TitleFirst
Broadcast
Description
The Big Time20151109In the first of ten programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen, Lenny Henry begins with the breakthrough moment when Kwame Kwei-armah's celebrated tragedy Elmina's Kitchen, set on so-called Murder Mile in Hackney, was staged first at the National Theatre to great acclaim in 2003, and then - a first for a black British play - received a major West End transfer to the Garrick Theatre in 2005.
In this programme, Lenny talks to the actor, singer, playwright and now theatre artistic director, Kwame Kwei-armah about that key moment in his career, and in the history of the black British stage; a moment described at the time by the Daily Telegraph as 'boom-time for black theatre'.
Elmina's Kitchen features an all-black cast of characters and is set in a Caribbean café in London,
where family ties, gang violence, inter-generational conflict, tenderness and seething anger all mix in a classic story of jealousy, loyalty, masculinity and betrayal.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
A Long, Hard Road20151110In the second of ten programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen, Lenny Henry focuses on the evolving depiction of African Caribbean society on popular television across fifty years.
He charts the journey from the overt racism of TV sit-coms like Love Thy Neighbour (which nonetheless was a great hit amongst black Britons, simply because it was one of the few places in the 1970s where black Britain was regularly depicted on the nation's TV screens) to more sympathetic programmes like Empire Road. By the time Desmond's hair salon opened on Channel 4, with Norman Beaton and Carmen Munroe in the leading roles, a much more realistic picture of African Caribbean Britain was taking shape on British television.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Othello Across The Ages20151111In the third of ten programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen, Lenny Henry uses Shakespeare's character of Othello to tell the story of how the Moor of the play has for nearly 200 years offered black actors a part to savour - and also provoked debates about who can play the role.
In 2009, Lenny himself took the role in a production by Northern Broadsides at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, and subsequently in London. It won him the Evening Standard newspaper's Newcomer of the Year award, and was generally acknowledged a triumph.
Yet nearly 200 years ago, in 1833, the black American-British actor Ira Aldridge (known as 'the negro tragedian') played Othello with the Covent Garden players for just two nights until deplorable racist reviews, objecting to "this wretched upstart", forced the management to close the production.
Even well into the twentieth century, those 19th century newspapers' complaints about Desdemona being 'pawed' by a black actor were echoed when the great Paul Robeson took the role, and white actors in blackface have regularly played Othello right up to the modern era.
Featuring an interview with Lolita Chakrabarti, whose award-winning play Red Velvet, depicted Aldridge's Othello.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Caribbean Voices20151112In the fourth of ten programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen, Lenny Henry, himself the son of Jamaican immigrants who settled in the west Midlands, tells the story of Caribbean migration as reflected in the work of such playwrights as Errol John, and the poet Una Marson who first came to Britain from Jamaica in 1932.
With Michael Buffong, artistic director of Talawa Theatre Company, whose production of John's 1958 play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, at the National Theatre was an acclaimed revival.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Omnibus: Part 120151113In April 1833, at the height of the anti-slavery debate, a young African-American named Ira Aldridge took to the stage of the Covent Garden theatre in London as the star of the latest production of Shakespeare's Othello. Two days later, the production closed, ostensibly as the result of illness, but amid howling reviews that decried, in deeply racist language, the elevation of a black actor to the role of Shakespeare's tragic hero. Yet Aldridge was a superstar, feted across Europe who settled in Britain and married a British woman.
In this first of two programmes, Lenny Henry traces the long and painful road that black British performers, playwrights and film-makers have travelled, from the overt racial discrimination of the 19th century, via the thinly veiled slurs that persisted through the first 70 years of the 20th, to today's more equal society. This week, Lenny talks to playwrights Mustapha Matura, Roy Williams, Lolita Chakrabarti and Kwame Kwei-armah and actors and directors Carmen Munroe, Yvonne Brewster and Paulette Randall. As well as Aldridge's Othello, he hears how racial issues were reflected on TV from the Black and White Minstrel Show to Love Thy Neighbour and Desmond's, and in films like Horace Ové's Pressure.
Consultant: Dr Michael Pearce
Producer: Simon Elmes.
Pressure, Conflict And Creativity20151113To end the first week of Raising the Bar, in the fifth of ten programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen, Lenny Henry takes a journey back to the 1960s and 70s to catch the spirit of protest and violent anger that welled up as the result of years of overt or thinly-veiled racism.
With the advent of the Black Power movement, British African Caribbeans found a new and angry voice - it expressed itself on stage and on screen, notably in Horace Ové's film Pressure, that tells the story of a young black British boy growing up under powerful influences: his old parents' rectitude, his own desire to make his way in the society he's been born into, and the angry, uncompromising voices of his Black Power advocate brother.
Horace Ové talks to Lenny Henry about the world that inspired this famous first British feature film by a black director.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Good Company20151116Lenny Henry investigates the sudden blossoming of black theatre groups in Britain in the late 1970s and 80s as new, second generation black Britons found their voices and created stages to express themselves. Most famous is Talawa, a theatre company founded by four renowned creative spirits, including Yvonne Brewster and Carmen Munroe, who applied for and were granted from the public purse £80,000 to stage The Black Jacobins, a play about Caribbean history, by the legendary writer CLR James.
Series consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Mainstream And Multicultural20151117Lenny Henry charts the breakthrough of a suite of powerful new black voices into serious theatre during the 1990s. Including Kwame Kwei-armah, Winsome Pinnock, Paulette Randall, and Roy Williams.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Lenny Henry charts the breakthrough of a suite of powerful new black voices into serious theatre during the 1990s. Including Kwame Kwei-armah, Winsome Pinnock, Paulette Randall, and Roy Williams.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Last Taboos20151118Lenny Henry talks to black British film director Isaac Julien about his work as an out-gay film-maker who has from the beginning of his career confronted issues of discrimination, police brutality, and homophobia within the African Caribbean community. With his film Young Soul Rebels, which he made in 1991, but which was set in 1977 against the backdrop of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, Julien depicted head-on the violence and hatred of homosexuals within British black society. How, today, have attitudes changed?
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
African Accents20151119Lenny Henry investigates the sudden blossoming of new black British theatrical voices whose roots are not in the Caribbean but in Africa. From Nigeria via Peckham and Hastings comes the energetic talent of Bola Agbaje whose play Gone Too Far triumphed at London's Royal Court Theatre, winning an Olivier award in 2008 before being filmed for the big screen, with a slew of new work since. "Writing is easy" she tells Lenny Henry...and, she says, it all came about only because she managed to squeeze a place on a Royal Court writers' scheme on the day applications closed.
Series Consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.
Omnibus: Part 220151120The 1980s were a time of political upheaval and deep changes to the way the state engaged with British society, but for black theatre, perhaps paradoxically, it was a time of a great explosion of talent and opportunity. As Brixton and Toxteth burned, a host of new and brilliant young theatre groups burst into life, some benefiting from the final largesse of the dying Greater London Council, wound up by act of Parliament in 1986. Thus Talawa was born with an £80,000 GLC grant to stage its first, landmark production which required a cast of 23 - but there were many others too.
On television, Channel 4 brought new specialist magazine programming for black viewers, quickly emulated by the BBC, and series like Empire Road found ready and growing popularity, while the films of Isaac Julien addressed issues of race and sexuality for both niche and mainstream audiences. By the 1990s and early 2000s, new black writing talent like Roy Williams and Winsome Pinnock were reflecting sharp social divisions, and the problems faced by black youth in Britain's inner cities. This, too, was the world that young British-Nigerian writer Bola Agbaje grew up in, and powerfully wrote about in her groundbreaking new plays.
Consultant: Dr Michael Pearce
Producer: Simon Elmes.
Post-black20151120In the last of his programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen, Lenny Henry explores the prospects for black British theatre and screen. He talks to black British film-director and creative artist Steve McQueen, who was the first ever black director to win an Academy Award for Best Picture - and who's also a proud winner of the Turner Prize for art. Lenny hears about Steve's new project for BBC television, a grand sweeping story of an African Caribbean family growing up across three decades from the late 1960s.
Also taking part in this assessment of the future shape of their art are director and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, theatre director Michael Buffong and writer Roy Williams.
Series consultant Michael Pearce
Producer Simon Elmes.

Advertising