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The first black Brit boy in a horror movie and TV pioneers

STARDOM: A young Dotun features briefly – faded against Vincent Price – in 1969’s 'The Oblong Box' (image credit: YouTube/Christian)

I WAS only eight, so you can’t expect me to have known my role in black history, let alone Black History Month. In dem days we wasn’t even thinking about black history, and Black History Month had not been invented. We was too busy grafting and striving just to maintain.

After all, the system was against us, the cops were against us, the teachers were against us and, who knows, maybe even God was against us. That’s how it felt, at least.

I’m talking late 1960s, when Sidney Poitier was the only black person on the telly, there were none of us was in the Houses of Parliament and West Ham’s Clyde Best and Ade Coker were the only black footballers. Do you blame us for thinking that God wasn’t on our side, and that we were the wretched of the earth?

Us kids couldn’t help wondering why God seemed to favour our white friends who weren’t getting the Hell beaten out of them by their parents when they got in trouble and the law came round their house to give them a clip round the earhole.

Black history literally passed us by.

It would have passed me by altogether had it not been for uncle George. I say ‘uncle’ – he wasn’t a real uncle. In dem days, every black man was your uncle, and could give you a clip round the lughole. In fact, there’d be a long line of ‘uncles’ lining up to give you a clip round the lughole. If you were letting down the entire black community by getting clipped round the lughole by the cops, every black man in the country was well within their rights to add to that clip.

REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE

To be fair, uncle George never once clipped me. In fact, he’d show up like Father Christmas once a year to bring good cheer.

This one time, he came in the evening to whizz me and my older brother away. I couldn’t wait to jump into uncle George’s left-hand drive, with German number plates, all the way to what I now know to be Shepperton Studios. My older brother Yinka loped along for the ride.

What I remember about that evening – which would secure my place in black history – was that at the studio, some bloke tells me and my brother to run to the end of the corridor. I ran like my life depended on it, and my brother Yinka – the fastest boy in Tottenham – loped like he wasn’t jumping and twisting to order. That’s the kinda nine-year-old rebel without a pause that he was. So basically, they chose me. For what?

Well, I was to find out the next time uncle George came with his seasonal cheer to whisk me off to what I thought was a forest, was an entire film crew and, crucially, a catering truck awaited. I had to strip to my underpants and tie some African wrapper around me and walk along the forest path in bare feet holding the hand of a woman who was supposed to be my mother. And I had to do it over and over and over and over and over again (as a horse galloped behind us and passed us and over and over again).

HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR

Remember, this was in January or February, so the ground was cold to raas (excuse my Jamaican). Yer actual Elf and Safety would never have allowed it today. But in dem times Britain was the sick man of Europe - there wasn’t no ‘Elf’, nor no Safety.

I did as I was told, thinking about my lunchtime catering box, too hungry to know that the bloke in my scene was the great actor, Vincent Price. Nor that the other bloke was the equally-great Christopher Lee, and that I was featuring in a Hammer House of Horror movie.

WATCH DOTUN'S ACTING DEBUT, BELOW (credit: YouTube/Christian):

Someone has kindly clipped my part in it and made it into a YouTube video.

It is history. Because I was the first (and maybe only) black British kid to have featured in a horror film. Even Brinsley Forde from Aswad – who in dem days was better known as Springy from Double Deckers, and who I was later to share a scene in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever with (I was always his understudy, or cheaper alternative) – could claim that honour.

BLACK HISTORY-MAKER

To be fair, Brinsley also has a place in black history. A more prominent place than I can claim.
As the recurring black character in Double Deckers, he really gave us second generationers something to cling on to in this Inglann. There he was, singing and dancing and having fun. We had never seen that before.

Britain had never seen a black boy in any of its television series, let alone a mainstay character and one who was just a regular kid without the stereotypes that were dumped on our shoulders like millstones around our necks.

Remember, this was a time when we were still considered to be alien to this country, even those of us who were born here. We were expected to get on a spaceship anytime soon to return to wherever it was we had come form. Even those of us who had never been there. And, unlike E.T. they would call home on our behalf.

Brinsley should be given a knighthood for what his character in Double Deckers symbolised for us all in this multiracial Britain.

Incidentally, uncle George was a black history-maker, too. He was George Williams, who ran the first black casting agency in Britain – George’s Film Agency – which in dem days was on Old Street in central London. One of only two casting agencies that would have black actors on their books, the other being Oriental Casting.

So that was my part in black history. What was yours?

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