Lenny Henry criticises BBC training schemes for minority talent: ‘Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t need training. They needed a break’

Comedian gives evidence to the Commons culture committee about the BBC & the “appalling” lack of diversity in creative industries

Lenny Henry has criticised the BBC’s new plans to improve ethnic diversity in the British creative industries through development, rather than opportunity.

The comedian inferred that top Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) actors like Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t need better education or training to be successful. “What they needed was a break,” he said.

Henry made the comments after an hour-long Q&A session at parliament with members of the Culture, Media and Sport committee, in which he gave evidence about the BBC as part of their inquiry into the future of the broadcaster.

In April this year, Henry launched a campaign, the ‘Henry Plan’, to encourage UK TV channels to have ring-fenced funding for BAME productions and programmes.

Last week, the BBC announced its own plans to increase the number of BAME people on air by more than 40 per cent over the next three years, as well as doubling the number of BAME senior managers employed at the corporation by 2020.

Idris Elba, star of 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom', rose to fame in the eponymous role of BBC drama Luther Idris Elba, star of 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom', rose to fame in the eponymous role of BBC drama Luther The BBC director general, Tony Hall, unveiled a number of different measures, including a £2.1m ringfenced development fund to fast-track BAME talent, at a press launch on the set of Eastenders last week.

“The BBC gets much right on diversity, but the simple fact is that we need to do more,” he said.

Ironically, Eastenders was the very soap the acting chairperson of the BBC Trust, Diane Coyle, who is currently in the running to replace Lord Patten, declared “almost twice as white” as the real East End of London.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch asked Henry and fellow witness Patrick Younge, the BBC’s most senior black executive, whether they agreed with Coyle’s assertion that Eastenders was “too white”. Henry said that he felt Eastenders was “the best of the soaps” in terms of BAME representation.

John Whittingdale, another Conservative MP, questioned whether there were two problems under discussion – the lack of BAME people in creative industries, or the lack of programmes for BAME audiences.

“The two problems are linked,” Younge said. “There are lots of aspects of the black experience that commissioning editors would not understand, They would not get jokes in the scripts.”

Whittingdale went on to ask whether the stage adaptation of radio show Rudy’s Rare Records, which Henry stars in, was aimed purely at black audiences.

Henry said that the show, which is about three generations of Jamaican men, works just as well for black and white audiences. 

“There is more than one story to be told in this wonderful country. These stories should be told.”

Furthermore, he asked how many BBC shows he felt would meet the Henry Plan targets.

Witness Marcus Ryder, a BBC executive and the Chair of the RTS Diversity Group, said that as the BBC employs only about 10 per cent of BAME staff in production, it is likely that very few programmes would meet the criteria.

“There is a reason why Casualty is now in Cardiff,” Younge added. “It's because the BBC had a target to hit for production in Wales.”

The session comes days after Henry, who has presented and starred in several BBC shows since the start of his career, used the London 2012 Olympics as an example of what it could be like for society if more BAME people were represented by the film and TV industries.

"We could have that feel-good feeling everyday if we thought more diversely," he said.

On the BBC’s £2.1million pledge to improve BAME representation, he added: "It's a really good step, it's very positive but there's more work to do.”

A spokesperson for the BBC has since addressed Henry's claims that the new schemes do not go far enough.

“Last week we set out far reaching plans that we believe will make a tangible difference - we will work hard to deliver them and of course reserve the option of going further if we fall short, but people should judge us on our progress over the coming months and years before concluding the need for even more measures," they told The Independent.

Read More: Ukip Candidate In Race Row Over Lenny Henry Claims
Rik Mayall Faked Brilliant Response From Lenny Henry
Eastenders 'Should Provide More Authentic Portrayal', Says Coyle

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape