Born in colonial Jamaica in 1905, Una Marson was a famous poet, playwright and social activist well before she came to England in 1932. Between 1918 and 1938, there were many Black African and Caribbean people who came to Britain as part of that interwar generation, showing a pre-Windrush context for Black life in the UK.
Publishing poetry books like Tropic Reveries (1930) and Heights and Depths (1931), Marson became the first Black playwright to stage a play in London’s West End and the first Black producer and broadcaster at the BBC. At the BBC, she worked with author and anti-imperialist George Orwell as well as poets William Empson and T. S. Eliot.
During the war, she became indispensible and thus overwork initiated a breakdown in her mental health, and was forced back to Jamaica to heal. When she recovered, she began organising in Jamiaca including setting up her own publishing company Pioneer Press. She died (early) in 1965 at sixty years old.
This is a cast and could well be added to. Simply, these are initial thoughts after some light reading on this era and engaging with documentaries!
At the peak of Una Marson’s career as the first Black producer at the BBC during the Second World War, she was one of the most famous people in the British Empire. With her colleagues George Orwell and William Empson, she was part of a number of programmes to boost morale during the War.
Based on / Inspired From:
Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice (Avril E. Russell)
The BBC: A People’s History (David Hendy)
The Life of Una Marson, 1905-1965 (Delia Jarrett-McCauley)
With the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) only established in the early 1920s, Una Marson at the start of Second World War is a Black woman and imperative to the building of one of the biggest broadcasters still to this day. Her story like many of the Black people in Britain between 1919 and 1938 has largely been forgotten. Film and television is one way these stories may last forever.
Whilst in London, Una Marson rented a room from Dr Harold Moody who was one of the founding members of the League of Coloured Peoples – what today we would term as an anti-racist organisation.
She spoke at conferences and went on to be editor of its publication called The Keys (1934). Una served thousands of global subscribers interested in what was published and the League of Coloured People’s international campaigns. Her work soon found her headhunted by the BBC, her way in through television executive Cecil Madden.
Marson became so popular, that she was able to visit Ethiopia during Italy’s invasion. Concurrently, she was also the LOP’s representative for the arrival King Nana Sir Ofori Atta I in the 1930s. During that decade, intellectuals such as CLR James and George Padmore were also in Britain. James would go on to publish Black Jacobins in 1938, one of the important books on the Haitian Revolution. In 1935, Una Marson was reportedly temporarily the private sectretary to Marcus Garvey as well.
Hakim Adi’s book Africans and Caribbean People in Britain: A History also shows us that Una Marson lived in a Britain whose Black populations were increasingly politically conscious. This manifested itself in groups including The African Progress Union, West African Students Union, The International African Service Bureau and more. Her work did not exist in a void, but is part of a wider trend during those decades between 1919 and 1945.
NB: It’s obvious that this cast also is lacking in Black women characters, which is untrue to the Britain Marson lived (and I am sure if anybody was to make a film or show like this, Black women must be included as part of the circles in which Marson moved through). This also leaves the door open for storymakers to consider creating characters just for the film or show.