One of the country's top entertainers hopes to bring the story of the UK's first black policeman - who patrolled the streets of Carlisle - to life on the small screen.

Sir Lenny Henry has visited the city to meet archivists as part of his research into John Kent, who joined the local force in August 1837.

Tonight's episode of Inside Out on BBC1 reveals more about Sir Lenny's interest in John Kent's story.

He wants to write a television drama about it.

John Kent was the son of a slave. His father Thomas was brought into Whitehaven and then freed into the country.

Sir Lenny visited the county council's records office at Lady Gillford's House, in Harraby, Carlisle.

Seen poring over documents, Sir Lenny said: "What is great about the raw history is the detail. It is the smell and if you can get a whiff or flavour of that you can tell your story."

He added: "I'm totally out of my comfort zone. The things I've written are usually jokes. This is another thing altogether. This is reading historical materials with a view to creating a film and if it works it is going to be fantastic. Carlisle will be right in the middle of it."

Tonight's film is presented by Philippa Gregory, who has a keen interest in the fascinating story.

Around 10 years ago she presented a documentary in which she revealed to members of the Bulman farming family in Armathwaite that they were related to John Kent.

Pupils at Robert Ferguson Primary School in Denton Holme, Carlisle, also feature in tonight's film.

Headteacher Graham Frost said: "We have not got great diversity in Carlisle but it is important for children to learn to cherish diversity and differences."

Tonight's Inside Out is on BBC1 at 7.30pm.


John Kent served with Carlisle's police force in the 1800s.

John’s father, Thomas Kent, had come to England from the West Indies as a servant.

He married Mary Wilson, from Farlam, in 1787.

The couple lived in Carlisle before moving to Low Hesket. Thomas became an estate worker for James Graham at Barrock Park.

John was born around 1795 and was baptised at Hesket-in-the-Forest Church. He attended Hesket School.

He became a watchman at Maryport before joining Carlisle’s police force in 1837.

Known across the city as “Black Kent”, his obituaries told how a generation of Carlisle children were brought up to fear him.

He was dismissed after seven years for being drunk on duty – a common occurrence at the time.

John continued to work in Carlisle. Into his 80s he was an attendant at the London & North Western Company’s waiting room at Citadel Station.

John Kent is buried at Carlisle Cemetery.