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Turn On The Subtitles: Sir Lenny Henry, Sandi Toksvig and Stephen Fry among celebrities backing Bishop's Stortford dad Henry Warren's children's TV literacy campaign

A Bishop's Stortford dad has won celebrity support for his efforts to improve children's literacy levels while they watch TV.

Father-of-three Henry Warren co-founded the Turn On The Subtitles (TOTS) campaign with friend Oli Barrett and now has political and media backing as well as endorsement from stars like Sir Lenny Henry, Sally Hawkins, Stephen Fry, Rachel Riley, Sandi Toksvig and Sanjeev Bhaskar.

TOTS is lobbying broadcasters to add subtitles to children's television programmes. The campaigners say studies show that when a youngster watches TV with subtitles on, it can double their chance of becoming a proficient reader.

The average child watches TV 11.8 hours a week, so turning on subtitles would be equivalent to reading the same number of words that are in all of the Harry Potter, Earthsea, His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings books – in a year.

Henry said: "I co-founded TOTS with Oli because I have three kids under 12 and it really resonated with me. Lockdown has meant that, despite my best efforts, they're watching way more TV than they should.

"TOTS is one of those 'no brainer' ideas that can really help us as parents. I like to think of it a bit like sneaking vegetables into dinner – the children don't notice, but you know you're doing them the world of good."

Henry Warren and his project partner Oli Barrett (44751590)
Henry Warren and his project partner Oli Barrett (44751590)

He feared Covid-19 lockdown had exacerbated literacy problems but increased the amount of TV children watch.

TOTS has launched an initiative this week to involve schools across the country – including those in Bishop's Stortford and surrounding villages – in its campaign.

Henry appeared on Jeremy Vine's show on BBC Radio 2 on Monday and the campaign got publicity on the Radio 4 Today programme and in several national newspapers.

Actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry said that turning on the subtitles "could change your child's life forever".

Turn on the Subtitles (44751698)
Turn on the Subtitles (44751698)

Actor and comedian Sir Lenny Henry said: "Just turn on the subtitles. Extraordinary. Research has shown they can double the chances of a child becoming good at reading.”

TV presenter and comedian Sandi Toksvig said: "I love the Turn On The Subtitles campaign. It's stunningly simple, free and yet so powerful."

Bishop's Stortford's MP Julie Marson has promoted TOTS in the House of Commons.

"It's so encouraging to see so many well-known faces get involved in the campaign," she said. "The potential this campaign has is extraordinary. This will only help to get the word out further, something that I welcome wholeheartedly.

"As residents will be aware, I've been working with Henry and Oli for many months now at Parliament. I've met with ministers and officials from Government departments.

"While these discussions are ongoing, I'm pleased that multiple broadcasters are launching pilots by having the subtitles on by default on children's programmes and am confident that this will lead to brighter things."

Broadcasters and media platforms that have expressed support include the BBC, Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube Kids and TikTok.

Henry, 42, who has three children – Sam, 11, Lexie, 9, and Charlotte, 4 – and a partner, Elizabeth, 40, said: “We've been overwhelmed with the success of the launch. It's been amazing.”

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