Lenny Henry “Who Am I Again?"

Lenny Henry “Who Am I Again?"
Deborah Bell reviews Lenny Henry’s appearance at Brixton Town Hall

Lenny Henry paid a visit to Brixton Town Hall in September 2019 to promote his English book tour and memoir, “Who Am I Again?" In fact, the visit was prior to its publication, so there was an embargo on us advertising the book on social media.

Organised by the Black Cultural Archives as a fundraising event, 61-year-old Lenny had the audience in the palm of his hand. He has interesting experiences to share; he spoke of his early school life in the West Midlands - described by one local MP at the time as a sink region - the racist bullying he experienced at secondary school, and how many a time he used humour to save his skin and garner the support of his school friends.

Lenny also discussed his loving but strict relationship with his hardworking mother, whom he clearly admired and respected, and how his early successful appearance on the T.V. show New Faces changed his own family dynamics as he became the main breadwinner.

Although performing in Shakespeare’s plays was always one of Lenny’s ambitions, he recalled how his entry into this traditional form of English theatre caused consternation among certain elements of the press, and he also described his regret in appearing as the first black actor in the BBC’s long-running Black and White Minstrel Show in 1975. Amidst complaints from race relations activists, the show was finally axed in 1978, although it would continue to appear in theatre tour form for several more years.

I didn’t buy an autographed copy of “Who Am I Again?" but it was a pleasant enough evening, with Mr. Henry showing a mature version of a man who, behind the laughter, is now on track to address diversity and racial discrimination in the UK entertainment business. He hinted that a follow up to his memoir may be in the offing. Having worked in the USA, he suggested that we have a long way to go to catch up to our African American colleagues.  As he concluded, “they don’t play."