Lenny: Why I used white writers

Henry discusses his new sitcom

Lenny Henry has defended using white writers for his new BBC radio sitcom – saying no black ones were available to him.

Henry, who recently blasted the corporation for not employing enough black staff, handed over the writing of his Radio 4 show Rudy’s Rare Records to Danny Robins and Dan Tetsell, even though it revolves around black characters.

But he said the decision came ‘only because we weren’t offered any black writers. The BBC just don’t have access to black and Asian writers – I’m used to it.’

Henry came up with the idea of the sitcom, which started on Tuesday night, and devised the key characters. But because he felt he was too inexperienced as a writer, he left it to BBC producers to recruit writers – and they suggested Robins and Tetsell, whose credits include The Museum Of Everything,

But, at a BBC Q&A session about radio comedy, Henry said he was more than happy with the result – and said his input helped keep the lines authentic.

‘I thought my influence would be enough,’ he said. ‘I’m a big part of it.’

‘Dan and Danny were very down with it – and they are comedians, and comedians like jokes. So it was quite a good meeting of minds, really.

‘I’m just a baby writer. Although I have loads of ideas, I’ve never written anything on my own.’

Robins told the audience at London’s Royal Court Theatre: ‘People said, “How can you write for black characters?” But black and white people aren’t different – everyone has the same feelings.

‘And if there was a bit of slang or something that didn’t work, that’s where Lenny came in. We also had Doc Brown, who is a rapper, help us with the way the young characters speak.

‘We wrote this one line, “She had fantastic breasts” which we weren’t sure of – then Doc came in with “luscious”.’

Brown –real name Ben Smith – is the younger brother of bestselling novelist Zadie Smith.

Robins also agreed that Henry’s work in devising the show meant the characters were believable, leaving them to concentrate on the gags. ‘Because we had strong characters and a strong story, we felt we could throw all these jokes in,’ he said.

Robins added that the secret to a successful sitcom was: ‘Character, plot and jokes in that order.’

Henry also hinted that Rudy’s Rare Records could be bound for TV, saying: ‘There’s talk of a pilot.’

And he said that he was due to meet BBC director-general Mark Thompson on Monday to discuss his comments on ethnic diversity in the corporation. He said: ‘It took someone in the public eye to say something. It obviously stirred something up.’

Click here to hear Rudy's Rare Records on the BBC iPlayer.

Published: 27 Feb 2008

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