Protest to target York appearance of ‘incredibly offensive’ TV historian

19 Mar 2015 @ 9.24 pm
| News

The historian and TV controversialist is one of the headliners of the York Literature Festival, which runs across the city until March 29.

Hundreds of people have already bought tickets for his talk York’s Place In History at the Grand Opera House.

But a group of demonstrators will be outside the theatre with banners and placards protesting about his unchallenged appearance at the festival.

Dr Starkey’s forthright views on shows including BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze and BBC One’s Question Time led him to be dubbed “the rudest man in Britain”.

He also presents popular history TV series on subjects including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

One of the protest organisers is Nishma Doshi, who works for the Graduate Students Association at York University.

She contacted festival director Miles Salter in December.

“We expressed our concern over the choice of David Starkey as a headline speaker, largely because we believe York Literature Festival should reflect the diversity of York’s population,” she said.

“The choice of having David Starkey speak was not reflective of that, and that his views could cause offence and be quite problematic for a lot of York students.”

What is it about his views that they find so unacceptable?

She singled out his comments following the 2011 riots that “the whites have become black” – which caused many to accuse Dr Starkey of racism.

Also, there’s a particular case where he basically whitewashed the entirety of Britain’s history – which we find quite problematic considering that he’s speaking about York history.

York’s history is particularly diverse. There have been loads of different people who have come here and traded.

It was a pivotal point for the exchange of ideas between Islamic traders, and a lot of different traders, who were discussing new ideas throughout the middle ages.

– Nishma Doshi

‘Should have been opposed’

The demonstration was not about crushing free speech, but to protest about the fact he was not being challenged.

“If someone like David Starkey is invited to speak they should have some opposition, and also more diverse headline speakers.

“There are a number of speakers from the University of York who have challenged him over the years. They could easily have been asked. We have a few coming to the protest.”

That was important because “his understanding of history is populist and is not reflective of what York’s history is about.

“It’s not just about that, it’s the comments he has made which are incredibly offensive, especially in a city like York where you do have issues that are beginning to show up in terms of racism and sexism.”

Nishma said the protest, called Celebrate York’s Diversity: Oppose Racism, had drawn support from many different communities, including staff and students at the university, the York People’s Assembly and York’s Alternative History.

The response from York Lit Fest

York Literature Festival director Miles Salter booked David Starkey in autumn 2014 to speak as part of the 2015 festival.

He said that the festival programme is very clear that Dr Starkey is speaking on York’s Place in History.

There has been a lot of interest in the event, and more than 600 people will be attending. Immediately prior to his appearance, between 6pm and 8pm on Sunday, March 22, Dr Starkey will take place in a live debate on Richard III, to be broadcast on Channel 4.

This will be seen by a very large television audience, who will see the historian speaking live from York.

Miles said:

Dr Starkey was asked to come to York to speak specifically on York’s unique place in the history of England as he is known most prominently as a historian and broadcaster.

We are pleased that he will contribute to the life of York by taking part in the 2015 festival.

It is very timely because of the reinterment of Richard III in Leicester on March 26th. There will be a chance for audience members to ask questions during the event, and make their own views known.