The comic reflects on prejudice, being a ‘political football’ and his suspicion he’s neither black enough nor manly enough
It was the way Lenny Henry told them. In the 1970s he would say to audiences: “Enoch Powell says he wants to give me £1,000 to go back to where I came from. Which is great, because it’s only 20 pence on the bus from here to Dudley.” Who could resist? Around the UK, young black teenagers were seen as folk devils, frequently expelled and relocated to “educationally subnormal” (ESN) schools, stopped and frisked by police for the crime of being out on the street. Henry, who was hardly old enough to take his CSEs when he appeared on the TV talent show New Faces impersonating Stevie Wonder and Frank Spencer, was more reassuring: coltish, eager to please, a mimic rather than a satirist.
Being cheery was a way to stave off the pains of growing up in a working-class household ruled over by a mother who whacked her children with fists, boots, branches, frying pans. At one point he called his home “the Ruins”. At night he and his three brothers “took it in turns to wet the bed – there were many times when I dreamt I was asleep in a submarine that had just been torpedoed”. At school there were meatheads who made monkey noises and picked fights. “Not this again,” Henry said to one of them. “Y’must really fancy me, cos you’re always tryin’ to get to me to roll around on the ground with ya.” “Shut y’mouth, coon.” “Here we go,” Henry replied. “You hit me, I hit you – we fall on the ground and hug. Why don’t we go and have dinner and a movie first? Cut out all the fighting?”
Who Am I Again? by Lenny Henry review – a raw, touching memoir