While October brings with it the first notes of autumn and all-too-early Christmas chatter, the month also marks the dawn of Black History Month in the UK.


Thinking back to my own school years, the month was marked by lessons centred on American civil rights, assemblies and show-and-tells dedicated to learning about African and Caribbean culture but now, in adulthood, many people don't really think twice about the amount of Black history they are (and more often, aren't) learning about.

In the world of TV, the growing responsibility of broadcasters is to put on a slate of television designed to educate. Whether it's the right choice to lump content together for one month is another conversation but, like a shining beacon of light in our schedules – Black History Month or otherwise – Three Little Birds arises.

The new ITV drama comes from actor and comedian Sir Lenny Henry, who has used stories from his own mother's past and others to create a series centred around the post-Windrush experiences of those who left the Caribbean to lead a new life in the UK in the '50s.

Three Little Birds airing during Black History Month is an important point to underline here. How often have we seen the experiences of the Windrush generation depicted in primetime drama, after all? It's long been the case that television and films about Black history are majorly centred on the transatlantic slave trade and Martin Luther King Jr, and rarely centred on things closer to home here in the UK.

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While this kind of history should be learnt about and platformed for a lot more than just one month a year, Three Little Birds emphasises the point that education about the Windrush (which is classed up until the early '70s) is severely lacking.

Yazmin Belo as Hosanna in Three Little Birds
Yazmin Belo as Hosanna in Three Little Birds. ITV/Tiger Aspect/Douglas Road

There's no denying that today's TV often forgets about the recent history of immigration and the experiences of those that are still mostly very much alive. As Henry told RadioTimes.com and other press at a screening of the series: "This is history that belongs to us and we should claim it year round, not just one month a year.

"Bare in mind, this story isn't just for five Jamaican people in total, it's for everybody. This history happened to all of us and I want everybody to enjoy it. I think this stuff should be taught in school year round because it's important."

So, why has it taken so long for a series like Three Little Birds to be made and why is it such an important watch?

In the last five years, the Windrush generation has been a prevalent topic of conversation, in so small part due to the Windrush scandal and the recently celebrated 75th anniversary of the Windrush that was marked this year.

The former scandal in question came to the fore in 2017 when The Guardian first reported on the fact that, despite the 1971 Immigration Act giving Commonwealth citizens living in the UK indefinite leave to remain, the Home Office had kept no records of those granted permission to stay.

It was found that the Home Office had also not issued the paperwork these individuals needed to confirm their status and also destroyed landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants in 2010.

Those impacted were threatened with deportation – despite living in the UK for decades and many not having lived in the Caribbean since they were children – and because they were unable to prove they were legally able to be in the country, many were unable to access housing, healthcare and work. Lives were ruined, apologies were made, an inquiry was conducted but more recently, three of the Home Office's key commitments (made in light of the Windrush inquiry) were dropped, leading to further worry and disappointment among the Windrush community.

Most of us can't imagine leaving everything we've ever known to move to a country entirely different from ours, let alone to be greeted by derogatory signs, racism and lest we forget, the kind of cold, dreary UK weather that can really only be experienced to understand it. Three Little Birds captures that, and while it allows multiple stories to unfold for our protagonists, Leah, Chantrelle and Hosanna, it never once feels like gratuitous trauma for the sake of television.

Perhaps it's because the story of these women's journeys from Jamaica to the Black Country is reflective of my family's own, but Three Little Birds is comforting and refreshing because it gives voice to experiences that are often not spoken about outside of familial settings. The stories of elders can often go unforgotten, but the ITV series aptly encompasses the range of stories that this period of time in the UK created.

More importantly, the ever-ranging emotions of the time are exhibited in these three women's experiences: the guilt of leaving behind family, the shame that being racially targeted can produce, the loneliness of tackling an entirely new industry of work to make a living, and the anger of coming to a country that they thought would welcome them with open arms – but did anything but.

Rather coincidentally, the theme of this year's Black History Month is 'saluting our sisters' and Three Little Birds most certainly does. Although the series has been created and written by Sir Lenny Henry, this is definitely a project that allows the three lead actresses to truly shine. What's more, how often do we get a series led by rising stars, rather than the same familiar faces we're used to seeing in primetime TV?

It's refreshing for an iconic actor and comedian like Henry to afford such an opportunity to Rochelle Neil, Yazmin Belo and Saffron Coomber who are completely at home at the helm of this drama and cement themselves as talent to get excited about. They each bring a warmth and passion to the role that only highlights why it's so special for more Black actresses to get the opportunity to tell stories on screen that are important to them.

Leah at the cinema in Three Little Birds with a man eating popcorn
Leah at the cinema in Three Little Birds. ITV

But Three Little Birds isn't a sad story. Sure, it's upsetting in places, it will leave you seething with anger in others and will likely have you welling up, but it's helped by Henry's hilarious flecks that are written into each episode. Comedy helps us understand the most uncomfortable of themes but here, Three Little Birds underlines the fact that many in the Windrush generation had to let some of the cruelest, racist jibes pass them by and choose to laugh about something else the next.

While the inclusion of comedy amid storylines about domestic violence and harassment could be seen to be distasteful, I think it accurately depicts the way in which many Caribbean elders have dealt with a past that many today often don't pause to think about.

As Henry also told RadioTimes.com and other press at a screening of the series: "What's so brilliant about these people who came to this country and walked cold streets and overcame, overcame, overcame is that they did survive. What happened to them, in this, it's not a Disney-fication of it."

We come to understand Leah, Chantrelle and Hosanna as they are in Britain but with the help of well-timed flashbacks, we also get to understand them as they were in Clarendon, Jamaica, and what lives they left behind.

I don't think there's any overstating just how special Three Little Birds feels, especially compared to the formulaic TV schedules and underrepresented casts we're often used to.

For those of us with living family members from the Windrush generation, Three Little Birds will undoubtedly be a reflective embrace of a watch. But for the majority of people tuning into ITV, it's an important chance to learn about the experiences of those who were called upon to help rebuild post-war Britain and the challenges they faced doing so.

Here's hoping the series inspires more people to engage with the stories of Windrush and underrepresented parts of Black history for more than just one month every October.

Three Little Birds airs on ITV1 from Sunday 22nd October at 8pm. Looking for something to watch? Check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide, or visit our Drama hub.


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