Rochelle Neil plays one of the leads, Leah, in the ITV drama (Picture: Anthony Rampton/ITV)
The 65-year-old’s latest project, however, hits far more close to home, telling an extremely important story that is an essential part of British history.
While Sir Lenny does appear in the cast, the line-up of actors is led by Rochelle Neil, Yazmin Belo and Saffron Coomber, whose characters’ lives are intertwined as they strive to find success and happiness in the UK, despite facing immense discrimination and prejudice.
So is Three Little Birds based on a true story and what’s it about?
Is Lenny Henry’s Three Little Birds based on a true story?
While Three Little Birds takes inspiration from true events and the journeys of real people as they made their way to England, the three lead characters at the centre of the tale are fictional.
Sir Lenny with the three leads of the series – Rochelle, Yazmin Belo and Saffron Coomber (Picture: ITV/Danika Magdelena/Shutterstock)
Written by Sir Lenny, he based the story around his own mother’s journey and how she travelled to Britain with other women in the late 1950s.
‘It was originally inspired by my family. All the stories of mum, and her sister and best mate coming to Britain, ten years after Windrush. Plus researched narrative too,’ Sir Lenny said.
The actor, who was also an executive producer on the project alongside Doctor Who’s Russell T Davies, explained how they weaved the series together with the help of photographs from the time, which were ‘incredibly characterful shots of life’.
‘In essence these tales are about immigration; of migrants arriving on boats, and then becoming embroiled in their lives in this supposed motherland where the work is meant to be better,’ he said.
‘However, on arrival, they discover that the day-to-day of dealing with life is difficult.’
Sir Lenny, who was born the fifth of seven children, explained that his brothers would recall ‘how they’d have to walk around in pairs because you’d get attacked in the streets’.
‘A lady told me about people touching her hair on the bus and asking her what part of Africa she was from,’ he said.
‘There were other stories of verbal abuse and even physical altercations. However, at the same time there were acts of kindness from unexpected quarters.
‘There was immense joy, a bustling, multi-cultural life, of a community doing its best to unite. There were all of these anecdotes I had heard that don’t just belong to me but are also a part of the fabric of our country and our people, and they apply to anyone who has ever travelled from one place to another in search of a new home, whether that’s now or then..’
What is the Windrush Generation?
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush carrying hundreds of passengers to Britain on 22 June 1948, including more than 800 who hailed from the Caribbean.
Travelling from Jamaica to England, the ship has become symbolic when describing the many individuals from Commonwealth countries, predominantly in the Caribbean, who came to live in the UK between 1948 and 1971.
The Windrush scandal, which was exposed in 2018 by The Guardian, occurred when people who had been living and working in the UK for decades – the majority of them members of the Windrush generation – were denied legal rights, with some even being wrongly deported.
A compensation scheme was announced in December 2018. However, by November three years later, it was estimated that only 5% of victims had received any compensation for what they had suffered.
What is Three Little Birds about?
Three Little Birds follows three strong and very distinct women who are making their way from Jamaica to England as they aspire to find new opportunities abroad.
Leah Whittaker (Rochelle), has embarked on the journey without her three children, who she’s left with her mother while planning to bring them over to join her once she’s settled.
Leah’s younger sister, Chantrelle (Saffron) has high hopes of becoming a movie star, while their friend Hosanna (Yazmin), a devout and pious Christian, has joined them to assess whether or not she wishes to marry their brother, Aston (Javone Prince).
Chantrelle has big dreams of becoming a movie star (Picture: Anthony Rampton)
Hosanna is hopeful she’ll meet the man who’ll become her husband (Picture: Anthony Rampton)
Not long after their arrival in the UK, it’s made clear that the country that they now call their home isn’t at all as they expected, as they’re forced to deal with the horrors of racism and violent threats from their neighbours.
Chantrelle goes to work as a nanny for a British family who live nearby the famous film studios in Borehamwood, but she soon discovers that they’re not as respectable as they try to appear on the outside.
Both Hosanna and her potential husband are keeping secrets from one another, while Leah goes through a truly transformative experience, finding both new friendship and love.
Three Little Birds begins tonight at 8pm on ITV1, with new episodes airing weekly and also available to watch on ITVX.
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Sir Lenny stars in and executive produces the ITV drama.