A one-off drama, Danny And The Human Zoo, is a fictionalised account of, former Tiswas star, Lenny Henry’s life as a working-class teenager in 1970s Dudley.
Made by RED Production Company for BBC One, the story centres round Danny Fearon, a talented impressionist, and his working-class Jamaican family, as he rises to fame as a stand-up comedian. The beeb note that it ‘is a distinctive portrait of ordinary life in a first-generation Jamaican family, a world not often seen on British TV, and beautifully brought to life by Lenny’s warm-hearted script.’
I’m so excited about bringing my fictional teen memoir to the nation! I’ve crammed the first two years of a very long career into 90 minutes – it’s gonna rock. I think , although it’s not exactly what happened, that we’ll get a strong sense of what it might have been like for a young black kid from Dudley to be suddenly hurled into the maelstrom of this business we call show… Can’t wait! – Lenny Henry
Danny’s world is a series of complex minefields which he has to negotiate. His home life – which his ebullient mother rules with an iron fist in an iron glove; his love life – where the white Irish girl he’s in love with won’t give him the time of day until he wins his first competition – and finally the ups and downs of his emerging career.
When Danny wins a talent competition at the local club he soon finds himself working the comedy circuit. Audiences can’t get enough and applaud Danny as he effortlessly morphs into Mohammed Ali, Tommy Cooper and Frank Spencer; eventually hitting the big time on TV, an unheard-of achievement for a young black boy.
But an unscrupulous agent takes advantage of Danny and forces him to star in a show, which even by Seventies’ standards, was a byword for racism – The Black And White Minstrel Show. Danny hits rock bottom. Having made his name by becoming other people, Danny has to save himself by finding out who he really is.
Lenny Henry shot to fame after appearing on ATV’s talent series New Faces, he then became a regular on Saturday morning magazine series Tiswas. Both shows made for ITV at the ATV Birmingham studios.
[Pictured: Lenny Henry outside Birmingham New Street station in 1981 for ATV]