Ebony under cover

Ebony Ariel article Julie Hill























Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

This article about an episode of the black affairs series, Ebony, on the death of black activist Steve Biko, was published in the BBC staff newspaper, Ariel, on September 7th 1988.

Thanks to Julie Hill (previously Whittaker) for sharing this article.

Here is a transcript of the article:

‘A BBC team spent three weeks dodging the authorities in South Africa to make a film on the life of activist Steve Biko.

The programme, one of a £27 million package on BBC2 this autumn, was made by the Birmingham based Ebony team, and includes interviews with friends who speak about Biko publicly for the first time since his death in police custody 11 years ago.

Jamaican born director Terrence Francis, South African Kamscilla Naidoo, and the only white member of the team, Julie Whittaker, stayed in separate hotels, held clandestine meetings out of town and took care never to be seen with the camera crew during the making of Biko, The Spirit Lives, which goes out on the anniversary of his death next week.

“Being black helped us to set up interviews with people who would never talk to a white production team,” said Terrence Francis.

“But, as a group of mixed race, we had a tense time. We were stopped in a road block, we were followed, and our rooms were searched.”


The one-hour programme is among the first to go out in the autumn package, which is providing an “unprecedented platform for new, young talent,” said channel Controller Alan Yentob.’

Here is the link to the Radio Times entry from 19th September 1988, BBC2, courtesy of the BBC Genome project:

‘On 12 September, 1977, Steve Biko died in a South African prison. The official inquest cleared the authorities of any blame, but the circumstances of his death had repercussions all over the world.
At the age of 31, Biko was the charismatic leader of the Black Consciousness
Movement and one of the most influential political figures in the country.
In this Ebony film, Biko’s closest friends and associates describe how he emerged to lead the movement and the personal qualities that set him apart.
For the first time, they also tell the story of political intrigue and betrayal which led to his death and assess the legacy of the Black
Consciousness Movement in South African politics today. Executive producer JOHN WILCOX Produced and directed by TERRENCE FRANCIS BBC Pebble Mill’ http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/849536c00a1a408b868b4a75836aa760

Julie Whittaker (now Hill) adds the following comment: ‘I was only sorry our documentary didn’t receive the publicity & acclaim it deserved, oh & having escaped the secret police in SA I had a rifle pulled on me in Botswana – where were filming the reconstruction of Biko’s capture. Our team of 3 & local 3 man crew achieved what would nowadays involve about 50 people!!!’