A group of protesters have barricaded themselves on the first floor of a local hotel – their target being a group of businessmen and their wives. The leader of the protest group, Leroy (Neville Aurelius), wants the businessmen to sign a letter admitting that their company discriminates against hiring black people in all but the most menial of positions. Barlow is keen to ensure that a peaceful solution is found, but this may not be possible ….
The colour problem was a topic that regularly turned up during this era of television. Sometimes it was handled in a rather ham-fisted manner (the Callan episode Amos Green Must Live springs to mind) but on other occasions, as here, it provided some genuine food for thought. Although that’s not to say that Black Equals White doesn’t have a few cringeworthy moments.
The protestors are a mixed group, male and female, black and white. To begin with, Leroy is seen to be the obvious leader and he appears to advocate a policy of non-violence. This concept of a peaceful protest is shared by most of the others (there are quite a few “hey mans” bandied about and this, together with the endless protest songs. are a couple of reasons why this part of the story hasn’t aged terribly well).
But after a while it becomes clear that there’s another strong character upstairs, Mac (James Copeland). Unlike Leroy, Mac is white and he also advocates more direct and threatening action. Barlow later succulently sums Mac up. “Party member I reckon. Closed mind, bitter. Wherever there’s trouble that’s where you’ll find him.” Given that Mac’s aims and ideals seem to be diametrically opposed to Leroy’s, it’s strange that they’ve joined forces, but an answer is provided at the end.
The hotel manager, Mr Henry (Angus MacKay), wants them out and he wants them out now. MacKay’s ever increasing exasperation at the way that Barlow and Watt seems to be dragging their heels provides the episode with a rare shaft of humour.
A successful raid manages to extricate Leroy and he’s brought downstairs. This only inflames Mac, who brings out a petrol bomb and tells the others that they may just have to use it. Given that the rest are long-haired student types it seems clear this isn’t what they signed up for, although as most of them are non-speaking extras there’s not a great deal of debate.
Barlow and Leroy cross swords. Neville Aurelius continues to play his part broadly whilst Stratford Johns is quite subdued and restrained. This isn’t a bad choice from Johns as it allows Barlow to soak up Leroy’s various barbs without displaying the anger that Leroy was no doubt hoping to see. Some of Leroy’s points might have struck home but there’s counter-arguments too – Snow mentions that unemployment isn’t just a problem for blacks. In the end Barlow tells Leroy that the law isn’t perfect but it’s what they have and it’s what everybody has to live by. Leroy sneers that white man’s laws don’t apply to him.
Barlow pleads with Leroy to ask the others to leave peacefully but he refuses which leaves Barlow no alternative but to send officers up in force. It’s an interesting choice that we don’t see what happens to the protestors, instead we hear their screams whilst the camera focusses on both Barlow and Leroy. Barlow’s faintly disgusted whilst Leroy seems satisfied. He might not have openly advocated violence like Mac but he’s pleased enough that it’s happened, admitting to Barlow that it helps the cause.
Mr Henry pops up to express his feelings as the screams continue (“good god”). But any fleeting thoughts that he’d suddenly gained a conscience are negated when his next words are “I’m losing business”. Black Equals White may be content to paint its characters in fairly broad brush strokes but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely without merit. Stratford Johns once again commands the screen as Barlow
All this plus Pat Gorman gets a couple of lines as well. He may be one of the most familiar extras from this era of British television, but I can’t recall him speaking that often. Which makes this appearance a notable one for Gorman watchers (I suspect we’re a small, but dedicated, group).