IT is fairly common to see a black actress in a senior role on a popular television series today.

But when Nichelle Nichols was cast as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek the Original series it was extremely controversial.

The legendary actress was one of the first black women to be featured in a major television series and has been credited with helping to break down barriers for both women and black people through the role of Uhura.

Nichelle who appeared at the SF Ball in Boscombe recently, took some time out to chat to the Echo about her career and her time on Star Trek.

The actress was responsible for naming her character - inspired after Roddenberry spotted that she was carrying a book with the word "Uhuru" in its title which means freedom in Swahili.

She said: "After that I created her family background and who her parents were and her expectations and what her qualifications were to go on that five-year mission she might not survive.

"And why she would follow and serve under Captain Kirk and her relationship with the other characters?"

In the show Nichelle believes that Uhura was probably closest to the character of Spock although there were only hints of that on camera.

She says: "I created a relationship between Uhura and Spock as being her mentor and the person she looked up to. Uhura was the only one who could play the Vulcan lyre and the only one who had the audacity to sing a song teasing Spock."

The character of Uhura inspired women and black people in general to believe that they could achieve positions of authority she adds.

"She was fourth in command of the Enterprise but that was never brought out, although Gene had planned to do an entire episode around that."

Gene Roddenberry wanted a multicultural cast but had failed to tell executives that a black woman would be playing a major character on the bridge, she jokes.

"He cast me as communications officer but they told him he couldn't do that. Gene said I've already done it' They said that's not what you said. You said you were going to make a little change on the bridge because you were going to add a bit of colour. They said we thought you were talking about the costumes'. Gene said that's a great idea, I don't like that colour - instead of green I'll make them red. That's how I got my red costume."

After that first initial hurdle Nichelle became aware that executives were still muttering behind the scenes although it never manifested itself during filming.

She says: "I didn't know what was going on. I was aware of something during the first season. In the end NBC decided they loved me.

"My co-stars and actors were the most wonderful people to work with and I fell in love with it. We were going where no man or woman had gone before encountering other cultures and lifeforms - it was beautiful."

Despite this Nichelle felt tempted to quit at the end of the first season to return to her first love of singing and performing in theatre but changed her mind after meeting a famous fan.

She says: "I went in on the Friday to tell Gene I wouldn't be coming back for the second season and there was a deadly silence.

"He said how can you do this? Don't you understand what I'm trying to achieve here'. I said Gene you know where my heart lies'."

Nichelle was asked to go away and think about her decision over the weekend but during the two days was told a fan wanted to speak to her.

She says: "They said Miss Nichols. There's someone who would like to meet you. He's a big big fan. I turned and stood up and looked into the face of Dr Martin Luther King.

"He said I'm so happy to meet you. In our family this is the only show we allow our little children to stay up and watch.

"I said, I'm really going to miss my co-workers and the show and he said, what are you talking about?'.

"I said I was leaving the show and he said, you can't'. I said, what are you talking about, Dr Martin Luther King?' and he said, don't you understand what this man (Gene Roddenberry) is achieving? He's changing the face of TV and you're a part of it. That door can't be closed again."

She adds: "Boys and girls could look at that TV show and they could see themselves and women of all colours could see themselves and their opportunities."