BBC’s Radio icon Dotun Adebayo: ‘Thank you’


After 28 years at the BBC, veteran radio presenter, Dotun Adebayo faced one of the biggest professional challenges of his life - saving his icon London programme from the axe. Dotun lays bare his kaleidoscope of emotions, before, during and after, and concludes that the process has made us all stronger. During his time, Dotun has covered every critical turn of OBV’s 24 years. All I can say is, thank you brother. - Simon Woolley

Sometimes "thank you" is not a sufficient enough response to the self-sacrifice of complete strangers in supporting you in your times of trouble. You can say "thank you" as many times as you like and, still, you know in your heart of hearts that it falls short of expressing the deep gratitude you feel at the love that is shown to you at a difficult time.

That pretty much sums up how I have been feeling this weekend. After my little trouble that turned into a struggle with my employers at the BBC I felt like a proverbial diminutive David against a giant Goliath who I stood absolutely no chance of defeating, even with the jawbone of an ass at my disposal.

Far from it, despite my years as a soldier for righteousness and as an uncompromising soldier for cvil rights in this country, I often wondered over the course of my "Ten-Day War" with the Corporation's managers, whether I should simply capitulate and ‘know my place.’

Our "place" as black Brits has invariably been whatever we were given and wherever we were allowed to rest our weary heads. Be it the slums of Notting Hill in the fifties and the slum landlord Peter Rachman, whose use and abuse of the then new post-war Commonwealth migrants who had crossed the seas in the hope of taking the opportunity to make something else of themselves in the "mother country", was tolerated if not accepted for many years; Or whether it be the jobs that white folks didn't want to do, for the salaries that white folks refused to work for. We had little choice as black folks, once upon a time when we were ‘coloured.’ Those days may be over, but the mind-set that allowed those days to exist continues, and continues to put us down.

I genuinely didn't know that I had unconsciously fallen victim to the mindset of , "not-good-enough", "not-equal-to" "be-grateful-for", that continually holds us back. After all, this was not the way I was brought up. My father was an intellectual, as smart as any other man.

He was a philosopher that could have spoken for England, but in those days England didn't want him to speak for it. Even though he was a broadcaster at - guess where - the BBC. He had brought all his children up to be educated and continually impressed on us the value of our brilliant minds that nobody could take away from us.

We did not possess the brilliant minds of musicians or artists or the mothers and fathers who have determinedly made a way for themselves in this country at which they arrived with little more than the shirts on their backs. That wasn't the kind of brilliance that the Adebayos had. Our brilliance was crafted from reading and writing and more reading. Learning about civil rights, black power and the black panthers amongst other things including science, poetry, history and more. ‘Seize The Time’ by Bobby Seale was on our bookshelf, in the days when there weren't that many books on the bookshelves because they were really expensive. Das Kapital (yes, in German - don't ask) by Karl Marx was also there. As was the History of the Yorubas by Samuel Johnson. These were fundamental treatises on the reading list of my life. Fundamental because they told me that I didn't have to beg for anything.

What I had legitimately was mine by right and the opportunities that were available to me had been fought for and won by the many sacrifices by the veritable Goliath-like giants upon whose slender shoulders all black Britain had achieved is predicated on. There is no "you" and "me", without the "us" that links us to hundreds of years of trouble that turned into a struggle.

So, to Oludauh Equiano I give thanks. As I do to Ignatius Sancho. To Claudio Jones I give thanks. As I do to Paul Stephenson. And, of course, to the great Marcus Garvey, the indefatigable Rosa Parks, the giant Malcolm X, the relentless Fannie Lou Hamer and the sublime Martin Luther King, I give thanks. We cannot thank them enough. Indeed, thanks seems, in the context of their sacrifices, disrespectful on its own. We owe them more if truth be told. But also to the millions that marched behind them and gave these great men and women their support. We OWE them - much more than "thanks" alone can encapsulate. For real. Without that grassroots support, leadership is a very lonely place.

With all that rich history of recent struggle, how can it be that we (and I put myself at the forefront of this) are still debilitated by gratitude and fear. Why is it that we are afraid of losing our jobs in the workplace, particularly the higher we go in the barrel of crabs? Why is it that we are so grateful for simply getting what is rightfully ours, that which we have achieved fair and squarely and yet we feel, at the back off our minds, that we have been given?

I really never thought that was me. Because I was brought up in this country. Been here since I was six years old. I didn't think that I had to be thankful for anything I worked for.

It was my wife, Carol, who reminded me to truly value my worth that I realised that there's nothing to fear. If someone doesn't employ me or sacks me, it's there loss. I can take my worth somewhere else. Worth is about what you can bring in and someone else can benefit from. If there is one thing from this episode I’ve learnt it is that in truth the BBC should be thanking me, and you for what we contribute every single day. In fact, I'm not sure if they can ever thank you enough.

But to me the real "thank you's" are to you. For supporting this oldish warrior who was so used to giving and defending others I’d forgotten that I may one day need your help. You didn’t disappoint! Without you, let’s be clear, it’s doubtful that I would have won. For that I’m grateful, but my good friend Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, also confirmed with me, that this is a victory for all of us. Together we will not be pushed around, and we will demand to be respected and valued for our worth.

Now I must get back to my jobs - family first, and then my role as a national and regional broadcaster bringing life to general stories of interest, including those beautiful, sometimes challenging ones from a Black lens.

Dotun Adebayo