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OU on the BBC: Lenny's Britain: Programme guides

Updated Friday, 1st June 2007

Lenny Henry explores the British sense of humour - and that of our nearest neighbours

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Lenny gets to grips with cream in a factory

Programme One: Family Matters

We begin the series in the bosom of the family. Here, humour is a way of dealing with tensions, especially those arising from the rights of passage - birth, marriage and death.

The film is set in the West Midlands, Lenny's birthplace. His parents came to Dudley from Jamaica in the 1950s. Although Lenny was one of seven children, he was the first to be born in the UK. The Henry family lived in 'Paradise' or, at least, on the edge of a park with that name.

Lenny's brother Paul remembers their mum:

"My mum was a very strong willed and forceful mother - she needed to be, with us kids. She gave us confidence, and instilled in us the positive feeling of being 'accepted' which has stayed with me all my life. Her motto was 'keep your feet on the ground and work hard'."

To appreciate how other families generate humour, Lenny heads for a huge Sunday lunch with the Bonners. Who is the family joker? What are taboo subjects? And what can you only joke about within the confines of your family?

It's then onto a bus out of Dudley for Lenny. He travels to where the Black Country ends and Birmingham begins. He's off to attend the wedding of Gucci and Tom, joining in their last-minute attempts to find a seating plan for their divided family and to rehearse the best man's speech.

Next, it's the birth of Mathew and Julie's daughter. Lenny meets a group of midwives, and attempts to discover how their humour helps them cope as they're up to their armpits in the birthing pool.

Finally, in complete contrast, Lenny mucks in for the day at Henry Court, a sheltered housing scheme for the elderly and which was named after his mum. Here Lenny comes face to face with the exceptionally bawdy Doreen, a seventy-nine year old who doesn't have a clean joke to tell.

Programme Two: A Labour of Laughs

How do we use humour in the workplace? We now work longer hours than any other country in Western Europe, so are we using a particular type of humour to cope?

We often think of humour as simply a bit of fun, but at work it can be used as a divisive and hurtful weapon. How often do you hear the jibe "can't you take a joke?" shorthand for "I'm insulting you in a socially acceptable way."

Lenny heads to Glasgow and Edinburgh, starting with a day on the production line at Tunnocks tea cake factory. Manufacturing industries were once the mainstay of the nation; today, the service sector has taken over. So Lenny tries his hand at being a waiter in an Indian restaurant, and dons a suit and tie to do a shift in a financial call centre.

Public service workers are many people's heroes so Lenny becomes a fire-fighter, a job where humour is vital for a close knit team facing major trauma.

Finally, walking the streets of Glasgow with some parking attendants, he finds out what it's like to be the butt of some of our cruelest humour.

Programme Three: Something For The Weekend?

Whether it's a day at the seaside, DIY, gardening, having a drink or going out on the town, we Brits like to have a laugh in our leisure time. So what do we get up to in our time off? How has our leisure time changed? And do we share a sense of humour?

Lenny Henry heads to Blackpool – once one of the country's most popular holiday destinations, and the place where he started his career. Nowadays, though, it's offering a very different form of entertainment. He experiences family fun on the piers, has a go at ballroom dancing, and talks to hotel landladies to find out what makes Blackpool tick - and discovers that, more often than not, it's sex!

Blackpool has always had a saucy postcard image with slap and tickle humour. And it's no different today. Lenny spends time with a hen party and goes to a drag show. But he only finds out just how raunchy the town gets when he speaks to Ruth, a chambermaid who has seen it all and is not afraid to tell it as it is - in the brassiest way imaginable. After Ruth lifts the lid, you'll never view hotel rooms in quite the same way!

This is also a personal story. Lenny heads back to the Midlands to catch up with some school friends, to reminisce about their teenage years, and, as they used to, go to the football together. At the age of 16, Lenny was forced to grow up quickly after he became a national star, working the entertainment circuit and even appearing with the Black And White Minstrels. Returning to Blackpool, he wonders what has happened to that variety tradition and questions how much television has contributed to its downfall.

Join Lenny for this bawdy romp through a traditional but now unfashionable resort as he discovers something fascinating about our national penchant for dirty humour and the changing nature of our leisure industries.


Programme Four: Mind The Gap!

We all belong to several kinds of community and that belonging plays an important part in the make up of our identity. In the last of the series, Lenny criss-crosses Britain to discover how humour can draw boundaries between some communities - and how it can also break those boundaries down.

He begins at the last surviving coal mine in Wales. Tower Colliery has survived strikes and tragic loss of life to emerge today as a profit-making concern, owned by the miners themselves. Joining one shift, Lenny is very much the outsider in a masculine world, seeing if he can get accepted into this "band of brothers" through his sense of humour, and discovering exactly what makes this such a special community.

Lenny then catches a ferry to southern Ireland and talks to truck drivers who've worked together for 20 years. Their community of workers is under threat because of the increasingly mobile nature of the workforce. His investigation into the changing nature of this 'floating community' is cut short by a Force 10 storm.

In Wexford, Lenny goes in search of the famous Irish 'craic', meeting the clientele of Mary's Bar. The lessons they give Lenny in lilting gives him a unique new perspective on life.

Then it's off to Belfast to reveal how his family became experts on 'The Troubles' thanks to the news reports from their hero, Trevor McDonald. Lenny checks in to the Europa Hotel and talks to the manager about how times have changed since it was once one of the most bombed hotels in the world.

Lenny takes a trip with Billy the taxi driver to sign his name on one of the Peace Walls. Can humour thrive in the face of communities divided by politics and religion? To find out, Lenny joins a group of Irish comedians as they warm up for the satirical TV show – 'The Blame Game'.

Today's terrorism has a different nature and is in everyone's minds. Lenny joins the Easyjet crew on the Belfast-London shuttle to discover how humour can ease the anxieties of increased airline security. In London, the most multicultural city in the world with over 170 nationalities, he goes to lunch with the Anglo-Iranian comedian Shappi Khorsandi. Shappi's family were forced into exile by Ayatollah Khomeini; two years ago she lost a close friend in the July 7th bombings.

Lenny goes underground to ask a tube driver how the commuting public have handled the threat of terrorism.

Responses to, and fear of, terrorism could force a wedge between communities, but Lenny's heartfelt message at the end of this film is to "mind the gap!". Humour can build bridges and for Lenny "where there's laughter, there's hope".





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