Look at Lenny Henry’s new Caribbean Britain

Wednesday: Lenny Henry’s Caribbean Britain - (BBC Two, 9pm)

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 5:00 pm

On August 29, 1958, a baby boy was born to Winston and Winifred Henry, who had come to England from Jamaica.

Lenworth – better known as Lenny – George Henry was their first child born in the UK, and 17 years later would take his first major step on the road to fame after winning the 1975 New Faces talent show.

He appeared in The Fosters, the UK’s first comedy featuring a predominantly Black cast, and was among the presenting team of madcap Saturday morning show Tiswas, all the while establishing himself as a household favourite with appearances on the likes of Celebrity Squares and Seaside Special.

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Sir Lenny Henry, outside the Hackney Empire

In 1984 Lenny landed his own comedy show, and a year later co-founded Comic Relief.

The 1990s saw Lenny flirting with Hollywood with the uninspiring movie True Identity, while back home he found success heading the cast of comedy series Chef!

His fans began to see flashes of something more serious in 1996, when he co-created Neverwhere with Neil Gaiman, and took the lead in BBC drama Hope And Glory.

Throughout the noughties, Lenny continued to burnish his comedy credentials but also honed his dramatic acting chops, taking the title role in the 2009 Northern Broadsides production of Othello, and showcasing his writing talent with the 2010 web series Conversations with my Wife.

The year after, Lenny made his debut at the Royal National Theatre in London in The Comedy of Errors, was knighted in 2015, appeared in the two-part opening episode of Doctor Who’s 12th series; more recently he appeared in BBC Two’s My Name Is Leon and later this year will be among the cast of the Lord of the Rings TV series, playing Harfoot elder Sadoc Burrows.

But there’s more to him than being phenomenally talented on either the comedy or theatre stage.

Lenny has an MA in Screenwriting for TV and Film and a doctorate on the role of black people in the media. In 2017, he was appointed honorary life president of Comic Relief, and he’s also been a vocal and tireless champion for greater ethnic diversity on British TV.

He once said: “I’m used to being the only black person wherever I go. There was never a black or Asian director when I went to the BBC. Eventually I thought ‘where are they all?’ I spent a lot of time on my own.”

He’s achieved so much, but it really does feel as though the 63-year-old star is just getting into his stride, and this joyous, two-part celebration of British-Caribbean life is his latest project to grace the small screen.

As a child, Lenny was told by his mum he had to go out and integrate with the people of Dudley. He was confused about what that meant for him and his Caribbean-heritage siblings as their household was “very Jamaican” – would fitting in mean that he would lose his Caribbean culture?

Cameras follow an older and wiser Lenny as he ponders the meaning of integration: is it a one-way journey or does it work both ways? Is it a loss or a gain in cultural identity?

In this programme, he looks at the explosion of culture brought from the Caribbean by the post-war arrivals, from the music of calypso and ska, to theatre and art.

He explores the stories of activism, entrepreneurship and resilience behind these artforms and how the early cultural pioneers laid the foundations for the next generation, while also reflecting on his own attempts to fit into British society.