Anthea Turner: Her part in the slave trade
What an offhand celebrity comment can tell us about the legacy of empire
Anthea Turner perkily stands in front of a dungeon in a Ghanian slave fort. She points her thumb at the sign about the door -‘Male Slaves’- then, grinning at the camera, she quips:
‘I can think of a few fellas I wouldn’t mind putting in there!’
My wife didn’t want me to write this article. Her view is that to investigate an offhand comment that Anthea Turner made in 1999 would be…somewhat creepy. But I am not a stalker and I have very little interest in Anthea Turner per se. What I am interested in is exploding tiny, insignificant moments into issues for investigating. It is in the micro that the macro reveals itself to us.
I am also interested in memory. Sometimes a moment can be experienced as trivial as it happens but it is only over time that its true significance becomes apparent. By tugging at those gossamer threads of memory we can, perhaps, untangle the knots of existence.
So, here goes…
Back in the days before Netflix, I used to enjoy watching the ITV travel show ‘Wish You Were Here?’ Light-as-a-feather entertainment, it was immensely comforting in its own way; depicting a world of pleasant (but never challenging) voyages to lands where the sun always shines. Aired at 7pm before Coronation Street, I would watch WYWH while having my dinner.
No disrespect intended, but Anthea Turner, who took over the role lead presenter of the show from the legendary Judith Chalmers in the late 1990s, was and is not the sort of person one associates with reflection on difficult historical legacies. Nor one would associate her with pioneering journeys to lands outside the established tourist map. So it was perhaps this sense of incongruity that leapt out at me when I saw the segment of the show she filmed in Ghana in 1999. Over time, as I myself became more knowledgeable of about post-colonial theory and the legacy of empire, so I began to turn Anthea Turner’s incongruous visit to Ghana into a story that encapsulated the guileless superficiality with which the UK relates to its imperial legacy.