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Lenny Henry urges BBC to write ethnic diversity into new charter

Lenny Henry spoke at Goldsmiths University about the need for greater ethnic diversity on television. Photo: Goldsmiths
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Lenny Henry has called on the BBC to entrench ethnic diversity in its new Royal Charter, to address “systemic failure” in representing minorities on screen and behind the camera.

The actor and comedian went on to claim training schemes set up by broadcasters in an attempt to widen the talent pool were not enough, and gave the impression that black, Asian and ethnic minority talent were “not good enough” for existing roles.

Giving an address at Goldsmiths University, Henry said the BBC and the government should take a similar approach to the decision made in 2006 – when the charter was renewed with an explicit remit to increase the amount of TV made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

He said: “They changed the charter then, and we can change the charter now. We have a once-in-a-decade chance to change history, to make diversity a celebration of our nation rather than a problem.”

The actor suggested the BBC should write a Catalyst Fund into the charter, which would give pots of money to new commissioners from minority backgrounds, who would seek out new shows made by diverse teams.

According to Henry’s plan, a production would qualify as diverse if it hit two of three criteria: a certain number of BAME talent on screen, a certain number of senior BAME production staff, or a staff spend on BAME talent that was over a certain threshold.

He explained: “Let’s create a number of commissioners and give them real power – and that means money – to find productions made by diverse teams to make great programmes.”

These commissioners should not be “ghettoised” into only making programmes about BAME issues, Henry claimed, and would instead having scope to make shows “across the TV landscape, from high-end period dramas to Panoramas”.

He said he was “not arguing against training schemes”, which he said often had “merit” and “the best of intentions” behind them.

However, he added: “My concern is that when the only solution offered to create significant and sustainable change is the introduction of training schemes, it inadvertently creates the perception that the reason why BAME people are leaving the industry – the reason why our numbers are at their lowest in years – is because we’re not good enough.”

Henry’s remarks come two years after he delivered a damning speech at BAFTA, highlighting that BAME workers in the UK TV industry had fallen by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012.

While taking questions from students at Goldsmiths, Henry mocked drama trailers from BBC and ITV in recent years that have not featured any black or Asian actors – and made reference to BBC1 crime thriller Luther.

Describing the trailers, he said: “Not one black person, not one Asian. As if there’s no black or Asian people in the police force.”

He continued: “There’s got to be someone solving a crime somewhere. It can’t just be Luther on his own. Luther, the one black policeman on television. No wonder his caseload’s killing him.”

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