hands during the graduation ceremonies.[17] Benjamin stepped down from office in winter 2016 after ten years in the post.[18]

A statue of Benjamin is outside the University's student guild.(shown on the right) The plaque reads Consideration ~ put yourself in the place of others and show empathy and respect. Never be judgmental.; Contentment ~ Don't be jealous and envious, but be satisfied with what you have. That way you are open and ready to receive what is right for you.; Confidence ~ Be a decent human being, feel worthy and like the person you are. Give and love unconditionally and more will come back to you. This was the first public statue of a named living black woman in the UK.[19][20]

On 10 December 2008, she was appointed a Deputy lieutenant of Greater London.[21] In the 2010 Dissolution Honours List, she was appointed a Liberal Democrat life peer, being created Baroness Benjamin, of Beckenham in the County of Kent on 26 June 2010.[22][23] She was the first actress to become a peer in the House of Lords. In her maiden speech, she spoke of choosing Beckenham to reflect the legacy of her mother and father, and the importance of childhood. She referenced her support of such charities as NSPCC, Childline, and Barnados, and their work to protect and support the health and wellbeing of vulnerable children.[24]

In the 2020 Powerlist, Benjamin was listed in the Top 100 of the most influential people in the UK of African/African-Caribbean descent in the UK.[25] The same year saw Benjamin appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to charity.[26] On 12 March 2020, in an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, she received the award from Prince Charles.[27] In 2022 she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) by the University of Chester.[28] She was made a member of the Order of Merit in 2022.[29]

She was chosen to carry the Sceptre with Dove at the Coronation of Charles III and Camilla.[30]

Educational and charitable interests[edit]

Benjamin in 2007

Benjamin's interest in education has also seen her on the "4Rs Commission"[31] established by the Liberal Democrats to look into primary education in the UK.

Benjamin is vice-president of NCH Action for Children and Barnardo's, and was in the NSPCC's Hall of Fame. She runs the London Marathon to raise funds for Barnardo's and the Sickle Cell Society. She was a cultural ambassador for the 2012 Summer Olympics. In September 2011, she participated in the Great North Run.[32][33] She features in the BBCs CBeebies animation Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies.[34]

In July 2007 she spoke of what she saw as the low standard of children's television[35] and in March 2013, she used a speech marking International Women's Day to warn of the impact on children of the availability of violent pornographic material online, saying that this was leading to the increasing objectification of women.[citation needed]

Benjamin is a patron of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, having lost her mother to the disease in 2009.[36]

In October 2015 in a talk to migrant children, Benjamin said that dropping her accent was the key to her success and that migrant pupils should do the same to avoid racism and bullying.[37]

In June 2022, as chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, she unveiled a statue in Waterloo Station by the sculptor Basil Watson as the National Windrush Monument in the presence of the Duke of Cambridge.[38]



Year Title Role
1975 I Don't Want to Be Born 1st Nurse
1977 Black Joy Miriam
2004 Brand Spanking (short) School Tannoy
2007 Rendition CIA Staffer
2007 Run Fatboy Run Libby’s mum


Year Title Role Notes
1974 Crown Court Jenny Marsh episode: "Victims of Prejudice: Part 1"
1974–1975 Within These Walls Barbara 5 episodes
1975 Dixon of Dock Green Mrs Dallas episode: "Target"
1975–1979 Play for Today Norma / Marie-Louise / Solicitor's clerk 3 episodes
1976–1988 Play School Presenter
1978 The Wild Bunch Melody episode: "Send in the Girls"
1978 Mixed Blessings Karen episode: "The Housewarming"
1978–1979 Angels Marigold Glasspole / April Yallop 3 episodes
1979 Kids Ella Buckley episode: "Laurie"
1980 The Gentle Touch Gloria episode: Shock
1980s Playdays Presenter
1980s Fast Forward Presenter
1981 Maybury Kayreen episode: "Hugo & Colin"
1981 Bergerac Juniper episode: "Picking It Up"
1982 Strangers Rosy Baker episode: "With These Gloves You Can Pass Through Mirrors"
1984 Father's Day TV Interviewer episode: "Liberty, Equality, Paternity"
1986 Roland Rat: The Series BBC 3 Announcer Episode 1.11
1990 Family Fortunes Tiddles Celebrity Christmas Special 2
1994–1995 Hullabaloo Presenter
1998–2000 Jamboree Presenter
2000–2001 Fetch the Vet Kara TV show, Voice Role
2005 Coming to England Teacher TV movie
2006 Little Miss Jocelyn Herself TV show
2006 The Line of Beauty Mrs Charles TV Mini-Series
2007–2008 Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies Mama Mirabelle UK Voice
2007–2011 The Sarah Jane Adventures Professor Rivers 5 episodes
2010–present Chuggington Mayor Pullman UK Voice
2013 CBeebies: A Christmas Carol Party Guest TV movie
2022 Countdown Presenter 40th anniversary guest presenter


  1. ^ "Floella Benjamin OBE: About Me". Floellabenjamin.com. Archived from the original on 6 January 2010. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  2. ^ GRO Register of Marriages: SEP 1980 14 0207 LAMBETH – Keith D. Taylor=Floella K.Y. Benjamin
  3. ^ a b Floella Benjamin profile, Historical Geographies; 3 September 2011; accessed 21 March 2014.
  4. ^ Ahmed, Samira (13 January 2011). "Swinging racism: Floella Benjamin's memoir of 60s London". samiraahmed.co.uk.
  5. ^ "Floella Benjamin – Activist, Actress and Producer". h2g2. 4 July 2008. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
  6. ^ "Bergerac" Picking It Up (TV Episode 1981), retrieved 9 June 2017
  7. ^ "FLOELLA BENJAMIN PRODUCTIONS LIMITED – Filing history (free information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk.
  8. ^ "Credits – Floella Benjamin". Retrieved 4 March 2022.
  9. ^ Floella Benjamin biography and credits, BFIScreenonline.org; accessed 21 March 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Floella Benjamin – About Me 2". floellabenjamin.com. Archived from the original on 5 May 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Union Blacks – a portrait of Black Brits", unionblacks.co.uk; accessed 21 March 2014.
  12. ^ "Literary Information" Archived 7 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Floellabenjamin.com.
  13. ^ "No. 56070". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2000. p. 10.
  14. ^ "Women of the Year Lunch and Awards – Celebrating women since 1955". Women of the Year. Archived from the original on 17 June 2013.
  15. ^ Rix, Juliet (1 October 2011). "Interview | Floella Benjamin: My family values". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Office of the Chancellor, University of Exeter; accessed 21 March 2014.
  17. ^ "Going with the Flo-ella", Exeposé, 16 October 2013. Archived 25 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ "University of Exeter Chancellor Baroness Floella Benjamin steps down after ten fantastic years". University of Exeter. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  19. ^ Shepherd, Luke. "'Baroness Floella Benjamin (Portrait Bronze statue)'". ArtParksInternational. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  20. ^ Shepherd, Luke. "Bronze of Floella Benjamin". CreativeTorbay. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  21. ^ "Deputy Lieutenant Commissions LIEUTENANCY OF GREATER LONDON". The London Gazette. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  22. ^ "No. 59476". The London Gazette. 1 July 2010. p. 12451.
  23. ^ "Dissolution Honours: John Prescott made a peer". BBC News. 28 May 2010. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  24. ^ Benjamin, Floella (5 October 2010). "Baroness Floella Benjamin's maiden speech". Liberal Democrat Voice. Retrieved 4 March 2022.
  25. ^ Mills, Kelly-Ann (25 October 2019). "Raheem Sterling joins Meghan and Stormzy in top 100 most influential black Brits". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  26. ^ "No. 62866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2019. p. N8.
  27. ^ Clarence House (2020). "Today, The Prince of Wales held an Investiture Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on behalf of The Queen". twitter.com. London: Twitter. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  28. ^ "Honorary Graduates 2022". University of Chester. 20 June 2022. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  29. ^ His Majesty The King (11 November 2022). "New Appointments to the Order of Merit". royal.uk. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  30. ^ "Coronation order of service in full". BBC News. 5 May 2023. Retrieved 6 May 2023.
  31. ^ Christian Moon (16 April 2008). "Liberal Democrats: The 4Rs Commission". Liberalengland.blogspot.com. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  32. ^ "McElderry Daily Gallery: Click image to close this window". Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
  33. ^ "In pictures: Great North Run 2010 celebrities", BBC.co.uk; accessed 21 March 2014.
  34. ^ "Press Office: CBeebies press pack: Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies and the Sarah Jane Adventures". BBC. 19 March 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  35. ^ Staff (26 July 2007). "Floella raises banner to save children's TV". Telegraph. Retrieved 29 May 2010.[dead link]
  36. ^ "Floella Benjamin becomes Patron of Beating Bowel Cancer", Beating Bowel Cancer, 16 January 2013. Archived 12 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, beatingbowelcancer.org.
  37. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (31 October 2015). "Ditch your accent in school, presenter tells migrant pupils". The Times. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  38. ^ Khomami, Nadia (23 June 2022). "Windrush generation 'moved to tears' as monument unveiled in London". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2022.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Exeter
Succeeded by