Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech: BBC broadcast of transcript sparks mixed reviews after outrage

A BBC broadcast of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech on Radio Four solicited mixed reaction from listeners.

The broadcaster hailed the programme marking the 50th anniversary of the address a “rigorous journalistic analysis of a historical political speech.

A spokesman added it was “not an endorsement of the controversial views”.

The 1968 anti-immigration speech was read out by actor Ian McDiarmid on Radio 4’s Archive On 4 programme on Saturday.

Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech will be broadcast in full on Saturday (BBC)

It was read out in full for the first time on British radio, but in chunks interspersed with discussion about the speech.

Homeland star David Harewood led criticism of the broadcast.

Harewood, who played a CIA boss in TV hit Homeland, tweeted: “Dear BBCRadio4. I don’t need that speech analysed.

“I know exactly what it meant because I felt it. On my way to school, on my way home, every time I went into town and basically whenever I went outside in the late 70s and 80s.

“I tried not to listen then, so I won’t listen now.”

Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis had asked watchdog Ofcom to intervene and instruct the BBC not to broadcast the speech, which he describes as “incendiary and racist”.

Another listener wrote: “BBC R4’s airing of the rivers of blood speech last night was a joke. It had to be paused every 5 minutes so ‘objective’ commentators could say what a monster he was. Final comment by presenter: “He was both a racialist and a racist”.

A third added: “Unfortunately, the BBC have got it totally wrong to broadcast the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech on Radio 4. He should be shunned and remain obscure because of his blatant racism and xenophobia within the 1968 speech.”

But some listeners welcomed the broadcast.

Paul Embery wrote: “Archive on 4 about Enoch Powell, was insightful, sensitive, analytical and balanced.

“The idea, peddled by the usual self-appointed censors, that it would persuade hordes of Radio 4 listeners to become violent racists was always preposterous.”

And Jeremy Duns added: “Didn’t see anything wrong with Radio 4’s programme on Enoch Powell. Solid documentary, and the full speech made it clearer just how racist and wrong it was (also pompous). I’d have preferred to hear Powell than an actor.”

The speech included observations on immigrants taken from Powell’s Wolverhampton constituents.

The 45 minute speech is widely believed to have incited racism against immigrants and led to Powell being dismissed from the Conservative Party. In it, Powell proposed a policy encouraging people who had come to the UK from abroad to return their country of origin.

It ended with a reference to a line in Virgil’s poem Aeneid when civil war in Italy is predicted using the phrase “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. 

Powell died aged 95 in 1988.

A BBC spokesman said prior to the broadcast: “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.”

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