Stephen Bourne (writer)

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Stephen Bourne
Stephen Bourne 2017.jpg
Born (1957-10-31) 31 October 1957 (age 64)
Camberwell, London, United Kingdom
OccupationWriter, film and social historian specialising in black culture
Alma materLondon College of Printing;
De Montfort University

Stephen Bourne (born 31 October 1957) is a British writer, film and social historian specialising in Black heritage and gay culture. As noted by the BBC among others, Bourne "has discovered many stories that have remained untold for years".[1]

In October 2019 Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo voted Bourne for her Black History Month hero on Facebook. She said: "Stephen Bourne is a hero of our history, who has published countless books, always accessible to all, on the hidden stories of our presence on these shores. Let's honour Stephen for quietly shining a light on our history."[2]

In 2019 the acclaimed writer Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, It's a Sin) described Bourne in his foreword to Playing Gay in the Golden Age of British Television as "one of the soldiers, gatekeepers and champions of our community. I am in awe of his diligence and insight."

Early life and education[edit]

Bourne was born in Camberwell, south-east London, and raised in Peckham. He attended Oliver Goldsmith Primary School from 1962 to 1969 (a future pupil was John Boyega who made his acting debut there) and St. Michael and All Angels Secondary Modern School from 1969 to 1974. He left school educationally disadvantaged in 1974 but was encouraged to join the sixth form of Archbishop Temple's, a Comprehensive school in Lambeth from 1974 to 1975. When Temple's closed, he transferred to the sixth form of Archbishop Michael Ramsey Comprehensive School in Camberwell. Though Bourne did not do well enough to go to university, he later graduated from the London College of Printing now known as the London College of Communication with a bachelor's degree in film and television in 1988, and in 2006 received a Master of Philosophy degree at De Montfort University on the subject of the representation of gay men in British Television Drama 1936–79.[3]


After graduating in 1988, he was a research officer at the British Film Institute on a ground-breaking project that documented the history of Black people in British television.[4] The result was a two-part television documentary called Black and White in Colour (BBC 1992), directed by Isaac Julien.[5]

In 1991 Bourne was a founder member of the Black and Asian Studies Association. In 1999 he undertook pioneering work with Southwark Council and the Metropolitan Police as a voluntary independent adviser to the police. In 2008 he researched Keep Smiling Through – Black Londoners on the Home Front 1939–1945, an exhibition for the Cuming Museum in the London Borough of Southwark and that same year he worked as a historical consultant on the Imperial War Museum's War to Windrush exhibition.

Bonnie Greer, playwright and critic, has said: "Stephen Bourne brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate and surprising. You always walk away from his work knowing something that you didn't know, that you didn't even suspect".

In 1991, Bourne co-authored The Sun Shone on Our Side of the Street: Aunt Esther's Story with Esther Bruce (his adopted aunt), which was published by the Ethnic Communities Oral History Project (ECOHP). He has written books about significant Black personalities such as Elisabeth Welch, Ethel Waters, Evelyn Dove and Harold Moody, as well as about different aspects of the historical Black presence in Britain.

Bourne with his book Black Poppies

In 2014, Bourne's book Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War[6] was published by The History Press.[7] Reviewing it in The Independent, Bernardine Evaristo said: "Until historians and cultural map-makers stop ignoring the historical presence of people of colour, books such as this one provide a powerful, revelatory counterbalance to the whitewashing of British history."[8]

A contributor to the gay press for many years, Bourne was the film critic for Gay Times in the early 1990s, and in 1996 his acclaimed book Brief Encounters, a survey of gay cinema in Britain, was published. In 1992 he curated Out of the Archives, the first of many successful LGBT television retrospectives for BFI Southbank.

In 1995, in the London Borough of Southwark, Bourne was instrumental in setting up one of the first locally-based multi-agency forums to combat homophobic crime. Since 1999 he has been active in his community as an independent adviser to the Metropolitan Police.

From 1998 to 2005, Bourne was a regular contributor to Black Filmmaker Magazine (bfm), the first Black film publication aimed at the global black filmmaking industry. It was founded and edited by the film-maker Menelik Shabazz.

Following the publication of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in March 2021, Bourne revealed he was listed as a contributor to the report without his knowledge, stating that he felt manipulated.[9][10][11]


In 2002 Bourne received the Metropolitan Police Volunteer Award for his work as independent adviser on critical incidents. It was presented to him by Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens at City Hall, London. In 2013 Bourne was nominated for a Southwark Heritage Blue Plaque for his work as a community historian and Southwark Police independent adviser.[12] He came second with 1,025 votes. In June 2015, at Southwark's Unicorn Theatre, the Southwark Arts Forum presented Bourne with their Literature Award for Black Poppies. In May 2017, he was honoured at the 12th Screen Nation Awards with a special award for his years of work documenting the lives of Black Britons in film and television.[13] In 2017 he received an Honorary Fellowship from London South Bank University for his contribution to diversity.[14][15]

TV and radio[edit]

Bourne's radio appearances have included Miss Lou at RADA (2005) with Yvonne Brewster, Raising the Bar (2015) with Sir Lenny Henry, From Shame to Pride (2017), The Film Programme (2018), Last Word (2019), The Secret History of a School (2019), Front Row (2019) and Four Thought (2020) all for BBC Radio 4; Free Thinking (2021) for BBC Radio 3; The Raw Pearl Bailey (2018) for BBC Radio 2; and Robert Elms Show (2019) for BBC Radio London. His television appearances include Black Divas (Channel 4, 1996); American Masters – Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999); The One Show (BBC1, 2013 and 2020 (Black History Month special)); The Culture Show: Swingin' into the Blitz (BBC2, 2016) and Home Front Heroes (More4, 2016). In 2018 he was interviewed about his Evelyn Dove photograph collection for BBC1's Antiques Roadshow. In 2021 Bourne was interviewed about Evelyn Dove, Adelaide Hall and Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson in the series The Definitive History of Jazz in Britain, presented by Clive Myrie for Jazz FM. In 2022 Bourne paid tribute to Sidney Poitier in BBC Radio 4's Last Word.

In 1993, for Salutations, Bourne received a Race in the Media Award for Best Radio Documentary from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). Salutations was a series which Bourne conceived and scripted for BBC Radio 2 that celebrated the achievements of Black African, Caribbean and British singers and musicians from the 1930s to the 1960s. Subjects included Leslie Hutchinson, Edric Connor, Winifred Atwell, Reginald Foresythe, Evelyn Dove, Ken "Snakehips" Johnson, Ray Ellington, Cy Grant and Shirley Bassey. The following year Bourne received a second CRE award in the same category for Black in the West End, a celebration of Black musical theatre in London's West End.[citation needed]

Black British theatre[edit]

Bourne has been the recipient of two research grants for Black British theatre from The Society for Theatre Research (1999) and a Wingate Scholarship (2011).[16] He compiled a database of "Key Black Productions to 1975" for the Theatre Museum's publication Black and Asian Performance at the Theatre Museum: A User's Guide (2003). Bourne participated in Warwick University's Shakespeare symposium with the presentation "Beyond Paul Robeson...Black British Actors and Shakespeare 1930–1965" (July 2013) and the Royal National Theatre's Palimpsest Talk: Symposium – A Celebration of Black Women in Theatre (December 2017). Bourne was interviewed in the documentary Margins to Mainstream: The Story of Black Theatre in Britain (2012). Bourne's Deep Are the Roots - Trailblazers Who Changed Black British Theatre was published by The History Press in 2021.

Selected publications[edit]

  • The Sun Shone on Our Side of the Street: Aunt Esther's Story, ECOHP, 1991, ISBN 1871338077
  • Brief Encounters: Lesbians and Gays in British Cinema 1930–71, Cassell, 1996, ISBN 0304332860
  • A Ship and a Prayer: The Black Presence in Hammersmith and Fulham, with Sav Kyriacou, ECOHP, 1999
  • Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television, Cassell/Continuum, 2001, ISBN 0826455395
  • Sophisticated Lady: A Celebration of Adelaide Hall, ECOHP, 2001, ISBN 1871338158
  • Elisabeth Welch: Soft Lights and Sweet Music, Scarecrow Press, 2005, ISBN 0810854139
  • Speak of Me As I Am: The Black Presence in Southwark Since 1600, Southwark Council, 2005, ISBN 0905849426
  • Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather, Scarecrow Press, 2007, ISBN 0810859025
  • Butterfly McQueen Remembered, Scarecrow Press, 2008, ISBN 081086018X
  • Dr. Harold Moody, Southwark Council, 2008, ISBN 978-0-905849-43-0
  • Mother Country: Britain's Black Community on the Home Front 1939–45, The History Press, 2010, ISBN 0752456105
  • Nina Mae McKinney: The Black Garbo, BearManor Media, 2011, ISBN 9781593936587
  • The Motherland Calls: Britain's Black Servicemen and Women 1939–1945, The History Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-7524-6585-2
  • Esther Bruce: A Black London Seamstress, History and Social Action Publications, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9548943-7-5
  • Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War, The History Press, 2014, ISBN 075249760X
  • Evelyn Dove: Britain's Black Cabaret Queen, Jacaranda Books, 2016, ISBN 9781909762350
  • Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars, I.B.Tauris, 2017/Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, ISBN 978-1-350-14322-7
  • War to Windrush: Black Women in Britain 1939–1948, Jacaranda Books, 2018, ISBN 9781909762855
  • Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War (2nd edition, revised and updated), The History Press, 2019, ISBN 978-0-7509-9082-0
  • Playing Gay in the Golden Age of British Television, The History Press, 2019, ISBN 978-0-7509-9013-4
  • Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45, The History Press, 2020, ISBN 978-0-7509-9435-4 [17]
  • Deep Are the Roots: Trailblazers Who Changed Black British Theatre, The History Press, 2021, ISBN 978-0-7509-9629-7


  1. ^ Dominic Casciani, "Hidden tales of the black home front", BBC News, 5 October 2002.
  2. ^ Stephen Bourne, "Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939–45", via Amazon.
  3. ^ Stephen Bourne page at The History Press.
  4. ^ Stephen Bourne, " Black History Hidden Treasures", BBC Blogs, 8 October 2019.
  5. ^ "Black in the British Frame", The National Archives.
  6. ^ Sonia Brown, "Why Stephen Bourne is talking Black Communities, the Great War and Black Poppies as we Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of WW1", National Black Women's Network, 4 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Guest Post: Black Poppies – Britain’s Black Community and the Great War", Imperial War Museum Research Blog, 2014.
  8. ^ Bernardine Evaristo, "Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War by Stephen Bourne, book review – A fascinating history lesson full of pride and prejudice", The Independent, 11 September 2014.
  9. ^ Charlie Moloney, "I was manipulated to help with race report, says historian Stephen Bourne", The Times, 1 April 2021.
  10. ^ Harrison Jones, "Participants in racism report deny being involved as backlash intensifies", The Metro, 1 April 2021.
  11. ^ Aamna Mohdin, "Experts cited in No 10’s race report claim they were not properly consulted", The Guardian, 1 April 2021.
  12. ^ Joseph Patrick McCormick, "Gay historian and police advisor Stephen Bourne nominated for blue plaque", Pink News, 17 September 2013.
  13. ^ "Historian Stephen Bourne receives Screen Nation Award". The Voice. 9 May 2017. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  14. ^ "LSBU awards six honorary graduates and fellows", London South Bank University, 10 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Stephen Bourne, Honorary Fellow", London South Bank University.
  16. ^ "Economics, History, Law, Political Science", Record of Wingate Scholars 1988 – 2011, p. 2.
  17. ^ Stephen Bourne, "Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45" at Google Books.

External links[edit]