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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
And this is how you vote...
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

A Sikh man being taught how to use a British ballot box

You're in a foreign land and don't know why the cooker has run out of gas. The phone book is in a mysterious script and the neighbours have gone mad, leaving empty bottles outside their front door every night.

Integration, one of the great political debates of the moment, is not just about whether we share in a common national myth or story - hurrah for Nelson and boo to Napoleon - but it is also about the business of running your life.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of a very simple BBC programme that aimed to tackle these simple issues.

At 9am on Sunday 10 October 1965, Apna Hi Ghar Samajhiye, or Make Yourself at Home, began broadcasting on television and radio to the UK's growing South Asian communities. The series ran for 14 years.

Presented in Hindustani (a hybrid of Hindi and Urdu), the sole English contribution came from Maurice Foley, a junior minister. With classic Whitehall understatement, he said: "In the world of today, we all need to know a great deal more about each other."

Hugh Carlton-Greene, the then BBC director-general, had commissioned the series after concluding the BBC was neither talking to the newest British citizens, nor doing a great deal to combat rising racial prejudice.

Mahendra Kaul
We had to get our people to adapt to this new life so that they would be accepted, rather than rejected
Mahendra Kaul
Mahendra Kaul, now 83, became a household name thanks to the programme which he anchored from 1966 with Saleem Shahed.

"When I went for the job, I was asked what I saw it to be," he says. "I had to be blunt - our job was to make our kind of people more acceptable to the general population.

"We had to get our people to adapt to this new life so that they would be accepted, rather than rejected. I felt this quite strongly because racial tensions were very high at the time."

Tips and hints

The aim, says Mr Kaul, was to demystify British life.

Contributors would explain the miracle of the modern gas boilers. Guests would explain the bureaucratic necessity of the NHS registration card. And on another occasion, with the help of the BBC props department, the team told the inside story of a polling booth.

Mahendra Kaul recalls some advice causing controversy - not least when he lightly suggested that Indian men should abandon traditional hair oils. What was useful in an arid climate was now creating a cleaning bill for NHS pillows, he commented.

"We wanted to make people aware of the opportunities that they now had in Britain," says Mr Kaul.

"We wanted to talk about the contribution they could make to society as human beings. But most of all we wanted to make them aware of what rights they had because they were taxpayers just like everybody else."

Shared experience

Today, this all feels like familiar territory once more. While the nuts and bolts may have moved on from gas boilers, the same questions about integration, or how we find common bonds, persist.

Medical card
Intricacies explained
On 1 November, the UK's citizenship test comes into force for new immigrants seeking naturalisation. It aims to prepare people for a new life through a practical examination on life in the UK along with a language assessment.

Beyond these kinds of practical measures, there is little political consensus over what integration means, or to what extent it has been changed by phenomena including global migration and growing diversity in the UK.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, has very publicly claimed we are "sleepwalking into segregation". The Home Office has a commission on integration. The papers are full of commentators giving their two penn'orth, not least since the London bombings.

Patrick West, author of a recent pamphlet on multiculturalism for Civitas, a right-wing think tank, says the 1960s thinking which informed Make Yourself at Home hindered integration.

Maps immigration to Britain
Where people come from
Where they live
How well they do

"The state should not be encouraging people to speak minority languages," he says.

"It keeps people separate; it keeps them in poverty and perpetuates a cycle of people being ghettoised. This is especially important for women who may find themselves in a monolingual environment. We should teach English from as early an age as possible. The same goes for people who come to the country in later life - teach English."

But John Rex, of Warwick University, a sociologist who has spent 50 years studying race and integration, warns against ditching these ideas.

"The attempt to define integration by [then Home Secretary] Roy Jenkins in 1966 had a great deal to be said for it," says Professor Rex.

"Integration should not be seen as a flattening process of uniformity, but cultural diversity coupled with equal opportunity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance. It recognised a limited cultural diversity while saying that everyone should have shared civic duties."

In practical terms, this lighter touch aimed to help immigrants build a new life by giving them freedom to retain their own identities - while also treating them as "us" - appreciating that they wanted the same things from life and shared the same values, rather than represented something alien to Britain.

The opposite, he says, is forced French-style assimilation which most recently led to a ban on religious symbols in schools, most commonly taken to mean Islamic headscarves.

Political clout

Mahendra Kaul says his experience with Make Yourself at Home revealed a practical political benefit for leaders who respected cultural differences.

As an MP, I have to advise my own people first
Enoch Powell on why he didn't appear on the show
"No minority programme could claim like us to have got prime ministers on to the show," he recalls with some pride.

"We had Jim Callaghan once and Margaret Thatcher twice. The programme assumed political muscle. It provided a 'vote bank' of immigrants."

There was one politician who, however, never accepted his invitation: Enoch Powell, the Conservative MP whose "rivers of blood" speech in 1968 infamously warned against further immigration.

"I remember one day meeting him at a luncheon and I asked him, 'Mr Powell, why don't you take part in our programme?'. And he said, 'As an MP, I have to advise my own people first'. Well, I said to him, aren't our audience now your people too?"

Some of your comments so far - see below for comments form:

I've just sat through an enjoyable 30 minutes watching the programme with my elderly father who initially came to the England from India in 1962. Although extremely socially and politically aware it was the first time he had seen or even heard of the programme. He said that in the 1960s it was all about working lengthy graveyard shifts, six days a week, earning peanut-wages. People just didn't have the time to sit and watch programmes - besides the cash they earned wasn't spent on buying television sets but rather saved, spent on helping relatives back home and used to pay off debts taken out to come to the UK.
Ismaeel Nakhuda, Preston, Lancashire

Hugh Carlton-Greene deserves our belated gratitude for having spotted what was then, and remains, an issue of immense relevance to the whole country. It is however regrettable that successive directors-general have failed to carry the baton much further. Is it all that surprising that many young people have to date felt no desire whatsoever to integrate into a society whose main forms of entertainment and communication almost completely ignore them? Hideously white indeed.
Deepak Nambisan, London, UK

I think it's proper to allow people to keep their individual cultural identities. It is also proper for people adopting a new country to learn the new culture and ways of doing things. While total assimilation the French way is wrong, it is also wrong to think one would leave either India or Nigeria to Britain and not want to adapt to the new environment and way of life. That's reality.
Demola, Nigeria

It seems to me as a middle-aged but not quite-out-of-it male, that what we really need is for the National Curriculum to include as a core element an up-to-date "civics" element to educate ALL young citizens, regardless of ethnic background, about life in 21st Britain. Who knows, maybe the rest of us might also benefit from such an "upgrade" to our life skills!
Jim Francis, UK

If people want to live in a different country they should integrate into that new way of life whether this means a cultural change or language change. Inhabitants of a country should not have to change anything about their lives to suit immigrants.
Neil Cooper, England

The sentiment should be as valid today as it was in 1965. Overall immigration is good for Britain but those who wish to live here should try to integrate in to society as a whole, and at the very least this should mean speaking a reasonable amount of English. This allows interaction with their new fellow countrymen but it should not affect their own cultural or social identity.
Ben P, Leicester, UK

As the daughter of Spanish immigrants I am the daughter of two cultures and am enriched by it both linguistically and morally. I believe it is wrong that we should ask people to give up their culture but I also think it is wrong to enforce your culture on a foreign land. To those who complain about immigrants flooding Britain, I'd say that every year thousands of Brits emigrate to Spain. Britain has always been a melting pot - to change this society into a uniform mass would do nothing to enrich it.
Denise Valin Alvarez, UK

Mahendra Kaul is a legend. I remember as a kid watching this programme on Sunday mornings. I was told by my parents that the Asian community had to struggle against persistent resistance by the BBC and ITV to there being any Asian programme on TV. Even when this resistance was overcome, only a small slot early in the morning on a Sunday was deigned to be sufficient. How far we have come.
Jitinder Singh, UK


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