Doing history our way: Interview with Jimmy Akingbola from Sorry, I Didn’t Know
The new show is set to celebrate black history, diversity, untold stories and unsung heroes with its host, Jimmy Akingbola, along with team leaders, actress Chizzy Akudola and radio presenter Judi Love. The teams will battle it out over four rounds, unveiling fascinating Black history facts along the way.
The panel show will also feature guest comedians competing on each team, including Angie Le Mar, Humza Arshad, Verona Rose, Toby Williams and Shaun Wallace, in a show which Jimmy describes as “doing history our way, with a touch of colour, with a touch of fun, from a place of lets celebrate!”
The show was created by the TriForce Creative Network, a production company which aims to increase diversity in TV and media which was co-founded by Jimmy, alongside his production partner Fraser Ayres, and they’re very excited to see it come to ITV. Without further ado, let’s hear from Jimmy himself about the exciting new show...
So, can you tell us a bit about Sorry, I Didn’t Know and what we can expect?
JIMMY: Sorry, I Didn’t Know is an amazing comedy panel show basically sharing with our UK audiences lots of untold stories about lots of unsung heroes in terms of world war heroes, political famous leaders or pioneers - basically people we feel people occasionally, unfortunately, may be forgotten or erased. So the show is a great, fun way to educate, enlighten and entertain, all in 25-30 minutes.
It’s unapologetic, and it’s [got] something for everyone, no matter your demographic or your colour. Also, what’s just as important is that this is our story. It’s an entertainment show but it’s been produced by TriForce Productions, so I’m really proud about that, and I think it’s come at an important moment in history because there’s nothing else like this on TV around the world.
We’re going on in October for Black History Month, and I obviously support Black History Month, but it does leave a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth because Black history is all year round, it’s just history, it’s all our history, and that’s almost our mantra for when we produced the show – this is a show for everybody. I want all the generations of family - the kids, the kid’s parents, the kid’s parents parents - everybody in the same room shouting out answers, disagreeing and getting involved and interacting like you do when you watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire or The Chase or those old school shows like Blockbusters, Catchphrase, Who’s Line is it Anyway – it has a kind of essence of all those [shows] and is very diverse and inclusive, and I think that’s what makes it even more important. It’s on ITV, and it’s about diversity being celebrated. The whole show is celebratory – and also, you’ve got amazing hosts.
Tell us more about the hosts...
JIMMY: Well, we’re used to the old school tropes, aren’t we? Like all-male panels, white male panels, then the one person of colour or the one woman, and they’re like “Steven’s busy today so we’re going to bring the other woman out for a couple of episodes”- so we’re taking a tongue and cheek response to that.
But also, we’re not apologetic, we’re proud; it’s about intelligence, black excellence, going look, we couldn’t get Stephen Fry today, Idris [Elba] is busy, so I’ll step in the chair you know? Hahah, couldn’t get Andrew Davies, so we’ve got the amazing Chizzy Akudola and Judi Love! But in their own right they deserve to be there, they could be in my chair, and those three roles are very important and there’s a lack of that, so this show celebrates all our roles and at the same time we’re consistently making people laugh and making people realise there’s a big gap in their knowledge, and lack of knowledge when it comes to Black history.
I think across the whole season a lot of people are going to be going “oh my god, I had no idea that that was a fact”, and that’s okay, that’s why it’s called Sorry, I Didn’t Know. You might be black and 80-years-old but that doesn’t mean you know everything about black history, because that’s the way it’s been told over the years, or not told...but we’re in a time now where we have more control over what you can know and what you should know, and we’re sharing that with everyone through the fun games, through the jokes, and educating people at the same time, and I think that’s the best way really - that’s the power of comedy.
Was there a contrast in talking about these important topics in a comedy game show setting?
JIMMY: Yes definitely, because in some ways that’s what David Olusoga does right? What a great way to learn, but if that’s not your thing, if you don’t want to watch those kind of shows, but you do love someone like Judi Love or the amazing guests we have on, then you can learn without even knowing it. So this is us doing history our way, with a touch of colour, with a touch of fun, with excellence and from a place of “let’s celebrate!” – let’s not bang people over the head with it, let’s just celebrate and share history in its entirety. So yeah, we’re really excited and proud.
You first piloted the show in 2016. Do you feel that this sort of show is long overdue, or do you feel like it’s coming at just the right time in 2020 when so much around black history and Black Lives Matter has been getting attention?
JIMMY: We definitely felt like it was overdue, which is why when we were more focused on scripted content in terms of our production company and the opportunity for commission came around from ITV2, even though we weren’t focusing on game shows, we thought it was an amazing opportunity, so we told ITV yep, we’ve got an idea, then Fraser [Ayres] and Minnie [Ayres] created this great show, and we pitched it and they said yes, and we were like that’s fantastic - because even in 2016 it was well overdue, and there was nothing like it. So the fact that after four years nothing else has been out like it since - and I’ve been working and living back and forth in America as well and there’s nothing like it in America - shows how much a show like this is needed and how in 2020 it’s bang on the money.
In some ways it had to happen, but again there was no guarantee that it would, and I think where we are right now is in this place where we have to start having these conversations, whether they’re tricky or make people feel a bit nervous. We felt like we had to go and talk to ITV, and I did especially. I was like, well, I'm on a comedy show, Kate & Koji, that’s been a success and it’s going again, I’m seeing a lot of really important statements from channels including ITV. During lockdown a lot of people were talking about how silence is compliance and allies and stuff like that and I starting doubting, I started asking myself am I doing enough? And then I was like oh my gosh Jimmy you need to chill out, because via the TriForce Creative Network we’ve been operating in this diverse, inclusive space for over 16 years. Remembering that calmed me down a bit, but I also realised there’s still more I can do. I can go and have the conversation, I can put my producer/actor hat on and talk to ITV saying I’m really happy about Kate & Koji, but what about this? Do you mind taking a look at this pilot?
I think this is even more important this year than I thought it was four years ago, but we would love to have a conversation about the possibility of this happening again in a collaborative sense, in a partnering sense, and what was great was that they listened, they were open. There was a part of me wondering if anything was actually going to happen, and I’m so happy that off the back of that they didn’t say “let’s do another pilot”, they were like “let’s do this.”
It was such a great feeling, so much so that we’re not really holding onto the four years gap. Finally, we’ve got this across the line, finally it’s going to be on ITV - it’s fully backed and actually the impact is even more powerful now in 2020 in terms of where we are and what we’re all going through, and its covering a space which hasn’t been covered before. Maybe there’s been some little mini panel shows, maybe there’s been something within another comedy sketch show or something like that, maybe there’s been something shown at midnight - whereas this is straight on ITV, this huge mainstream channel, and it’s been told by us.
I just want everybody to watch it, to enjoy it, to learn some stuff, to pass it on to friends and family who might not of heard about it, because I think it’s that show that can be enjoyed like you enjoy Would I Lie to You, Question of Sport and A League of their Own. It’s just something for everyone, but underneath it, there’s a lot of erased history being shared, so everybody’s coming out of the show feeling a bit more enlightened and educated, but also definitely entertained. If you look at the show, it does everything people have been asking for over the last 50-60 years, it really does that, and we just want this to be part of the trigger effect for true change within the TV and film industry.
You mention erased history - is there anything which you learnt which really stuck with you or surprised you?
JIMMY: There’s lots of stuff, but I don’t want to say because I don’t want to give the answer away, they’ll be in the game show obviously, but I think the amount of firsts was amazing to find out – the first black cabinet minister or the first black mayor of London... when you find out who these firsts were you realise it’s not that long ago, and it’s like, that should’ve happened much earlier than it did, and then you think “oh my god I had no idea that happened”, and “why don’t I know that?”
Again, I think it just made me realise that's why the show is even more important to watch, because there’s these double perceptions where different generations say that you can have Stormzy headlining Glastonbury and thinking he’s the first, but well, is he? Because if you’re a certain age you might remember Skunk Anansie or whoever, and I think this show does a really good thing of acknowledging our elders, the people that have paved the way for us, as well as acknowledging a lot of people now who are doing some amazing, game-changing things now which don’t necessarily get highlighted.
Like you know, Channel 4 or ITV or whoever might do a show like the best 100 comedy shows, or the best so-and-so performance, and I’ve always loved those things, but at the same time when they finished I’d always notice the lack of diversity and inclusion within them, and I think that’s really been embedded in our show. I feel like in some ways myself, Fraser and Minnie, we’re a bit like nerds with it, because I feel like you can watch stuff and be aware of certain people and stories not being represented, and then I think this is a perfect platform and show to acknowledge everyone that should be acknowledged in an equal measure. And then when you start finding out all this history it’s just amazing. You’re like “oh my god I had no idea”, and then there’s a bit of embarrassment, but then there’s multiple reasons why you didn’t know, but now you know, and hopefully when we get season 2, we’ll share more information.
Ooooh, does that mean there will be a season 2?
JIMMY: Well that’s what we’re hoping for! In interviews they ask what you want to do and I say well you know, I want to produce some shows and I want to act in such-and-such, and then two weeks of doing that interview Sorry, I Didn’t Know got picked up, so I’m trying to stay in that zone of speak it into existence.
I love Black History Month, but I do get annoyed sometimes that there’s this real surge of energy and focus on [Black history] just for October, then it gets put back in the drawer, so when I'm saying that I hope there’s a season 2, I think its connected with the bigger picture that this show shouldn’t be just locked into October or once a year. This show should be on throughout the rest of the year, like QI. You should have multiple episodes so people know the show, it knows itself, and it exists in its own right outside of Black History Month, and that’s what we’re hoping for – both for the show and in general in terms of having as many different types of stories from people with different backgrounds throughout the year so you don’t just have that one.
People who might not like game shows, they might be frustrated and say I don’t want to learn history this way, I want more stuff like David Olusoga does, we want those BBC documentaries...The more you have, then the more you can satisfy people en masse, but the problem is over the years there’s only been one – like Michaela [Coel] can’t please everybody! She’s amazing, but she can’t please everybody, so what about some of these other amazing actresses and actors and writers that are out there? I just think there’s been a one in one out policy which is part of the bigger problem. So I am hoping that we do get a season 2 to show that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan, but also that a season 2 might inspire someone else to come out with a different entertainment show, or a different type of documentary or comedy or drama, triggered from the information we’re able to give them via the show.
So, you’re hoping with Sorry, I Didn’t Know you’re making a platform that others can build upon?
JIMMY: Yeah, we hope so, and also to help the commissioners and the different networks to think in a different way. Rather than just going “we’ve got our black entertainment show, we’re done” – No! This is part of the problem over the years! Like Small Axe is coming out with Steve McQueen, so with any other actor which is trying to pitch a period piece about Black history in that time, it’s like nobody wants to know now, and it’s like no, that’s not the way to go. It’s like having Downton Abbey and then no one else being able to pitch anything which is a bit close to that era - but we see tons of shows in that timeframe! But for some reason there’s a lot of work to be done in our industry about opening up and not just going “oh, I've got that one thing”, because if you flipped it, there wouldn’t be that many other shows at all.
Thanks so much for speaking with us Jimmy!
Sorry, I Didn’t Know will be coming to ITV from Tuesday 6th October at 10:45pm, and can be watched every Tuesday through October with four fascinating and entertaining episodes. Keep your eyes on this page and our social media for the release date, and make sure to tune in for history as you’ve never heard it before. For more of the latest telly scoops, news and reviews, sign up for the Freesat newsletter.