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Cy Grant: a shining talent

Cy Grant was the first black man to appear regularly on British TV

RAF pilot, prisoner of war, qualified barrister and the first black actor to appear regularly on British TV, Cy Grant lived an extraordinary life. His passing, aged 90, is honoured by an excellent obit in the Telegraph and Carib World News.

In addition to these profiles, its worth noting Cy Grant’s significance as the first black face in the media. He also appeared on the cover of the Radio Times in 1957, another milestone.

And while we take such things for granted today, back then it was very different. Grant only got into acting because after World War II ended, he trained and qualified as a barrister but was unable to find any work in Chambers, or anywhere else.

So he turned his talents to acting, and initially became a regular calypso singer on BBC TV’s Tonight programme before landing a spot in the sci-fi series Captain Scarlet. Acting roles in The Sea Wife (1956), At The Earth’s Core (1972), Shaft in Africa (1973) and Blake’s Seven (1979).

His book A Member of the Royal Air Force of Indeterminate Race, took its title from the words appeared with his picture in the German newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter, as they showed captured allied forces.

In the book (Woodfield Publishing) Grant describes how he signed up to the RAF in 1941, after the British lifted their ban on ‘men of colour’ following the loss of 30,000 in the Battle of Britain and France in 1940.

Grant was part of a 500-strong black aircrew made up of Africans and Caribbean’s that carried out bombing raids in Battle of the Ruhr in 1943. He reflected that he felt ‘no sense of pride’ at his actions.

His plane was shot down over Nazi-occupied Holland, and he was to spend the next two years in German prisoner of war camps, during which time he was ‘able to reflect upon my life, about who I was.’

He also wrote: ‘I had enough time to reflect on the unusual predicament in which I found myself – fighting a racist Nazi regime whilst being subject to racism in my own backyard.’

Grant describes how he grew up with middle class values in the quiet village of Beterverwagting in British Guiana (Guyana), son of a minister, and in a house with servants.

Yet he, and his father, had a passionate interest in black history. Indeed Grant recalls how his own family’s history was within touching distance of enslavement.

Grant was a dignified and proud man, a man of considerable talents and strong will. He shone out during an era when opportunities for black people were scarce. And he was a shining example to those who knew him, and the many more who simply saw him on TV, as an extremely rare black face. Cy Grant, we salute you.

By Lester Holloway

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One Response

  1. Gutted.

    The man was an absolute legend. I studied the African & Caribbean contribution to British defence last year. Not only was Mr Grant’s career inspirational, he helped greatly to pass on the knowledge to us http://www.caribbeanaircrew-ww2.com/

    R.I.P.

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