Lenny Henry questions future of Black dramas as his show Three Little Birds is axed

Lenny Henry questions future of Black dramas as his show Three Little Birds is axed

Sir Lenny Henry has shared his concerns about the fate of Black dramas as his show, Three Little Birds, is the latest programme to be axed after one season.

Henry, 65, wrote the series alongside Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies, based on the Windrush scandal that saw hundreds of Caribbean immigrants living and working in the UK wrongfully targeted by immigration enforcement. The six-part series set in the Midlands was inspired by Henry’s mother’s experience of moving to the UK.

However, despite drawing almost 3 million viewers and being one of the top 50 most watched shows – and the only diverse entry in the rankings – when it first aired in October 2023, ITV has made the decision to cut the series.

The Comic Relief co-founder, who has been vocal about the need for media diversity, said the move signalled a bleak future for diverse entertainment.

“These days, it seems that many Black dramas only get one series, there are numerous examples of this – and sadly, Three Little Birds is just one more in that same category,” he told The Guardian.

“But the reality is these days, the TV market is very tricky to navigate unless there are big names attached to a project. A show will often get just one shot and if it doesn’t meet broadcaster expectations – that’s it – it’s likely cancelled after one series. We sadly don’t give shows the opportunity to grow with the audience, like we did 10/15 years ago, which probably is down to how we consume things.”

ITV drama Riches, which followed Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie) as he builds a cosmetics empire while advocating for Black-owned businesses, was also cancelled after one season when streamer Prime Video did not pick up a second.

Henry, who stepped down from 40 years of Comic Relief presenting duties earlier this year, said that a need to have ideas pitched to “big names” meant that lesser-known talent was often overlooked.

 (Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)
(Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

“I would really like to see some longer-term investment in lesser-known and diverse talent, in order to make them the stars of tomorrow. These things take time,” he said.

Reflecting on future plans for his work, he added: “I plan to take the characters from Three Little Birds and create their further adventures in a book. Meanwhile, moving forward, I’ll just have to pitch TV projects starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Judi Dench. Wish me luck!”

An ITV spokesperson said: “It was a very difficult decision as we really wanted to commission another series of Three Little Birds, but unfortunately the audience didn’t come to the drama in the numbers that we’d hoped for.

“Everyone who watched the series really loved it, and for that reason we’re really disappointed we can’t make another series happen.”