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Why his 70s play about black British life still resonates today

The Jamaican-born actor and writer Alfred Fagon, who died in 1986, is now best known for the annual award in his name given to black British playwrights. But as one of his own works from the 1970s is being revived, the director says Fagon still has a lot to say about black British life today.

Early in his TV career Fagon had roles in several BBC dramas. In January 1973 he was in an episode of the police series Z Cars but later that year came a bigger milestone for the actor, who had migrated from Jamaica as a teenager.

Shakespeare Country was a half-hour play on BBC Two about the realities of being a black actor in Britain. Fagon took the lead role – but more importantly the script was also his.

Fagon’s career as a writer had started to bloom.

In 1975 his three-character play The Death of a Black Man was put on at the Hampstead Theatre in London, where it’s now being performed again. It was the second of four plays staged before Fagon died on a London street of a heart attack, aged 49.

Events following his death were controversial. The Metropolitan Police failed to identify who Fagon was – though his family are sure it would have been possible to do so. He was given a pauper’s funeral.

The videotape of his play Shakespeare Country has not survived but Fagon can be seen in the 1986 TV series Fighting Back, which starred the singer Hazel O’Connor.

The Jamaican actress and director Yvonne Brewster, who knew him well, thinks it’s fitting that Fagon is now remembered more for writing than for his performances.

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