TV

Sorry, I Didn't Know: 'This show is decorating Black history with humour'

Sorry, I Didn't Know team captain Eddie Kadi and executive producer Fraser Ayres on the panel show providing an education in Black history

ITV panel show Sorry, I Didn't Know - featuring host Jimmy Akingbola and team captains Chizzy Akudolu and Eddie Kadi

Sorry, I Didn't Know host Jimmy Akginbola (centre), with Seann Walsh, Kae Kurd, Chizzy Akudolu, Eddie Kadi, Jamelia and Lateef Lovejoy. Image: TriForce Productions

Sorry, I Didn’t Know is a panel show, a comedy show, and a history show. It’s a show that showcases and celebrates Black talent, foregrounds Black history, and is now into a third series on ITV – airing every Sunday night in October.

The blend of comedy and history is proving a smash hit – and providing a vital platform for emerging and established talent. Comedian Eddie Kadi has joined the show as a team captain, while executive producer Fraser Ayres is one of the masterminds of Sorry, I Didn’t Know, which is hosted by actor Jimmy Akingbola. We asked Kadi and Ayres why the series was so important…

Why does this series matter?

Eddie Kadi (team captain): This series matters because it showcases a lot of talent we wouldn’t normally get to see. People that have been performing for years. Not only do they deserve to be seen across the country, but the country deserves to see these talents. Also, when we grew up, in school we didn’t learn about our history. Certainly not Black history. The show gives some relief to the new generation and space for them to be educated and entertained about cultures.

Fraser Ayres (executive producer): Making sure lesser-known stories are being seen and heard on mainstream TV – given the current state of conversations around race in our country, it feels more important now than ever.

What did you learn through this series that should have been common knowledge and taught in school?

FA: Too many things! That whilst we were building Stonehenge, Africans had already built castles and temples. That no matter who we are, we all come from Morocco. That the richest person to ever live was from Mali and is still richer than Musk and Bezos combined. Astrology and Mathematics? Apparently Black people…

Our amazing researcher, Josh Pickering, is a fierce academic. Knowing I pride myself on being a walking Wiki of Black history, he would revel in messaging me: ‘Guess what?’. On a daily basis he’d find something to blow our mind. The fact we know so little about those kings, queens, pioneers, and societal changers shows the massive gaps we have in our knowledge – and the more you look, the more you realise what we’re all missing out on.

EK: Most important is the contributions of Black people in Britain. Because if you’re a 14-year-old Black child in school and they are talking about British history and you don’t see yourself in it, don’t see your contribution in it, you don’t feel valid. You don’t feel like you played a part. You don’t feel like you belong. These things are extremely important.

The tone of the series is comic. But there’s an underlying seriousness…?

FA: When shows about the Black experience or history are made, they’re mainly through a lens of trauma or oppression and often considered niche. Certainly not ‘mainstream’ to be enjoyed by a wide-ranging audience. I wanted to reframe that and create a non-tokenised show with a tone of celebration that unearthed Black history in a way that wasn’t antagonistic to those who didn’t know. The truth is, whether we’re Black or white, very few of us know about the rich contributions Black people have made since the very beginning of humanity.

EK: It also shows that comedians are not just ‘people that just come to have a laugh’, but actually intelligent people who turn painful experiences and moments into laughter. This show is decorating Black history with humour. The priority is to educate, to raise awareness, to raise respect, but you’ve got to dress it up nicely, because it is entertainment at the end of the day. That’s the best way to feed the people.

How important is it that the stories shared in this series are being shared?

FA: When we were first pitching the show, many asked us: ‘Is there enough Black history for an ongoing show?’ We pointed out that Black history goes back as far as, well, history itself. When we see comments online, like: ‘What have Black people done for civilisation?’ or: ‘There were no Black people in the war’, it all stems from a lack of knowledge. I wanted to create a show that put many of those old misconceptions to rest. Hopefully, we can all be just a little less ignorant.

EK: It’s important because it changes the narrative, it changes the way people look at certain groups. They call them minority groups in this country – but these people are part of this culture. They call Britain the melting pot of the world and there’s different cultures here – that needs to be reflected not just in the wording itself, but on television, how history is written, and how people are involved in the workplace.

Eddie Kadi (right) on Sorry, I Didn’t Know with fellow team captain Chizzy Akudolu

How do you feel about the way history is taught in this country and what is taught as part of the history curriculum?

FA: We get a lot of engagement from teachers and academics who thank us for showing what they’ve been told not to in classrooms. Some people feel that to highlight a certain part of history is to diminish their own in some way. But you go far enough back, and we all come from one place, and all had the same skin colour. There isn’t really such a thing as Black history or white history, there’s just history. The story of humanity. Which lots of amazing people from lots of different places have contributed to.

EK: The fact that a lot of my friends growing up had to go to Saturday schools to get extra lessons specifically on Black history says a lot. We didn’t get that from school so we had to get it elsewhere. We need to change the way we teach history. The curriculum needs to change. And I’m not talking about extracurricular activities, I’m talking about during the actual course. If we’re going to learn about the Romans, aqueducts, or the Aztecs, we should also be able to learn about South Africa, Namibia and Angola. It’s important.

FA: Excluding any part of history is a mistake as it prevents us from learning what we all ultimately want – the truth. Not including all history is to effectively rewrite and alter historical fact. I grew up in the 1980s and the access I had to wider history was very limited. If our education was more inclusive, some arguments we see online simply couldn’t exist as the knowledge and facts that contradict them would be part of everyone’s education.

EK: I would have wanted to hear more about the roles that Africans played during the war, the role Caribbeans played during the war. Because war veterans should be celebrated. It’s important for those moments to be taught.

During the show, there was an African map that was laid out and they were getting us to guess which commodities belong to which country. Being from Congo, I know it’s extremely important – I always take pride in saying Congo is the richest country in the world when it comes to natural resources. So it’d be nice to understand where different resources belong. During double science, tell us about copper and where it is found instead of just giving us the periodic table.

FA: One of the biggest Sorry, I Didn’t Know moments for me was discovering that the oldest Briton ever recorded is Black. That no matter our hue today, that our ancestors in this country were Black. He’s called ‘Cheddar Man’ and it’s one of those pieces of information that says so much about our history, or our lack of it, that it constantly blows my mind that I wasn’t taught that in school.

How vital is Sorry, I Didn’t Know as a space for Black history, but also comedy talent?

FA: It’s not only that people are seen, but also how they are seen. Sorry, I Didn’t Know is one of those rare shows that celebrates Black excellence whilst still being entirely accessible to those who aren’t from that world. It’s part of an evolving trend for content that’s authentic but can stand toe-to-toe with old favourites. It’s also proving to be an incredibly important platform for both on and off-screen Black talent. Myself and fellow executive producer Minnie Ayres run an extensive network of diverse on and off-screen talent from across the UK, which we draw on to crew up the show. The TV industry can often be inaccessible. Or progression can be dependent on resources or knowing the right person, and the TCN / Dandi.org.uk has been addressing some of those issues for the past 20 years.

It was important to us that the show could also be a vehicle that brings those excellent but lesser-known comedians to the forefront. With the lack of inclusion in many comedy shows, it can be a long haul for many to breakthrough into the mainstream. Like our new team captain Eddie! We’ve been fans of Eddie’s for years and so glad we can help bring him into people’s homes… metaphorically speaking.

EK: A lot of things we talk about and our stand up sets as comedians are to do with being self-educated and our contribution to culture. Our teachers weren’t talking about it in school, we don’t see it on TV, we hardly ever hear it on the radio –  so the stage is a way of expressing ourselves. It literally is history meets comedians, you know? And it’s a great platform, just like we’ve seen on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and 8 out of 10 Cats, this is no different. This one is just more focused on another culture as well, which is very much a part of Britain.

Who needs to watch this series?

EK: Everybody needs to watch the series. Those who haven’t seen themselves represented can watch the series. Those who have craved to learn about other cultures can watch the series. And Britain in general needs to watch the series because it’s very much not just our history, it’s part of their history. We’re all friends. We all live on the same island. So why not learn about each other a lot more? This is for everybody who loves watching TV.

The series is airing during Black History Month – but will the success of the show / what it represents be measured when it runs all year round, or at least outside of BHM?

FA: It was vital to us when we created the show that it wouldn’t be ‘tokenised’ or ‘niche’ and that it would be enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Running in BHM has never meant that only Black people watch it. We’ve seen the audience grow and the anticipation for this third series shows there’s a real desire for content that speaks across demographics. This speaks to a larger conversation about the kind of shows that are commissioned and the perception that audiences aren’t interested in shows outside of their own world. They’re just starting to get their heads around the ’Black Panther effect’, and they’re beginning to understand that when it comes to humans, there’s more similarities, than differences.

EK: This is the third season of the show, so it is already a success. I’ve always said Black History Month is all well and good, just like we look at different moments in history, and we say this is the day for it, let’s celebrate. But that doesn’t mean it should be restricted to just October, you know, Black history has been happening from the beginning of time.

The show is hilarious. It’s a very funny show. It deserves to be on any time of year. I don’t think people tune in and say: ‘Oh, we just want to hear more about Black issues this month’…

Sorry, I Didn’t Know airs on Sunday nights on ITV

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