Apr 12, 2018

    The BBC Has Got The Guy Who Plays Emperor Palpatine To Recreate Enoch Powell's "Rivers Of Blood" Speech And Honestly, It's A Lot

    "Ian McDiarmid reads the Rivers of Blood speech in its entirety for the first time on British radio," said the BBC.

    The BBC has announced it's re-creating Enoch Powell's notorious "rivers of blood" speech – in which the anti-immigrant politician predicted a coming race war in Britain – with Star Wars actor Ian McDiarmid playing the main role.

    Central Press / Getty Images

    BBC media editor Amol Rajan said he'd be hosting a BBC Radio 4 documentary on Saturday night, promoting the programme by saying it was the "1st time EVER" the speech would be read in full on UK radio.

    On Saturday, for 1st time EVER, Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech will be read in full on UK radio (by actor Ian McDiarmid). Please join us @BBCRadio4 8pm. Super-brains Nathan Gower + David Prest have done an amazing production job. Great guests too: https://t.co/3XvDMSH16d

    The British broadcaster timed the programme for the 50th anniversary of Powell's infamous speech, which was delivered by the politician to local Conservative party members in Birmingham in 1968.

    In the 45-minute speech – timed to come before the UK government's 1968 race relations bill – Powell called on immigrants to return to other countries. He also ended the speech with a reference to Virgil's Aeneid, which invoked a prediction of "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".

    Powell's speech led to his sacking as shadow defence spokesperson and widespread condemnation for inciting racial hatred towards immigrants in the United Kingdon.

    As the speech wasn't recorded in full, Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid – most famously known for his role as Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious in the Star Wars movies – has been brought in to perform it for the BBC.

    Junko Kimura / Getty Images

    The 72-year-old played Powell in a stage show last year, with the actor telling the Daily Telegraph at the time the anti-immigrant MP doesn't deserve to be demonised.

    After the announcement on Thursday, people were just a little dumbfounded at the news.

    Me: The BBC is important and so I should actually pay my license fee, BBC: https://t.co/Fbb7hul0lT

    I don't believe in sanitising history, but there's a MASSIVE difference between educating people about Enoch Powell's horrific racism and literally broadcasting it word-for-word like it's the afternoon fucking play

    There's a joke somewhere there about actual Palpatine reading Enoch Powell's words, but mostly the thought of this just makes me profoundly sad. I have no idea how a broadcaster hopes to make their framing of it justify its repetition and dissemination https://t.co/h33xAMZFyu

    The BBC’s decision to promote Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech is just another example of the creeping normalisation of racism.

    Enoch Powell was my contemporary and he was a racist. Moreover many in the Tory party ascribed to his anti immigrant bigotry and still do. Unless the BBC says that it will negate the fact that #riversofblood is hate speech & to air it is simple sensationalism on the BBC's part.

    Labour peer and BBC critic Andrew Adonis called on the broadcaster not to air the programme.

    Powell’s 1968 speech - ‘I see the River Tiber foaming with much blood; in 15 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’ - is the worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain. The BBC should not be broadcasting it on Saturday

    Others tweeted praise for the casting choice of McDiarmid as Powell.

    tbh i think getting Emperor Palpatine to read Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood is an inspired choice

    Rajan later clarified that the re-creation would be broken up into sections, with several historians on hand to offer critique of the speech.

    @legsidelizzy I should clarify that there's more to the programme than the actor reading it out. There's a range of voices critiquing it from across the spectrum. It's the 50th anniversary next week

    A BBC spokesperson said: “Many people know of this controversial speech but few have heard it beyond soundbites.

    "Radio 4’s well-established programme Archive on 4 reflects in detail on historical events and, in order to assess the speech fully and its impact on the immigration debate, it will be analysed by a wide range of contributors, including many anti-racism campaigners.”"

    Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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