Posted on June 25, 2014

Lenny Henry: We Need More Ethnic Minority Stars on Screen

Alison Little, Express (London), June 25, 2014

Actor and comedian Lenny Henry yesterday slammed the BBC’s £2.1 million plan to foster ethnic talent.

The corporation’s director-general Tony Hall announced a new “diversity creative talent fund” last week to help “fast track” shows by minorities.

But referring to 12 Years A Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba, from TV crime drama Luther, Mr Henry said: “They didn’t need more training, they just needed a break.”

Earlier this year, he complained that the number of ethnic workers in ­British TV had plunged by a third between 2006 and 2012 to just 5.4 per cent of the broadcast workforce.

He called for new laws and targets to reverse that decline.

Mr Henry told the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport committee yesterday the UK had been hemorrhaging talent to America because of a mistaken belief that black ethnic minority actors “don’t have enough star power to drive a feature film or a long-running TV series”.

Talking about Mr Hall’s plan, he said: “Development is great but there are people absolutely trained and ready to rock.

“The inference seems to be ‘oh you’re not ready yet, here’s a little bit of development money, go away and practise a bit more until you’re ready’.”

He said the BBC blueprint had the greatest of intentions but was based on an old model that hadn’t worked.

He said: “Increased training and increased development funds do not deliver change but jobs do.

“Idris Elba did not need more training to be a great actor, he just needed a break. Back in the day when I entered New Faces (in 1975), I just needed a break.

“There is initiative fatigue. People have lost hope and don’t believe that one more initiative will achieve true diversity. Things are being done but they’re not really working.”

Mr Henry called for money to be earmarked specifically for ethnic minority productions and for the number of on-screen and production staff from minority groups to increase across all broadcasters.

Patrick Younge, director of We­Create Associates and former chief creative officer of BBC TV Production, told the committee that Mr Hall’s scheme was “well-intentioned” but was addressing the wrong part of the problem.

He said the £2.1 million was “tiny” and added: “It’s three episodes of Luther in terms of on-air spend.”

A BBC spokesman insisted later: “Last week we set out far-reaching plans that we believe will make a tangible difference. We will work hard to deliver them.”