BBC Radio 4 to air reading of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech

The move to perform the infamous speech in full has been criticised, but Archive on 4 presenter Amol Rajan explains the text will be "critiqued by voices from across the spectrum"

(Getty, JG)

BBC Radio 4’s decision to broadcast Conservative politician Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in full has been criticised.

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BBC media editor Amol Rajan announced that to mark the 50th anniversary of the anti-immigration speech, actor Ian McDiarmid would perform the text of the speech in full. At the time, only a short section of the speech was recorded for broadcast.

The performance will form part of the BBC’s Archive on 4 programme looking back on Powell’s words, dubbed “one of the most incendiary speeches in modern British politics”.

However, the decision to broadcast the speech was immediately challenged on social media, with Labour peer Andrew Adonis calling the speech “the worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain”.

The speech was originally delivered to Conservative Party members in Birmingham in April 1968, and led to Powell being sacked from the shadow cabinet by the Conservative leader Edward Heath.

Presenter Rajan later clarified that the speech will be “broken up and critiqued by voices from across the spectrum”. However, the link Rajan refers to below contains no reference to this part of the programme.

A column in the New Statesman argued that the BBC’s decision to broadcast the speech as part of the Archive on 4 programme was wrong, saying, “It’s also inappropriate to treat a sentiment that is a very real, horrifying and dangerous presence in the lives of those from ethnic minority backgrounds living in Britain today as if it’s a quirk of history, up for bit of cosy Radio 4 anniversary treatment.”

The programme is not the only Radio 4 documentary to deal with the speech and its legacy. Journalist Sathnam Sanghera will look at the 1960s campaign that Sikh bus drivers launched in Wolverhampton to be granted the right to wear turbans during work. The documentary, The Turban Bus Dispute, will air on Monday 16th April.

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50 Years On: Rivers of Blood will air on Saturday 14th April at 8pm on BBC Radio 4.