Come and take a look at the Memories of her Majesty board on the library.
Sir Lenny, comedian, presenter, co-founder of ‘Comic Relief’, author and playwright, talked to a packed house in the Morrell Rooms, organised by Friends of Goring Library on 21st April 2022. He rarely agrees to appear in public locally, but he feels so strongly about the importance of libraries in the community, that he needed no persuasion to spend an evening with us.
The evening was a fund-raising success before it started as tickets sold out immediately and raised much-needed funds to support the activities supported by FoGL and to purchase £1,000 of books. He was interviewed by Gaye Walsh and his responses, as well as the readings that he gave from three of his books, allowed us to gain insights into his life, and the positive impact that belonging to libraries has brought him.
At the age of 6, Lenny’s Auntie Pearl marched him into Dudley Library and insisted that he join. And his life was transformed. He was given ‘the best thing in the world’: his library card! He remembers with delight the amazement that he felt being surrounded by so many books - and that there were people there to help find the right book for him. He read voraciously, and although he sometimes returned books late, was never fined. Being a member of the library was empowering, giving him the freedom to explore any topic that he wanted to - and he says that when he reached the grand old age of 12 or 13, no-one asked any questions any more about his choice of books - so that he could read ANYTHING he liked.
As an adult he appreciates libraries offering the opportunity of quiet, of clarity, and somewhere that you can study without distractions: this was really valuable during the seven years that he was writing his PhD. He is now a member of at least three libraries, and still loves the freedom of being able to read ‘any book you like’.
‘Writing is a joy’ he said, and delighted us with readings from three of his books.
‘The Boy with Wings’ is the first book in what will be a series about a group of super-heroes. He read us the part where the (unlikely) hero’s birthday party is nearly spoilt by the local thugs, and where his friends start to help him to feel safe in being himself. The characters, both good and bad, are drawn from his experience of going to a ‘quite racist’ school in Dudley where bullying was rife and finding that humour can be used as ‘both sword and shield’ and helped him to be absorbed into his school community - while retaining his own identity.
He then read us the sombre statistics at the beginning of “British Black Lives Matter’ which he co-edited. The figures evidence the obvious, and more subtle, racism that exists in Britain today, in terms of crime statistics, educational and media achievements and unequal opportunities in every walk of life. He is sure that people who are marginalised should be brought to the centralized; should have allies and mentoring; that workplace colleagues should stand by each other and call out racism however much it is minimalised or treated as ‘just a joke’. He is passionate about seeing more black people succeed in STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) but is also a proponent of changing STEM into STEAM - to include Arts as a core subject as he says all the science in the world is no use without the humanising effect that the arts bring.
Sir Lenny said that he has grown tired of hearing of black people, when looking for promotion, being told that they’re ‘pushing at an open door’ - although somehow the door never seems to open. So now he says ‘let’s build another door’. And of course, humour is one of the most effective ways of opening doors to a new view. He ended the evening with a hilarious and endearing reading from his biography (he says it’s not an autobiography) ‘Who Am I, Again?’ about the joy and hilarity of the making, baking, burning and saving of the Christmas cake at his childhood home.
At the end of the evening he took questions from the audience. Perhaps the best was asked by Indi Jhita - who asked Sir Lenny what his chosen super-power would be. ‘A great memory’ he said.
We’d like to thank Goring Gap Comedy especially Mark Kibble and Stuart Hunt for their help in setting up and running the evening and managing the lighting. And, of course, huge thanks to Sir Lenny for an evening that raised the profile of our local library in the most marvellously memorable way.