Cafe 21 – series 3

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Cafe 21 was an Asian talk show on BBC2 in the late 1990s. Below is part of a press release for the show:

“In November 1997, Café 21 was first broadcast on BBC2, it was regarded as a milestone in Asian programming as it gave young Asians a voice on national television.

During its first series it became a talking point in its own right, tackling issues such as Asian Identity, Families and Sexuality which put the show on the broadcasting map. Challenging British Asian stereotypes has always been of key importance in Café 21, the ‘cornershops and curry’ myth has been exploded ever since the first show.

Café 21 balanced hard hitting opinions and person stories to create what could be described as a ‘chat show – soap’.

There are 20 contributors in the Café, the 21st being the presenter Rajesh Mirchandani who also presents the BBC music show ‘The Ozone’.

Being on Café 21 has certainly encouraged some of our former contributors to take the plunge into uncharted waters:

First series

  • Narinder Kaur has since had a part as a gangster girlfriend in a forthcoming ‘Bollywood’ film called London.
  • Ashish Joshi has his own column in cult Asian magazine ‘Snoop’.
  • Victor Agarwal became the first Asian local councillor in his borough at the tender age of 24.
  • Ritu Dhammi has become the drivetime presenter on Radio Sabras in Leicester. She feels being on Café 21 built her confidence as a broadcaster.

Second series

  • Kevin Sherwani was a struggling stand up comedian, since appearing on Café 21 he has now secured a regular slot on the Comedy Store in London.
  • Krish Majumdar has since decided on a career in broadcasting by getting a place on ITNs news training scheme.
  • Anif Abdul became a R&B presenter on London based Kiss FM Radio.

Now the third series is about to go into production and we are looking for contributors. This time however we are opening up to any young person who wants to air their views on television, Asian or non Asian. So if you are between 16 and 29 and have views on Asian issues contact us now!”

Thanks to Dharmesh Rajput for sharing this information.


How to Get on TV

How to get on TV















This press cutting from the Birmingham Evening Mail dates from July 31st 1998. It features two shows from BBC Birmingham – Cafe 21, and the Really Useful Show. Cafe 21, was an Asian youth series, which discussed issues affecting young British Asians. The Really Useful Show was a BBC1 Daytime consumer affairs series.

Thanks to Dharmesh Rajput for sharing the cutting.


Cafe 21

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Café 21 mug from series in 1998, courtesy of Dharmesh Rajput

Below is a excerpt from a briefing document about Café 21, which was used in providing press information

Café 21 has its first series running from mid-November 1997 to the end of January 1998, at 11.20 am on Saturday mornings, BBC 2. A part of the Asia 2 slot, which also includes Network East and Q Asia, the show heralded the arrival of young British Asians being able to talk about themselves on national television. A milestone in Asian programming.

Café 21’s ethos is to give young British Asians a voice. Across 9 shows last year, including a 1 hour special on Sexuality, the show became a talking point in its own right. Tackling issues like Asian identity, families and mixed race relationships head on, put the show on the map. Myths were exploded and stereotypes challenged, while the Café guests put paid to the, ‘corner-shops and curry’ image it could be argued still exists with regard to the British Asian population.

Café 21 balanced hard-hitting opinions and personal stories to create what could be described as a ‘chat-show soap’.

Series 2

Café 21 wants to continue in this spirit to find fascinating people for Series 2. Due to the success of the first series, the show will have a longer run and a higher profile slot. As well as maintaining the Saturday morning slot, the first airing of each week’s topic will now be late on Friday night on BBC 2.

This late night slot means that this series will be even more revealing, controversial and risky than the first.

We need to appeal to young Asians, between the ages of 16 and 29, to apply to be on the show. Potential contributors don’t need to be experts – we need real people with real life experiences, not accomplished television professionals. That is not what Café 21 is about.

We are particularly keen to ensure that all regional areas of the British Asian community are represented on the show this year. We need to hear from people outside of the Midlands and Greater London. We want varied accents and backgrounds on air to reflect that the Asian population is significant nationwide!

The new series will start on Friday 2nd October and will run for 11 weeks. During this series we will tackle such diverse topics as the question of whether Asians can laugh at themselves and Boypower, Taboos and Brothers – A girl’s best friend or her worst enemy?

We are conducting auditions now, and will be travelling around the country to meet with people.

Thanks to Dharmesh Rajput for this information.

(The mugs were used by guests on the show. The show was recorded in the Crush Bar cafe on the first floor outside Studio A).

50 Years of BBC Asian Programmes

The article below is taken from:

“The BBC is celebrating 50 years of its programming for South Asian immigrants which started in the 60s and for the subsequent new British Asian generations into the 80s, 90s and onwards.

Programming for Asian immigrants who arrived in Britain started at 9.00am on 10th October 1965 on BBC1.

In Logon Se Miliye was the first programme which was then replaced by Apna hi Ghar Samajhiye known as Make Yourself at Home in 1966.

The programme produced by David Gretton was also repeated on BBC2 and on BBC radio.

Offering a mix of language lessons in everyday English and popular music from Indian and Pakistani films, the programme aimed to help Asians cope with everyday life.

Subsequently, shows like Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan and Gharbar for women, appeared on BBC television.

Both radio and television progressively began to broadcast shows targeting Asians living and now settled in Britain.

BBC Radio shows like East and West, Midlands Masala and the emergence of BBC Asian Network as a station, all contributed to this programming.

It was the late 80s and 90s when BBC programming for Asians took a new direction, to appeal to new generations of British Asians.

The television programmes were produced by the BBC Asian Programmes Unit (APU), based at Pebble Mill in Birmingham.

The APU was headed by Narendhra Morar and subsequently taken over by Paresh Solanki during this era of BBC’s multicultural programming.

Other members of the team included Narinder Minhas, Tommy Nagra, Fatima Salaria, Farah Durrani, Sangita Manandhar, Gurdip Bhangoo, Jane Dunning and Sara Kozak.

We remember five popular shows from this special era of BBC Asian television.














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This weekly lifestyle and entertainment programme was launched in 1987 on BBC2 on Saturday mornings.

It was the first programme to be fully broadcast in English.

This lively show had a series of well-known presenters through its time, including, Valerie Vaz and Samantha Meah, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Mo Dutta, Shahnaz Pakravan, Sudha Kumari (now known as Sudha Bhuchar), Sanjeev Kohli and Sonia Deol.

It featured lots of major stars and acts including Amitabh Bachchan, Mehmood, Salman Khan, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Gurdas Maan and Shobu Kapoor (Geeta in EastEnders).

With Bhangra bands being huge at the time, Azaad, Alaap, Heera, Apna Sangeet and many more were featured on the show.

The Network East Mega Mela event was the first major indoor mela held at the NEC in Birmingham.

The show featured and supported live acts and upcoming bands.

In 1998, Asia 2 was used to group Asian programmes shown on BBC 2 on Saturday mornings, starting with Network East: Big Talk, a show discussing Asian issues.

A late night version of the show called Network East Late was aired in 2001.














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This was a programme produced to address current affairs and controversial issues affecting the South Asian communities in Britain.

Aired weekly from 1990, on BBC2 on Tuesday evenings, it tackled many areas of Asian life in its episodes. Including:

The increasing number of young Asians choosing mainstream pop over the traditional Asian music market after success of Babylon Zoo.
Growing numbers of elderly Asian parents who expected to be cared for by their children are finding themselves alone or in homes.
Increasing numbers of Asian women in Britain becoming involved in prostitution, after running away from sheltered and unhappy homes
EAST – tackled issue of prostitution

Some episodes of the series instigated complaints for their hard-hitting nature.


The newer generations of British Asians had many social and personal issues to deal with during the 90s.

Cafe 21 was targeted at this youth and debated topics and matters concerning them.

The setting was usually a ‘student common room’ with an audience of young guests who debated topical issues with the presenter Rajesh Mirchandani.

Participants frequently discussed education, careers, religion, racism, relationships, politics, multiculturalism, integration and lots more.

It was aired on Saturday mornings on BBC2 from 1997.














(Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission)

This programme was shown on BBC2 on a Saturday morning from 1994 and was an amazing concept of a gameshow using Bollywood as its theme.

Presenters of the show were first Mo Dutta and then Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Four contestants were invited into the studios to take part in a series of question and Bollywood trivia rounds.

Each round was introduced with a dramatic piece of Bollywood film music and each round was named in Hindi and English.

Each episode progressively led to a semi-final and then a final.

The winning prize was a fully paid trip to Bollywood itself and a chance to meet some of the biggest stars at that time, including, Shahrukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Dev Anand and many more.


At the time this was one of the first cookery television shows of its kind. It used the concept of on location cooking with the hugely popular, Madhur Jaffrey, as the cookery star, travelling across India.

The six-part series was directed by Navin Thapar and produced by Sara Kozak and a team from the BBC and India. It was aired from 1995.

Different cuisines were brought to you in each episode featuring a specific state of India and its speciality dishes. Including, Goa, Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.

Madhur narrated her visits and provided historical facts about each place and made the dishes outside on location.

A book was published to accompany the series.

Most of the above shows were aired on Saturday mornings on BBC 2, which was dominated by BBC Asian programmes – a history in the making, in its own unique way.

Although Asian programmes today are still part of the BBC agenda, the Asian Programmes Unit was closed in 2008. So, it’s unlikely that we shall ever witness another era of domination by shows like the ones we remember here.’


The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Tony Jover: ‘I recall we used to do a Top 10 Bollywood movies section, a fashion section and more. At one stage it was presented by Sanjeev Bhaskar. I used to edit Network East with Paresh Solanki.’

Viv Ellis: ‘I worked on the very first Network East under Narendhra Morar, as a director, doing studio and location shoots and editing. We recorded the show in the small studio (can’t remember what it was called) [Studio B] with a “band days” in studio A. We had all sorts of amazing music.’

Gordon Astley: ‘I remember my first TV job was boom op. at Gosta Green about 1970. I remember trying to get as near to a sitar as possible. Must have been one of the first of these shows?’

Bridget Catherine Vaughan: ‘I worked in the days of Ashok Rampal.’