David Akinsanya remembers his media days
I was born to a Nigerian father and English mother in Essex. After 18 months in a private foster home, my mum was forced to stop paying so I was taken into care. I stayed in the same family group children’s home run by Auntie Betty. I was really happy there until she left - I acted out and didn’t understand why she didn’t come to see me. I later learned that she was told not to reply to my letters and cards (they were given to me by her family at her funeral).
One of the worst periods of my life was after being excluded from primary school (soon after Aunty Betty left) - I was sent to a Mal adjusted school. I can remember crying in the car with the social worker because I knew it was where “all the bad kids” were sent. It was a scary place and kids often violently assaulted other kids and staff. I’ll also never forget my first night in an independent living project and my first night in a prison cell age 17. My transition into adulthood was very difficult. The best thing I did was to leave my home town after I left custody. I started doing voluntary work and trying to prove that I was not a bad person - I left that image behind and never committed any crimes after that.
Not long after leaving youth custody, I got involved with a group called Black and In Care. I helped make a powerful video about the experiences of youngsters in the system. The film was used to train social workers and to raise important issues. I often showed the film and watched people come to more understanding just by hearing the lived experiences. That was when I decided I wanted to get into the media. It took me a long time and many applications before I got my “big break” – a full time job at the BBC. To get that job I had done research at The Sunday Times, worked as an undercover researcher on The Cook Report and Dispatches (C4) and made many community films for the GLC and others.
Most of my colleagues had been to University and were older than me when they started. I got in young and had so much to offer the programmes I worked on. I was a researcher on a daily topical programme called Kilroy. I often found other teams on the programme coming to me when they wanted “real people” – not spokes people but people like me – ex offenders, those with real life experience and just normal people – they often had to find people through press officers, my route was quicker. I went on to work on this programme 4 times.
I then took all my contacts and ideas and concentrated on documentaries and current affairs programmes. One of my achievements was being the youngest producer working with Channel 4 on a series called Sex Talk. We produced 10 studio discussions and 5 films which gave me more experience of film making. I enjoyed making films “with” people and often got to the bottom of stories because of my background and experience. I made a number of tv and radio programmes in the early days of the rise in Gangs in London, Manchester and Birmingham and even got reports onto the 10 O’clock News (that really impressed my dad).
I occasionally left the BBC and went to work for Central TV, Sky News and Channel 4 as I never felt they appreciated me and the money was always better away from the beeb. My best job where I felt I had the most control over my work was at Sky News. I could basically make 26 minute films about whatever I wanted. I made the first positive progamme about Notting Hill Carnival which won awards, I produced the Book Show and other features.
I went back to the BBC and worked in Current Affairs on programmes like Black Britain, Correspondent and This World and made a few programmes about my life in the care system and my sexuality.
The work I am most proud of was made with Channel 4 – called “Find me a family” it addressed the need to find people to adopt older kids and siblings.
Since doing less media work I have done health and well being training, Outreach coordinator and now work in Health care as the lead on Equalities.
Follow David on Twitter: @DavidAkinsanya