Sir Lenny Henry says his ITV series is one of ‘many black dramas’ getting axed

Comedian Sir Lenny Henry has said his ITV series Three Little Birds is one of “many black dramas” that get only one series before they are axed.

The Comic Relief co-founder, 65, wrote the drama inspired by his mother’s stories about leaving Jamaica for the UK in the 1950s.

ITV said it wanted to commission another series but explained that “the audience didn’t come to the drama in the numbers that we’d hoped for”.

Speaking to The Guardian, Sir Lenny said: “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.”

National Television Awards 2022 – London
Sir Lenny Henry after winning the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards 2022 (Ian West/PA)

“We had the most diverse and inclusive team working on the show,” he added.

“We were only just getting to know Rochelle Neil, Saffron Coomber, Yazmin Belo and Javone Prince and their stellar performances as Leah, Chantrelle, Hosanna and Aston: the audience reaction was amazing and I had some really good storylines planned for their characters.”

He continued: “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.

“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.”

Sir Lenny 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!”

The TV Bafta award-winner thanked ITV for commissioning Three Little Birds and said he was “very proud of our achievement”.

The series is set in 1957, post-Windrush, and follows sisters Leah and Chantrelle and their virtuous, bible-loving acquaintance Hosanna, as they board a cruise ship from Jamaica to England.

At this year’s Bafta TV Craft Awards Aisha Bywaters won the scripted casting gong for her work on the drama.

Sir Lenny has spoken at length about the importance of diversity in the TV industry and in his 2014 Bafta television lecture he said UK Bame (black, Asian and minority ethnic) actors were increasingly going “stateside” to find work and succeed.

A spokesperson for ITV 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.

“We loved working with Lenny Henry, Lucy Bedford at Tiger Aspect and the actors, Rochelle Neil, Saffron Coomber and Yazmin Belo, and hope to work with them on another commission soon.”