TBB Talks to … Sir Lenny Henry about Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle

Sitting in Richmix’s comfy cinema chair with decadent refreshments, it doesn’t elude me that a day before a chartered flight left with people from our community cast out as ‘illegal immigrants‘, never to return.

The impetus of ‘Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle‘, according to its Executive Producer Angela Ferreira, “partly because of the anniversary of the boat docking and partly because of the Windrush scandal”. It was synergistic that Sir Lenny Henry and Kwame Kwei-Armah both wanted to produce work in this regard, it made sense to create theatrical monologues in collaboration with BBC Arts and their entities, Douglas Road Productions, and the Young Vic.

Beginning with episode 1, ‘Eunice‘ Danielle Vitalis plays a young nurse full of hope and a rather idealised notion of the ‘Mother country‘, each episode charts part of the family’s and national history, with a strong cast, writers and an all female team of directors, this powerful and emotive series has been created.

I caught up with Sir Lenny Henry about the project that he stars in and was made by his production company Douglas Road in association with BBC Arts and the Young Vic Theatre ...

Sir Lenny Henry and TBB writer Be Manzini
Sir Lenny Henry and TBB writer Be Manzini

Sir Lenny, Tell the audience what they need to know about the production.

There are four half-hour episodes with two monologues each. One of them is a duologue with two brothers but it’s basically people talking to camera and telling you their story.

It starts in the 1940’s with the arrival of the Windrush and then there’s an episode for each decade of the 20th century and it’s about the evolution of Black and Brown people in this country and what our parents and grandparents had to do on their epic journey to come to this country and start a new life.

So we are talking about from 1948 when the first boat came to Tilbury and over 1,000 people came from Jamaica and other islands to start a new life but it sill aims to be an unheard, unknown part of British history…

Interestingly prior to his ‘Rivers of Blood‘ speech, Enoch Powell encouraged Caribbeans to look for jobs in Britain, informing people there were loads of jobs in transport, the nursing industry, and factories. ‘We want your skill come over because you have a British passport, use it, come and have a better life‘. So these stories are about our parents and our grandparents coming to this country but also about assimilation and integration are important and young people, our kids need to know what their parents and grandparents did and I’m hoping this facilitates a conversation between the young and older generations.

On the intergenerational aspect, the series is rooted in history from the Windrush and the episode you are in was set during the 2011 riots, why was the decision to have that setting made?

Yes, Windrush being a culturally significant and historic event, the Mark Duggan shooting, the Deptford Fire, even people being chased by teddy boys, the Stephan Lawrence case all of these things affected us all; they are important because they root the stories, in reality, they give the viewer context.

In my episode, episode 7 ‘Cyrus’ [my character] is being threatened with deportation. He went to hospital only to be asked does he have any identification? Does he belong here? Where are his papers? He’s shocked because he’s lived here for over 60 years and no one has ever asked, so why now? So the whole thing of being welcomed and now, being in an even more hostile environment cuts deep.

For our generation and those above, they must be thinking who am I and where do I belong? We gave you our time, labour, and passion; our love, our music, our laughter, our joy, we belong here but now we’ve been made to doubt that and that’s a terrible shame.

Your parents are Jamaican, I came here in the ’70s and I remember a sense in the Black community that Jamaicans really kicked down doors because they came en mass and were first to do so but it’s not always framed that way… this resilience…

I hear what you are saying, though there were Black Tudors, Georgians and Ethiopian soldiers at Adrian’s Wall. There was a Black trumpeter at the court of King John you can read all about this in Peter Fryer’s ‘Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain’.  However, we do have a presence in this country that was made iconic by the arrival of the Windrush this is a massive hero and heroines journey and that is not really celebrated.

Cyrus talks about being spat at and my Mum talked to me about people following her down the street asking where her tail was! We haven’t forgotten those injustices but it’s also important to talk about the good things; the people who were nice and facilitated relationships. So we have tried to do this in this story about one particular family.

It’s not the whole story… but they say find your spot and drill down…

Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle will air on BBC Four 10pm from 17th February 2019. See the schedule here.

Read our interview with Angela Ferreira Executive Producer and Managing Director of Sir Lenny’s Douglas Road production company here.


Latest articles

Related articles