Great British Menu host Andi Oliver began crying on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen telling former children’s TV presenter Dame Floella Benjamin: “Nobody looked like me on TV, and then there was you.”
Trinidad-born Dame Floella is remembered for her blue-beaded hair and dazzling smile, which won the hearts of millions of young viewers on Play School and Play Away in the 1970s and Eighties.
Speaking on Saturday Kitchen, Dame Floella, who is also a baroness, said: “I was one of the first people to walk around with my hair in plaits and beads, in fact, I used to be laughed at. When I came for my audition I thought maybe the BBC isn’t ready for this so I put on this wig.
“I didn’t think I was impressing her that much, so I said, ‘By the way I don’t really look like this you know.’ I whipped my wig off and out came these beads, she said ‘That’s fantastic,’ I got a camera audition and the rest is history.
“I was known as the lady with the blue beads, they had to send instructions to children who wanted to look like me and suddenly it became an iconic look and I’d turn up for public appearances and see people looking like me.”
After hearing her story, Oliver said: “I had a silver beaded fringe because of your blue beads. I begged my mum and in the end she did it for me. I felt so glamorous.”
Later in the programme, Dame Floella explained how when she first started presenting the programme the illustrations “were all of white children” which she asked to be changed to reflect all faces.
She said: “What I tried to do on the programme was to make children of all colours feel as though they were part of the programme, that they belonged.
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“I think that’s why you saw diversity in children’s programmes started. Children’s programmes have always been at the forefront of change because people say children don’t see colour, and I said yes they do.
“They see colour but they embrace colour and they’re not afraid of differences so it has to start young because childhood lasts a lifetime and whatever you put into a child at that young age will stay with them forever.”
Dame Floella’s words on diversity struck a chord with chef and broadcaster Oliver, who presents BBC Two’s Great British Menu.
Visibly emotional, she said: “I just want to say that I noticed that you were on there and I noticed there were black people on the screen and it meant everything to me.
“I knew I was going to cry. It was a lot though, it was huge. I was a little kid in Bury St Edmunds and nobody looked like me on TV – and then there was you.”