Black and white TV

Henry slams 'racist' broadcasters

Lenny Henry has claimed TV is riddled with racism – and criticised characters such as Alf Garnett for making bigotry acceptable.

The comic said programme-makers of the Sixties and Seventies peddled a ‘xenophobic’ ideas, adding that the industry was still not employing enough black people on or behind the screen.

He singled out Till Death Us Do Part, saying its main character Alf Garnett was ‘adopted as a hero by the very people he was satirising’.

In a speech to the Royal Television Society, he said: ‘Writer Johnny Speight tried to ensure that in each storyline, Alf came off the worst. But when I went to school the next morning, it was always me who came off worst.

‘Context is everything. Alf Garnett was a ludicrous character-and in the right context pretty funny, but put him against the background of Enoch Powell's "Rivers Of Blood" speech - is he so funny then?"

Henry also criticised the current glut of costume dramas saying: ‘By the time Queen Victoria was on the throne, this country had a sizeable black population, so where are they?’

He added that comedy was ‘pitifully underserved’ by broadcasters who were not looking in the right places for the new stand-ups from ethnic minorities. ‘Do they go to the Hackney Empire, or any of the ethnic minority nights put on by Upfront comedy or Harmony productions all over the country? Or do they head down to Jongleurs, the Comedy Store, or up to the Edinburgh festival, the same as they always do?’

He called on TV bosses to use 'affirmative action' to employ more black people, adding: ‘I am not talking about cleaners, security guys, scene-shifters - I am talking about decision-makers.

‘To walk on set and find a black director of photography or an Asian boom operator is as rare as seeing John McCririck on the front cover of Vanity Fair.’

‘When I started, I was surrounded by a predominantly white workforce. Thirty-two years later, not a lot has changed.’

Published: 8 Feb 2008

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