What's So Great About?

Lenny Henry questions the iconic status of people or things held dear by many.

Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
0101Bob Dylan2008062820121025
20140706 (BBC7)
20140707 (BBC7)

Adele, Jools Holland and Kris Kristofferson to try to prove that Bob Dylan is great.

Comedian and actor Lenny Henry asks "What's So Great About...?" people, things, institutions and aspects of contemporary life that frequently go unexplored, unchallenged and widely accepted but which he, personally doesn't really buy.

In the first of three programmes he questions the greatness of BOB DYLAN. Lenny - a great fan of Soul music and Rhythm and Blues - gets to grips one recording artist he never really "got" : Bob Dylan. From the time he was a teenager in Dudley in the early 70s he had to listen to his schoolmate Greg Stokes tell him what a "classic" the Dylan album 'Blonde On Blonde' was ; and ever since friends have been trying to convince him that "His Bobness", as Lenny describes him, is the one recording artist to whom he should really devote his energies. It's now make or break time and Lenny assembles a band of musicians and fans to see if they can, once and for all, change his mind.

"Dear oh dear", says Lenny. "That whine! That grating music!" Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Kris Kristofferson, Bryan Ferry, Jools Holland and Al Kooper, who played with Dylan on some of his most famous albums in the 1960s, are among the defence team. It seems they have their work cut out.

Producer: Patrick Gregory

(Repeat).

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has described Dylan as the greatest living artist in any medium, a claim which Lenny subjects to much ridicule.

Can he be convinced otherwise? Contributors include Kris Kristofferson, Jools Holland, Bryan Ferry, Al Kooper and Andrew Motion

0102Method Acting2008070520121101
20140713 (BBC7)
20140714 (BBC7)

Can Lenny Henry be convinced to go Method?

In the second of three programmes in which Lenny Henry challenges the iconic status of things we often take as read, Lenny Henry goes to New York to question the mystique that surrounds the 'Method' school of acting.

In New York, on still only part-gentrified West 44th Street, stands an old converted redbrick chapel. Just a small plaque indicates that this is the inner sanctum, the private home of The Method. It's the legendary Actors' Studio, the space created in 1947 by Lee Strasberg and others to provide a safe place for some of the world's greatest actors - often the biggest Hollywood stars of their generation - to come and practise their art. Here came Marlon Brando, James Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Lee J Cobb, Jane Fonda, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, Cissy Spacek, Robert de Niro, Shelley Winters and dozens of others and here they listened and rehearsed and criticised and supported their fellow actors and directors. They were all devotees of The Method, a training discipline evolved by Strasberg from the teachings of the great Russian actor and teacher Stanislavski. For many, though, The Method has come to signify 'mumbling and scratching', a sort of slightly inarticulate style of performance that in seeking to be internalised and 'real' ends up just being dull. British actors reputedly despised it and Laurence Olivier is famously said to have told Dustin Hoffman to stop trying to find an interior motivation in his character 'and just ACT, dear boy!'

Seeking enlightenment from stars like Ellen Burstyn and experts and aficionados, Lenny tests his reservations about The Method and finds that when he actually has a go it's not quite so unconvincing as he at first thought...

PRODUCER: SIMON ELMES

(repeat).

Lenny goes to New York, where stands the legendary Actors' Studio, the space created in 1947 by Lee Strasberg and others to provide a safe place for some of the world's greatest actors - often the biggest Hollywood stars of their generation - to come and practise their art.

Seeking enlightenment from such stars as Ellen Burstyn and experts and aficionados, Lenny tests his reservations about The Method and finds that when he actually has a go it's not quite as unconvincing as he at first thought.

0103 LASTLife Coaches2008071220140720 (BBC7)
20140721 (BBC7)

He investigates the work of personal gurus and asks why so many people appear to rely on them.

Lenny Henry questions the iconic status of life coaches. He investigates the work of personal gurus and asks why so many people appear to rely on them.

Are they personal trainers or mind gurus? Do they help you double your salary or just sort out your wardrobe? They proliferate on the internet, with legions of testimonials and personal messages of endorsement downloadable from YouTube. But are they any good? Are they about to take you for an expensive financial ride while filling your mind with guff? Are they psychologists or shrinks, moneymen or designer divas? Plenty of big firms seem to think they are the bees' knees as they spend small fortunes offering 'executive coaching' to their senior managers. But Lenny doesn't get it, and in this programme he sets out to get to the bottom of what they do, how they do it, and - not least - how much they are going to charge you for the privilege.

Will Lenny Henry find out the secrets of the people who say they can change your life?

0201Maths20100109

Lenny Henry questions the iconic status of people or things held dear by many.

Lenny, like so many in the UK, has always found maths tough going, but was he simply badly taught or has he got some sort of number blindness? Defending the art of arithmetical analysis and the joys of number-crunching are Countdown maths maestro Carol Vorderman and former government 'Maths Tsar' Celia Hoyles.

At a national conference on how to make maths more fun and engaging for children, Lenny teams up with a group of primary maths teachers to play number games and fold paper into right-angled triangles, squares, parallelograms and other usefully geometrical shapes - and enjoys it.

On the scientific front, down in his testing room at London's University College neurology department, Professor Brian Butterworth puts Lenny's number ability on trial. Brian has done field-leading work on the way the brain handles arithmetical concepts, so how will Lenny cope with tests that he admits feel like his worst nightmare from schooldays?

On the scientific front, down in his testing room at London's University College neurology department, Professor Brian Butterworth puts Lenny's number ability on trial.

Brian has done field-leading work on the way the brain handles arithmetical concepts, so how will Lenny cope with tests that he admits feel like his worst nightmare from schooldays?

Carol Vorderman and former 'Maths Tsar' Celia Hoyles defend the art of number-crunching.

0202Samuel Beckett2010011620121108

Lenny Henry questions the iconic status of people or things held dear by many.

Despite having seen Waiting for Godot half a dozen times and studying the work of the modernist Irish writer as part of his degree, Lenny has never really completely tuned in to the work of Samuel Beckett. He sets out to rectify this by talking to a glorious cast of Beckettophiles, who are determined to make the great playwright and poet come alive for him. He talks to actor and director Simon McBurney, actress Fiona Shaw, Beckett's long-term friend and publisher John Calder, and the man who was authorised to write his biography, James Knowlson. Lenny also joins a rehearsal by the Godot Theatre players, some of whom knew the playwright well, and hears their thoughts on tuning in to the Beckett idiom.

Despite having seen Waiting for Godot half a dozen times and studying the work of the modernist Irish writer as part of his degree, Lenny has never really completely tuned in to the work of Samuel Beckett.

He sets out to rectify this by talking to a glorious cast of Beckettophiles, who are determined to make the great playwright and poet come alive for him.

He talks to actor and director, Simon McBurney, actress Fiona Shaw, Beckett's long-term friend and publisher John Calder, and the man who was authorised to write his biography, James Knowlson.

Lenny also joins a rehearsal by the Godot Theatre players, some of whom knew the playwright well, and hears their thoughts on tuning in to the Beckett idiom.

Lenny sets out to rectify his lack of appreciation of the work of Samuel Beckett

0203 LASTJackson Pollock2010012320110801

Lenny takes on the often misunderstood work of the American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock.

Pollock's art, characterised by an intricate web of lines and layers of paint, has always polarised critics. His detractors dismiss his 'drip painting' technique as little more than random splashes on the canvas. His supporters tap into a nervous energy inside his paintings which expands under strict control. Either way, Pollock's work still stirs strong emotions about the meaning of modern art and, although he died in 1956, he is arguably still the most important artist to have come out of the United States.

Lenny puts Jack the Dripper's work to the test by talking to jazz musicians, critics, mathematicians and artists who all value the importance and uniqueness of the art of Jackson Pollock.

Lenny Henry questions the art of American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock.

Pollock's art, characterised by an intricate web of lines and layers of paint, has always polarised critics.

His detractors dismiss his 'drip painting' technique as little more than random splashes on the canvas.

His supporters tap into a nervous energy inside his paintings which expands under strict control.

Either way, Pollock's work still stirs strong emotions about the meaning of modern art and, although he died in 1956, he is arguably still the most important artist to have come out of the United States.

0301Snooker2011052820120530
20120530 (R4)

Lenny Henry returns to the fray with the first of three further attempts to get to grips with things that he's always found mystifying. This week, he travels to the Crucible in Sheffield to meet the stars of the game of Snooker. With the 2011 World Championships as his introduction to the reality of the green baize table, Lenny poses the question What's So Great About...Snooker? to Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Dennis Taylor, John Virgo, John Parrott and Terry Griffiths... What is the lure of this sport that back in 1985 it held 18 million TV viewers captivated past midnight when an emotional Taylor overcame the legendary Davis to win the World Championships on the last black?

Stephen Hendry gives Lenny a quick masterclass in the mystique of cue action and John Virgo unpicks some of the sport's arcane and sometimes incomprehensible language ("that thick kiss on the pink has got him needing snookers...") So can this glittering line-up manage to convince Lenny out of his lifelong aversion to the game of coloured balls...?

Producer: Simon Elmes.

Lenny Henry pockets his prejudice and tries to understand the lure of the cue.

Lenny Henry returns to the fray with the first of three further attempts to get to grips with things that he's always found mystifying.

This week, he travels to the Crucible in Sheffield to meet the stars of the game of Snooker.

With the 2011 World Championships as his introduction to the reality of the green baize table, Lenny poses the question What's So Great About...Snooker? to Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Dennis Taylor, John Virgo, John Parrott and Terry Griffiths...

What is the lure of this sport that back in 1985 it held 18 million TV viewers captivated past midnight when an emotional Taylor overcame the legendary Davis to win the World Championships on the last black?

Stephen Hendry gives Lenny a quick masterclass in the mystique of cue action and John Virgo unpicks some of the sport's arcane and sometimes incomprehensible language ("that thick kiss on the pink has got him needing snookers...") So can this glittering line-up manage to convince Lenny out of his lifelong aversion to the game of coloured balls...?

0302The Pogues2011060420120531
20120531 (R4)

Lenny Henry never quite got The Pogues. From the fist time he saw the band on the TV in the 80's, with the singer banging a tray on his head during a drunken reverie, they have mystified this Luther Vandross fan. He goes on a journey of enlightenment through Poguedom speaking to musicians, the former manager, music critics and die hard fans to gain a better appreciation of this unmissable London Irish band. He explores the romantic and brutally realistic poetry of Shane McGowan and summons up the raw energy of their live performances as he asks - what's so great about The Pogues?

Producer Neil McCarthy.

Lenny Henry never quite got The Pogues.

From the fist time he saw the band on the TV in the 80's, with the singer banging a tray on his head during a drunken reverie, they have mystified this Luther Vandross fan.

He goes on a journey of enlightenment through Poguedom speaking to musicians, the former manager, music critics and die hard fans to gain a better appreciation of this unmissable London Irish band.

He explores the romantic and brutally realistic poetry of Shane McGowan and summons up the raw energy of their live performances as he asks - what's so great about The Pogues?

Never a fan, Lenny Henry tries to find out what's so great about the band The Pogues.

0303 LASTChaucer2011061120120601

In the last of the present series in which he challenges the totemic value of people and works that are widely admired, Lenny Henry asks What's So Great About...Chaucer? Written over 600 years ago, Chaucer's masterpiece the Canterbury Tales is acclaimed as one of the greatest works of English literature. Adapted thirty years ago as a hit West End musical, inspiration to numerous writers and dramatists who've used its tale-telling format to spin their own contemporary yarns, the Tales have iconic status in the literary world. Whether it's for the poetry or the ribaldry, or as many admire, their apparent real-life depiction of medieval England, the work of Geoffrey Chaucer is widely admired.

But is it really that good? Despite his recent embracing of Shakespeare, iconoclast Lenny Henry has never been able quite to swallow the acclaim accorded to Chaucer. Challenging his scepticism today are Chaucer biographer and eminent scholar Ardis Butterfield, playwright Mike Poulton who adapted the Canterbury Tales for the Royal Shakespeare Company and ex-Python and ardent Chaucerian and medievalist Terry Jones.

Producer: Simon Elmes.