Lenny Henry: Arts vital for a child's sense of inclusion

Lenny Henry: Arts vital for a child's sense of inclusion

Sir Lenny Henry and Adrian Lester wants to hand deliver a letter signed by a string
of stars at 10 Downing Street today.

It calls for the immediate introduction of Representation Tax Relief to increase the representation of women, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and disabled people working behind the camera.

The letter says the statistics for the BAME and the disabled are "shocking" and cites a report by UK, which found only 2% of UK television is made by directors of BAME background.

It also cites a British Film Institute report which found only 3% of the UK film industry's production and post-production workforce are from a BAME background.

For National Inclusion Week this past September, Sir Lenny wrote about the importance of the creative arts to a child's upbringing and sense of inclusion, fondly remembering his first childhood trip to the theater for Sky News.

I go to the theater a lot now. It's an initiative headed up by Prince Charles.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Meera Syal, Myleene Klass and her kids, Lord Lloyd Webber, and the director general of the BBC – all talk about how to do it school curriculum doing self-paying extra curricular activities. It is to weep.

And good people are saying good and sensitive things about children and the arts – it just feels like no one really cares. And the problem is that the creative arts are a huge boost to the GDP of Great Britain.

In January, the Guardian said the creative industries were worth £ 92bn to the UK economy.

"The sector returns more golden eggs to the Treasury than the automotive, oil, gas, aerospace and life science industries combined, and for every £ 1 invested in subsidy the government gets £ 5 returned in taxes."

So why is the government cutting back on the creative arts in schools? Why this insistence on STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and maths), this rejection of the arts?

The truth is, this is always going to happen. When I Was At Blue Coat Secondary Modern There Was Little Or No Attempt To Cultivate Drastic Aspirations During The School Day.

Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (L) meets British actor Lenny Henry (C) and school children as he attends an event at the Royal Albert Hall in London on September 5, 2018
Image:
Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (L) meets British actor Lenny Henry (C) and school children as he attends an event at the Royal Albert Hall in London on September 5, 2018

Sure, we were tasked with reading aloud or taking part in an assembly; we even did a school concert the year I had successfully auditioned for New Faces. But the only drama I remember taking part in what when Mr Kipper (the English Teacher) would have made us in the hall for a double period and make us run around.

Hedda Gabler or the Doll's House. The fact is, theater did not play a massive part in my parents' lives. They spent every hour God gave putting food on the table and clothes on our backs. They were not going to pop us in for a matinee of She Stoop's To Conquer at the Wolverhampton Civic. They were not made of money. So, no theater.

But one year, Mum's Factory is a massive trip to the Birmingham Alexandra Theater – suddenly, a whole bunch of kids and a couple of teachers would be allowed to watch a mime.

In our case it's what Charlie Drake starring at Robinson Crusoe. It sounds odd, but this act of inclusion is powerful. Drake was one of the biggest stars on television at the time.

The Worker, where he would torment the poor desk clerk's labor exchange with the fateful words "Where's Mr. Whittaker?" while dragging said clerk over the counter by his lapels.

David Beckham, Nicola Adams and Sir Lenny Henry
Image:
David Beckham, Nicola Adams and Sir Lenny Henry

He shared top billing with a new piece called New World. They have recently had a hit with Tom Tom Turnaround Opportunity Knocks on several occasions. One of them had an Afro – bliss.

Every second of the coach trip from Dudley to Birmingham was evocative and memorable. Mum made hard dough sandwiches with corned beef and fried onion. There is sweet bun and cheese and a boxed drink for afters. In my case, that's all devoured by the time we got to the roundabout by Dudley Zoo.

The rest of the journey was spent with my head almost glued to the window as we watched the accompanying traffic. This first trip to the theater was important for me; I would see so many things that would stay with me for the rest of my life.

The arrival and disgorging of passengers outside the theater. The black clad staff collected from the outside and the warmth of the foyer. The programs and badges, and ice creams and pick-and-mix on sale in the foyer. Mum steering me away from the theater's sweets and reminding me that she had Grays Herbal Tablets in her handbag. The yelling, screaming, crying and shouting as we were all expertly up in the cheaper portion of the theater. The lights go down and BOOM, CRASH, BANG, WALLOP we're in the midst of a massive storm. There's a boat, a beleaguered ship crew crews by the storm and then WHAMMO! the terrifying rumble of thunder as the ship wrecked and the crew are hurled into the sea.

British actor Lenny Henry with his Knighthood after being presented with Britain's Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle in Windsor, west of London on December 4, 2015
Image:
British actor Lenny Henry with his Knighthood after being presented with Britain's Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle in Windsor, west of London on December 4, 2015

I was hooked. Whatever happened next – but strangely, Charlie, the New World, a ventriloquist, a man dressed as a woman (the lady?) And many others – made the whole thing strangely inescapable, irresistible, inclusive and fun , Huge fun.

My point, and I have one, is that access and inclusion are vital to a child's upbringing. We did not have drama lessons at my school. If we had, I think each class has indelibly printed on my brain.

Curriculum arts and drama classes embody an organized principle among children: they learn how to organize, design, collaborate and participate on a level.

:: End working class prejudice rather than focusing on social mobility

Including working-class children in an arts-based curriculum ensures not just a new influx of artists, actors, dancers and directors – but also produces a more viable work force, imbued with a structured approach to life borne out of inclusion, participation and creativity , These things matter, whatever our leaders tell us.

The creative arts are much more than just an easy-to-lose option in our children's school day – they should be updated, shared and valued by parents, teachers and employers alike.

Inclusion matters and so, too, do the creative arts – let's not loose sight of that.

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