Eric Newby on the “fuzzy-wuzzies”

Posted by HC in People / Travel on 27 July 2008

Until I saw a recent BBC 4 TV documentary, I had an inadequate idea of the life of the travel writer Eric Newby. I knew he travelled in ladies’ fashion (“the apparel trade”, as friends of mine who are in it call it). But I had for some reason missed how he ran away to sea (and really sailed before the mast) before becoming known as the hardest man in his year at Sandhurst. But the real revelation was about 1970s Britain. We watched lush colour film of the great adventurer cycling round Hyde park Corner. It has always been good fun. Newby was heard saying that its was like being chased “by fuzzy-wuzzies without one’s trousers”.

Question is, did he not know he was causing offence? Not care? Or believe – rightly – that his audience was white and in on the joke? Or believe – rightly – that TV-owning blacks would take the same humorous view of bush-dwelling blacks? Or believe these things, but wrongly? Anyway, I resist the idea that those were dark days when no-once cared about racial issues. (I notice that a new website deals with some of this stuff: The Black History Museum) For sure, though, the BBC would not broadcast such remarks now, unless of purely archival interest. And I rather think they turned the volume down as they showed us these vivid moments.

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