Donald Macintyre's Sketch: If only Parliament and the press took a leaf out of Lenny Henry’s book
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Tuesday 24 June 2014
Occasionally, cool air blows through Westminster and wakes it up. As with today’s appearance before MPs of Lenny Henry and the former and present, respectively, black senior BBC executives Patrick Younge and Marcus Ryder, talking about making broadcasting more diverse. And gracefully but decisively winning their argument.
The BBC director-general Lord Hall’s new £2.1m diversity training and development fund had the “greatest of intentions”, said a bespectacled, bearded and professorial-looking Henry. But, with “massive respect”, it was an initiative – one of 29 already launched by the BBC – “based on an old model that doesn’t work”. Henry, who got his own “break” on the talent show New Faces, added: “Idris Elba didn’t need training to be a great actor. He just needed a break.”
Enter the “Henry Plan”. This would emulate for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BME) productions the “extraordinary” success of a 2007 BBC project to increase programme-making in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. To qualify, a programme would meet two of three requirements: 50 per cent BME production staff by cost; 30 per cent BME control of the production company; and 50 per cent BME on-screen talent. This was not about “Chinese people making a documentary about the Chinese new year every now and then”, he said. It could apply to anything “from Dr Who to Question Time” and would ensure “that the best talent is in front of and behind our cameras”.
Inevitably there was Tory scepticism. Wouldn’t this mean “you won’t get the best programmes”, asked the Culture Committee chairman, John Whittingdale. But that hadn’t happened with the nations, said the persuasive Younge. BBC Northern Ireland had failed to produce its quota of commissionable programmes and the money had been rolled over. Younge disclosed that, industry-wide, there were just five non-white programme commissioners. He recalled an online dialogue with a newspaperman about a London Live black comedy show he had enjoyed, including an Emile Heskey gag about a man failing to score with girls. “Who is Emile Heskey?” the newspaperman had asked. Younge added: “If you don’t know who Emile Heskey is, you’re not going to get that joke… There are lots of parts of the black and Asian experience which are just not known to the commissioning cadre as it is now.”
There were naturally Henry moments. “Are you from Liverpool?” he asked, in feigned surprise, during a question from Labour’s unmistakably scouse Steve Rotherham. And when Younge asked why, in the “fantastic” Idris Elba series Luther, the hero had “no black friends”, Henry repeated, mock solemn: “Who are his friends? Why doesn’t he go to meet his dad in Nando’s?”
But he was mostly serious, telling MPs that to “have a pluralistic narrative for this fantastic country of ours, then something needs to change with the people who pick and decide which narratives get told”. And, he might have added, who select MPs, all of whom at the hearing happened to be white. As were the journalists covering it.
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
Jihadi John': MI5 may have identified Isis militant who killed David Haines but options limited
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: Police will be on high alert on Friday whatever the result
David Haines beheading: David Cameron says Britain will hunt down Isis 'monsters' shown in video murdering aid worker
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...
£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Are you looking for work in Ed...
£3000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wor...
£83 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Are you looking for work in Ed...