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Tony Britts: Who was the BBC fitness instructor?

JANGLES, from left: Mona Hammond, Tony Britts, 1982, © HTV / courtesy Everett Collection

I have never seen myself writing about the rebirth of home fitness programs during the coronavirus pandemic. Politically speaking, I fear encouraging people to order resistance bands and yoga mats from Sports Direct – a company we should all boycott in light of CEO Mike Ashley’s utter disregard for rights and protections in matters. employment. And writing about how fitness influencers on social media vie for the top spot in Instagram’s ruthless engagement hierarchy isn’t quite what I thought I was doing on the digital landscape right now, either. . Yet the internet’s former lack of interest in fitness regimes was filled with the BBC’s retrieval of archival footage of instructor Tony Britts, a man I’m now completely obsessed with.

In Twice as fit, a three-minute segment on the BBC Lunch time, the predecessor of the 80s of today’s BBC breakfastTony guides his audience through a routine that is both structured and improvised. “Hi! Well, I thought today we would do about three exercises and try to put them together like we normally do, okay?” Nothing really prepares you for the elasticity with which Tony moves his form. Herculean – or the sexy outfit it puts on. A far cry from your standard ’80s workout video, this mix of dance, aerobics and yoga stretches beyond the limits you thought you had of the human body. As a presenter on Lunch time Says him, “I think his hips run on ball bearings.” However, rather than asking participants to measure themselves against its sporting standards, Twice as fit offered a free space for citizens to embarrass themselves in trying to replicate Tony’s athleticism in the privacy of their own home.

Seeing Tony for the first time – an incredibly sexy and muscular black man from the camp – I felt a touch of sympathetic affection. As a sometimes conceited young black homosexual, his outfits reminded me of what I wear to the club or what I had planned to wear at this year’s Black Pride – that same combination of a cropped mesh vest and sweater. ‘striped athletic shorts that say,’ Look, but don’t touch. Swinging his hips to an 80s funk synth soundtrack, Tony reminds us to “enjoy it, because everything is fun.” The scene then moves on to formally dressed Lunch time the presenters watch. Rather than feeling contrived or parodic as such juxtapositions often do, there is a genuine sense that Tony’s performance commands admiration and respect.

But this simple cutaway also locks the scene in its specific socio-political context – the 1980s, a time of national moral judgment and social neglect. As instantly as I felt affection for Tony, I also felt the desire to rebuild his life in my thoughts. I wondered how the British public, at the time under the thumb of Thatcherism and its sexually conservative ethics, reacted to a black man dancing on national television as if he was one of black African and Caribbean homosexuals in an underground Shebeen from Brixton.

Referring to archives and engaging in memory work has always been essential in developing a cultural sense of my racial and sexual identity, but when I meet people like me, it is often dead men who would have had nothing but in their sixties if they were alive today. . It has become a default expectation. But still, the same pain I felt after watching Paris Is Burning and Tongues Untied and finding that the lion’s share of their respective cast died early comes back as intensely whenever I stumble upon an image, text, or script. archived film of a black queer person.

Tony fascinates me because the adoration and sexualization with which he was received by social media audiences today seems similar to how he was received in his day. Tony was clearly popular, as in one segment he thanks the nation for their fan mail. But it’s also likely that the national broadcaster would have drawn homophobic complaints for airing such content before the turn. Yet in the absence of any records of such letters or newspaper clippings, I am forced to speculate as to how it was received. Internet searches do not reveal anything.

As I understand it, Tony’s real name was Anthony Menson Amuah. According to sources, he was born in Ghana on November 24, 1955 and died in June 1988. Although many had difficulty placing his accent, I quickly recognized him as being of West African descent, contorted with these. Western inflections that our relatives adopt to assimilate.

I’ve seen so many calls on social media for a special documentary on Tony’s life and an overhaul of additional archival material, but it looks like the in-depth archiving duty has been given to activists and community organizers. , rather than large institutions. Archiving fan mail is not uncommon, so maybe the letters sent to it have been kept? I’m certainly thankful that these Tony videos were dug up, but I still want better for his legacy.

How come this man was dancing on the BBC’s flagship morning show and I only hear about him now? This is causing pain to my generation of black gay men and boys. We are denied the knowledge and experiences of too many ancestors of our culture, our identities and the social spaces we occupy today. Whenever I meet and learn from an older British black gay man, I think of all those who I am not able to have this intergenerational exchange with. Memory work for black gay communities so often requires imaginative speculation, and upon discovering Tony Britts, I found so much joy and excitement – but, yet, so many questions and frustrations remain.

This piece has been updated to reflect comments from Tony’s family.

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