One of the first actors of an Indian descent to appear on British TV was honoured at the Asian Media Awards.
Jamila Massey, 79, who first featured in a British film – Sink the Bismark – in 1960 will be presented the Outstanding Contribution award at the event in Manchester.
Jamila had roles in Crossroads (1964); Z-Cars (1976–1977); Mind Your Language (1977–79); Play for Today (1977, 1978); Minder (1982); The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and The Bill (1984).
In the nineties she appeared in Eastenders where she played the domineering mother of Sanjay. On radio she has featured in the long-running soap ‘The Archers’.
Speaking of her experiences in the sixties and seventies she said, “Roles for brown people were non-existent. You could only be a servant in a programme set in India. When I auditioned for plays, I was told I my brown face would ‘unbalance’ the play.
“When I went for auditions, people were rather surprised that I spoke English without an accent. In fact, at one audition, I was told I had to put on an Indian accent.”
After coming to the UK aged 11 Jamila went on to study English, Latin and Urdu at King’s College London.
Before she got to university, Jamila’s first official radio acting job was in 1947. She also did BBC Radio World Service in Urdu.
In 1960, a year after graduating, producers of ‘Sink the Bismark!’ rang the BBC asking if they knew someone who could translate the news into Urdu.
“I was so excited when they contacted me. A car came to collect me from home. The whole experience at the studio was so incredible.
“Then I started off as an extra. Nowadays no-one admits to being such a lowly thing anymore. Gradually then I got little parts. However, I would only get two words per role. For example, I would be a servant in a programme where I would carry a tray in with whisky on it and say, ‘Yes Sahib.’ Or ‘No Sahib.’
Jamilia went on to become a tireless member of ‘Equity’, an Afro-Asian Committee campaigning for racial equality in her profession alongside Louis Mahoney,
“I am flattered and grateful to Asian Media Awards for honouring me.
“I hope this becomes an annual event so that others may also be recognized.”
In film she has appeared in Arabian Nights (2000); Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (2001); Perfect World (2001); Doctors (2002); All About Me (2003) and Chicken Tikka Masala (2005).