Michael Abbensetts 1938-2016

Michael Abbensetts talking to Michael Wearing

Michael Abbensetts talking to Michael Wearing, at the Midlands Arts Centre 2010









Norman Beaton in Empire Road. Photo by Willoughby Gulachsen, no reproduction without permission.

Norman Beaton in Empire Road. Photo by Willoughby Gullachsen, no reproduction without permission.

















The Guyanan-born writer, Michael Abbensetts, sadly died on 24th November 2016. Michael settled in Britain in the 1960s and gave a voice to people from a Carribean heritage, through his writing for the theatre and television. He worked on several Pebble Mill dramas in the 1970s and early ’80s, often with producer Peter Ansorge. His first Pebble Mill production was Black Christmas, in 1977; followed by Empire Road (series 1 and 2), the first black British soap opera, 1988-9; and Easy Money, part of Playhouse, 1982. He also wrote an episode of Doctors in 2001, which was his last television script.

Michael attended the ‘What was Pebble Mill’ screening event at the Midlands Arts Centre in 2010, and was interested in commemorating the dramas made at Pebble Mill.

(Thanks to Lez Cooke for updating some of the information in this post.)

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

Terry Barker: ‘He did an episode of Doctors which I script edited in late 90s’

Janice Rider: ‘The Mac event was the last time I met Michael before he became unwell . Not many people may be aware that there is a beautiful photograph of him in the National Portrait Gallery collection by Horace Ove, filmmaker, who directed some episodes of Empire Road. A lasting tribute to a great, gentle playwright. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw79463/Michael-Abbensetts?LinkID=mp68713&search=sas&sText=Michael%20Abbensetts&OConly=true&role=sit&rNo=0










Vision of a Nation: Making Multiculturalism on British Television

Gavin Schaffer bookCopyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

This newly published book by Gavin Schaffer, from the University of Birmingham, explores the development of multiculturalism on British television. It includes several mentions of programming from Pebble Mill and BBC Birmingham. Gavin’s research for the book included a detailed interview with Stephanie Silk, who was a PA in the Immigrants Programmes Unit in the late 1960s, as well as interviews with English Regions Drama Department producer, Peter Ansorge (producer of Empire Road , Britain’s first black soap opera, written by Michael Abbensetts).

It is Steph Silk on the front cover, with Saleem Shahed on the left, and Mahendra Kaul in the middle, from the Immigrants Programme Unit. The photo is from summer 1968, at a charity dinner in London, arranged by the Indian High Commission.


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

Julian Hitchcock: ‘Many, many memories…. Mahendra (who was also a restaurateur) was rather grand. Saleem gave off an air, not only of pipe tobacco, but of a university vice-chancellor.

Studio B! Ah, the glamour!

I was always proud of Pebble Mill’s role in the policy. There were ups and downs, as well as hours of incomprehensible chat shows, but you felt that it was engaging its audience keenly and in a vital way. Year on year, you felt it responding to social developments as, in the other direction, the rest of BBC programming caught up.

Before that happened, there was a period in which the Unit was thought by all too many as a silo for people whose epidermis was insufficiently French. I recollect being mortified with embarrassment by the “helpful” suggestion of a senior producer to a bright new graduate [of Asian complexion] who was gaining work experience at Pebble Mill and who was interested in getting into production. Fag in hand, she advised the girl to try Asian programmes.

The remark was simultaneously offensive and very good advice. I’m delighted that those days are behind us. That they are is in no small part due to the efforts of the Asian Unit.’

Lynn Cullimore: ‘Yes, remember all that. I worked in what was called The Asian Unit at one time and have to say I never went hungry because there was always a restaurant of a relative somewhere near where we were filming. I worked on Black Christmas too – John Clarke being the producer. There was also a couple of series called “Together” which was about ethnic minorities living in the Midlands. It was interesting and I learnt such a lot.’

Empire Road – Wedding

Photos from Janice Rider, no reproduction without permission.

The wedding episode of the black soap opera, ‘Empire Road’ was transmitted on 25 October 1979, it seems to be the final episode.  It was directed by Horace Ove, written by Michael Abbensetts, and produced at Pebble Mill by Peter Ansorge.  Janice Rider was the costume designer.

Norman Beaton played Everton, Corinne Skinner-Carter played Hortense, Wayne Laryea played Marcus.

The photos include publicity stills, polaroids taken for continuity reasons and the original drawn design for the wedding dress.



Empire Road – Radio Times













‘Radio Times’ front cover from 1976, courtesy of Janice Rider, who was the costume designer on ‘Empire Road’.

‘Empire Road’ was the first black soap opera in Britain.  It was produced at Pebble Mill by Peter Ansorge.  It was written by Michael Abbensetts, and starred Norman Beaton.

‘Empire Road’ was shot in Studio A, and on location in Handsworth.

Empire Road – Janice Rider


Video interview with costume designer Janice Rider, about working on the drama series: Empire Road.  Empire Road was produced at Pebble Mill by Peter Ansorge and written by Michael Abbensetts.  It was the first soap opera in Britain with a black and asian cast, starring Norman Beaton.

Radio Times 1979