‘The Asian Network did not fit easily into the BBC which, having nobly set it up, was never quite sure what to do with it. We always felt we were on our own – different and complicated. We survived several reboots and the threat of closure before its importance to the BBC in serving a growing multi-cultural UK was fully recognised. It was also a lot of fun and a privilege to be part of its story.’
Facing redundancy from the BBC after 20 years as a reporter and news editor, Mike Curtis got a stay of execution. His salvation found him unexpectedly in charge of setting up a newsroom for the BBC radio station broadcasting to the Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi communities across the Midlands – the Asian Network. He stayed for 14 years. Asian Auntie-ji tells how this son of an Anglican clergyman, with a love of western music, was thrown into a new world of Bollywood and bhangra, Diwali and Vaisakhi, Mirpuri and mosques, and cricket and Kashmir.
The book unravels how this unique radio station dealt with many controversial issues arising from the religious and cultural sensitivities of its audience and its staff. It reflects how the Asian Network covered riots, racism and terror, but also how it gave a voice to so many British Asians; from the geographically isolated listener on the phone-in to those who achieved fame in sport and entertainment. Mike Curtis follows the story of the Asian Network, from its roots in local radio to its UK-wide expansion – and its dealings with BBC bosses. The views of its champions and its critics are reported with honesty and good humour.
The Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall, Sebastian Coe, Ravi Shankar, Jay Sean, Amir Khan, Greg Dyke, Meera Syal and Shah Rukh Khan are among those sprinkled throughout the saga, along with the Asian Network’s own stars like Bobby Friction, Sonia Deol and Adil Ray. Mike Curtis describes how the team was moved around the managements of Radio 1, Radio 2 and Five Live – and how they regularly upset The Archers at Radio 4.
Asian Auntie-ji is a fascinating autobiography that will appeal to an audience beyond the story of the radio station, embracing such names as Monty Python, TV’s Big Brother, Brian Blessed, Carlos Santana, Boris Johnson, Judi Dench, David Blunkett, 1950s test pilot Roly Beamont and DJ Orifice Vulgatron. Those with an interest in the media, the BBC, politics, and ethnicity and the South Asian experience in the UK will find it particularly rewarding.
Featured in The Bookseller, January 2015 Non-Fiction picks, Biography & Memoir.