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'Until the powers that be deal with some reparations, you can shove your apologies'

Shining a light on one man's plight during the Windrush immigration scandal, Sitting In Limbo is essential viewing, says lead Patrick Robinson. But it lends itself to a wider conversation too, he tells Gemma Dunn

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Harrowing story: Pippa Bennett-Warner as Eileen, Patrick Robinson as Anthony Bryan, Nadine Marshall as Janet and CJ Beckford as Gary in Sitting in Limbo

Harrowing story: Pippa Bennett-Warner as Eileen, Patrick Robinson as Anthony Bryan, Nadine Marshall as Janet and CJ Beckford as Gary in Sitting in Limbo

Press Association Images

Patrick Robinson in the new BBC drama

Patrick Robinson in the new BBC drama

Press Association Images

Harrowing story: Pippa Bennett-Warner as Eileen, Patrick Robinson as Anthony Bryan, Nadine Marshall as Janet and CJ Beckford as Gary in Sitting in Limbo

Patrick Robinson has a platform - and he's using it. At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement duly dominates the headlines - an immediate call for change has been made after the recent death of George Floyd in the US state of Minnesota - the actor is exercising his right to speak out about those issues closest to him. In effect, racism.

But this particular exchange isn't triggered by recent events in the news; rather as a result of his latest role in BBC One drama, Sitting In Limbo.

Written by Stephen S Thompson, the feature-length film is based on the true story of his brother Anthony Bryan (Robinson) and his personal struggle to be accepted as a British citizen during the Windrush immigration scandal.

"I wanted to be involved in the project from the word go," Robinson (56) begins.

So how does the drama play out? In short, having lived in the UK since he was a boy, Anthony decides to visit his elderly mother in Jamaica. But while filling out the paperwork at the Passport Office, he is stunned to discover that there is no record of him as a British citizen - and now the onus is on him to prove his citizenship to the Immigration Office.

What follows is a trail of devastation as Anthony is forcibly removed from his home and detained as an illegal immigrant.

"When it comes down to his experience, I don't know how he dealt with it and had such dignity," confides Robinson, who met Anthony before shooting. "I have so much respect for him and the way he was.

"There's one thing that he said very simply, and that's that it nearly broke him. He didn't have to say much more than that; that was pretty much all I needed."

Understandably playing the part took its toll emotionally, he confesses: "But I knew to do it, you'd have to go as far as you can, to do with how you feel. I can see the anger and how it had to be held back, because that's what most West Indians had to do in the double standards of Britain in the 50s and 60s.

"Your antenna was always up if you were a man of colour in this country; you couldn't just walk around and feel like you're accepted wherever you go - and that's what I've experienced.

"I've been an actor for 35 years and I've worked throughout the whole of the UK and abroad, and in the end, you still have to have antennae up," he insists. "Just imagine that when you walked out of wherever you live, people look at you as if to say, 'What are you doing here?' I know that's what happens all the time. Every day.

"Right now I'm talking to journalists and there's not one of colour on the panel," notes Robinson, who amongst all else, is known for his time on The Bill and Mount Pleasant.

"I'm talking to people who don't have similar experience or similar bias as me, so you are curious to know what that feels like," he reasons. "You don't think about having an antenna out when you go out every day because it doesn't affect you in the same way."

He recalls a time when he was interviewed by a journalist for a women's magazine, having landed a part in Casualty in 1990.

"It was the first bit of publicity that I'd had," he recalls. "I'd been with the Royal Shakespeare Company for four years and this was my first bit of TV, so I was really excited. It was really big for me. I was 26.

"So I did this interview on the Tuesday and by the Saturday I was in the middle page of The Sun. There was a cast photo, a heading and a bubble coming from my mouth that said, 'I'm just the token black in Casualty'.

"You think, 'Well, the journalist only saw that I was black. He didn't see a person. I was excited, I'm going to get a little article, I'm an actor and doing well'. No, you're just black first!

"So ultimately, for me, this story [in Sitting in Limbo] says it all. It needs to be told and the rest of the people in the UK need to see it. I'm talking white folk. And this is only one story, there are thousands more."

Although it might present an uncomfortable subject matter for some, we have to talk about it insists Robinson.

"It comes down to what people of colour have dealt with over the centuries," he says.

"We are still forever being told, 'We can't go back...', and I go, 'No, until the powers that be deal - as far as I'm concerned - with some reparations, you can shove your apologies up your a***'. Because when it comes down to it, we, in terms of people of colour, worked for nothing for hundreds of years and we are due some payment now.

"That's what I want you to say that I'm saying, if anything," he adds. "I'm not politicising it, I'm saying it's fact, 'We worked for nothing for hundreds of years - it's time to pay us. Simple as that. And when you acknowledge money, that tells me you acknowledge us'.

"I want to be understood and accepted and respected for the work that we do. And until then, I'm getting a voice," he warns.

"I've been handed the baton by the brothers, so I'm doing my thing as much as I can."

Sitting in Limbo airs on BBC One on Monday at 8.30pm

Belfast Telegraph