Alagiah, George. George Alagiah - A Home from Home

George Alagiah - Autobiography

George Alagiah – A Home from Home is an autobiography of George Maxwell Alagiah, born 22 November 1955 in Sri Lanka, who became BBC’s first black foreign correspondent.

George has lived on three continents, born in Sri Lanka (1955), the family moved to Ghana (W. Africa) in 1961 and from there to United Kingdom in 1967.

The book charts the life of this truly amazing person who transforms from a timid Sri Lankan Tamil boy to an educated English man. It highlights what was required of immigrants back in the 60s to survive, succeed, and make Britain their new home.

The book covers the period 1967 to 2006 starting with his experiences at St John’s College in Portsmouth where his secondary education took place. He writes frankly about his childhood formative years living inside the protective cocoon environment that the Catholic boarding school provided, with Brother Ignatius as the Housemaster of Woodleigh.

He juxtaposes his experiences inside the college with those outside (p. 35, 36) and his first encounter with racist skinhead yobs. He did not realise that this was an everyday experience for most immigrants living outside the college. He also explains how he developed a sixth sense, which helped him navigate in a white society, which many immigrants will be able to identify with as well.

He examines in detail the strong social pressures placed on all immigrants to integrate as quickly as possible, yet never truly accepted other than being considered an “honorary” English man, which is also something I could identify with.

He makes a very good point (p. 34) that meeting the right sort of teachers, and guidance is vital to success in Britain, and mentions Trevor Phillips and the speech he gave in Darlington in 2004 which also highlighted the same sentiments. It certainly is true that the wrong kind of educator can have a destructive effect on lives and careers; as I have experienced this as well.

I thought that this was a very insightful book, which highlights many immigration issues, and describes in detail the different facets of the British social and political landscape. He covers a diverse set of subjects including innovations such as the pill, and the changing attitudes in the 60s, which had a wider impact on British culture.

His experience in mainstream education (p. 47) was very similar to that of mine. He writes, “I had arrived at Durham naïve enough to believe that the opportunities I had were there for all those willing to grasp them. I left the university convinced England was socially skewed and riven with racial inequality.

I think that the mistake many immigrants made was in thinking highly of these institutions expecting fair play; however, it consisted of that very same cross section of people from society. Back then, fair play -- or the appearance of it -- existed up to exam time, however, once the examiner saw the foreign name on the paper it was likely to be marked harshly, and you were more likely to receive a lower grade. Fair play was discretionary, some practiced it, but many did not. The whites were typically fast-tracked into the highest levels of industry, whilst the immigrants ended up sweeping floors and cleaning toilets. This is what they wanted them for in the first place. It also explains the reason why some of the dumbest people are in the highest levels of British industry today, and the mess they created. Many of these positions still considered whites only are reflective of the racial divide, which exists even today.

In this book, he also covered the plight of the 150,000 Kenyan Asians made stateless by the then Home Secretary Jim Callaghan (p. 132). Many immigrants from that region will already know of this history however still find it interesting to read. He also describes in detail of the prejudiced immigration policy, which prevented many Indians to arrive and live in UK, yet paradoxically, the Indian immigrants were the most successful in business and contributed -- and still do -- the most to British economy and society. The Indians were also the quickest to integrate into the British culture, emulating Western clothes and language.

I have picked on just a few things that were meaningful to me; however, this book covers much more. Backed with news events, current affairs stories, and international politics, in places it reads as a history book would, with dates and places, which the reader will find interesting.

This book also demonstrates his deep understanding of current affairs, politics, and the socioeconomic impact of migration. Reading this book, you will gain more than just an understanding of his background and life, but also discover a unique perspective into how he sees the world, and he sees it very well with a journalistic style. He sees events from all the different perspectives, and I thought this multi-dimensional facet to his journalistic style was the most refreshing which you would not find in any other book.

After seven years in print journalism, he joined the BBC in 1989. He became the BBC’s leading foreign correspondent who reported on some of the most important news events of the last two decades. During this time, he won several awards, including recognition from Amnesty International, and The Royal Television Society. Amnesty International is of course on of the more prestigious and world-renowned awards familiar to most people.

His first book, A Passage to Africa published in 2001 won the Madoc Award at the 2002 Hay Literary Festival. His mix of political insight with personal testimony provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the news events that would otherwise have been screaming tabloid headlines.

On 17 April 2014, the BBC announced George was receiving treatment for bowel cancer, and he is optimistic that the outcome will be a positive one. The whole nations best wishes go with him because he is a genuinely revered and most liked celebrity who has captured the hearts and minds of all the people of England.

He has a wonderful style of writing which was clear and therefore it was a pleasure to read the entire book.


TitleGeorge Alagiah - A Home from Home
AuthorGeorge Alagiah
PublisherLittle, Brown
ISBN-100 316 73016 5
Copyright HolderGeorge Alagiah
Last Page Number278
Cover Price£17.99
Printed byClays Ltd
AvailabilityAmazon and all good online bookstores