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Lenny Henry

lenny henry, lenny henry biography
Sir Lenworth George Henry, CBE born 29 August 1958, known as Lenny Henry, is a British stand-up comedian, actor, blues singer, writer, and television presenter, known for co-founding charity Comic Relief, and presenting various television programmes, including the comedy Chef!, and The Magicians for BBC One


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Career
    • 21 Early career
    • 22 1980s
    • 23 1990s
    • 24 2000s
    • 25 2010s
  • 3 Shakespeare
  • 4 Music career
  • 5 Personal life
  • 6 Honours
  • 7 Bibliography
  • 8 Narration
  • 9 Screen and Stage
    • 91 Stage
  • 10 References
  • 11 External links

Early lifeedit

Henry was born in Dudley, Worcestershire, on 29 August 1958, the son of Jamaican immigrants One of seven children, he was the first to be born in the United Kingdom3 He attended St John's Primary School and later The Blue Coat School in Dudley before completing his schooling at WR Tuson College in Preston, Lancashire45


Early careeredit

Henry's first manager was Robert Luff, who signed him in 1975 and gave him the opportunity to perform as part of the Luff-produced touring stage version of The Black and White Minstrel Show6 In July 2009, Lenny Henry stated he was contractually obliged to perform and regretted his part in the show7

His earliest television appearance was on the New Faces talent show, which he won in 1975 with an impersonation of Stevie Wonder8 The following year he appeared with Norman Beaton in LWT's sitcom The Fosters, Britain's first comedy series with predominantly black performers His formative years were spent in working men's clubs, where he impersonated mainly white characters such as the Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em character Frank Spencer whom he impersonated on New Faces He also made guest appearances on television programmes including Celebrity Squares, Seaside Special and The Ronnie Corbett Show9


Lenny Henry in the 1980s

In 1980, Henry performed in Summer Season in Blackpool with Cannon and Ball910 He has since said that "the summer season was the first time he felt that his act had received a proper response from an audience"10 Around the same time, he co-hosted the children's programme Tiswas from 1978 until 1981, and subsequently performed and wrote for the show Three of a Kindcitation needed

Also in 1980, he teamed up with The Comic Strip where he met his wife, comedian Dawn French11 She encouraged him to move over to the fledgling alternative comedy scene, where he established a career as a stand-up comedy performer and character comedian

He introduced characters who both mocked and celebrated black British culture, such as Theophilus P Wildebeeste an homage to Teddy Pendergrass using the 'TP' initials, Brixton pirate radio disc jockey DJ Delbert Wilkins and Trevor MacDoughnut a parody of Trevor McDonald His stand-up material, which sold well on LP, owed much to the writing abilities of Kim Fuller During this time he also spent three years as a DJ on BBC Radio 1, playing soul and electro tracks and introducing some of the characters that he would later popularise on television He made a guest appearance in the final episode of The Young Ones as The Postman, in 1984citation needed12

The first series of The Lenny Henry Show appeared on the BBC in 1984 The show featured stand up, spoofs like his send up of Michael Jackson's Thriller video, and many of the characters he had developed during Summer Season, including Theophilus P Wildebeeste and Delbert Wilkins A principal scriptwriter for his television and stage shows during the 1990s was Jon Canter1314 The Lenny Henry Show ran for a further 20 years in various incarnations He performed impressions such as Tina Turner, Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Run DMC, among others

Prior to the 1987 general election, Henry lent his support to Red Wedge by participating in a comedy tour organised by the campaign15

In 1987, he appeared in a TV film Coast to Coast It was a comedy thriller with John Shea about two DJs with a shared passion for Motown music being chased across Britain The film has a strong following, but contractual problems16 have prevented it from being distributed on video or DVD


In the early 1990s, Henry starred in the Hollywood film True Identity, in which his character pretended to be a white person using make-up, prostheses, and a wig to avoid the mob The film was not commercially successful In 1991, he starred in a BBC drama alongside Robbie Coltrane called Alive and Kicking, in which he played a heroin addict, which was based on a true story

Also in 1991, he starred in the Christmas comedy Bernard and the Genie alongside Alan Cumming and Rowan Atkinson Henry is known as the choleric chef Gareth Blackstock from the 1990s television comedy series Chef!, or from his 1999 straight-acting lead role in the BBC drama Hope And Glory He was co-creator with Neil Gaiman and producer of the 1996 BBC drama serial Neverwhere17

Henry tried his hand at soul singing, appearing, for example, as a backing singer on Kate Bush's album The Red Shoes 1993citation needed and, backed by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, at Amnesty International's Big 3-0 fund raising concert18 He would later say that neither move showed him at his best, and that he felt most comfortable with character comedy He would occasionally return to singing, performing in small local venues in the West Midlands Henry returned to the BBC to do Lenny Henry in Pieces, a character-based comedy sketch show which was followed by The Lenny Henry Show, in which he combined stand-up, character sketches and song parodiescitation needed


Lenny Henry on Red Nose Day 2005

In 2003, Henry was listed in The Observer as one of the fifty funniest acts in British comedy In 2004, he was listed in The Sunday Times as the fifteenth funniest black performer of all time Henry is associated with the British Comic Relief charity organisation, along with his former wife, comedian Dawn French, and Griff Rhys Jones, and has hosted the show and also presented filmed reports from overseas on the work of the charity He was the voice of the British speaking clock for two weeks in March 2003 in aid of Comic Relief

Henry voiced the "shrunken head" on the Knight Bus in the 2004 movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and read the audio book version of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys He also voiced a character on the children's show Little Robots Henry appeared in advertisements for butter products in New Zealand, commissioned by the company now known as Fonterra, as well as portraying Saint Peter in the Virgin Mobile advertising campaign in South Africa In the UK, he used his character of Theophilus P Wildebeeste to advertise Alpen muesli, and promoted the non-alcoholic lager, Kaliber

In June 2001, for a BBC documentary, he sailed a trimaran from Plymouth to Antigua, Jamaica with yachtsman Tony Bullimore His motive was to as he put it, "have one last adventure" In 2005, he appeared in Birmingham, as an act for "Jasper Carrott's Rock with Laughter" He appeared alongside performers such as Bill Bailey, Jasper Carrott, Bonnie Tyler, Bobby Davro and the Lord of the Dance troupe In 2006, Henry starred in the BBC programme Berry's Way He did the voice of Dark Nebula in Kirby: Squeak Squad On 16 March 2007, Henry made a cameo appearance as himself in a sketch with Catherine Tate, who appeared in the guise of her character Geordie Georgie from The Catherine Tate Show The sketch was made for the BBC Red Nose Day fund raising programme of 2007

On 16 June 2007 Lenny appeared with Chris Tarrant and Sally James to present a 25th Anniversary episode of Tiswas The show lasted 90 minutes and featured celebrities discussing their enjoyment of Tiswas as children, as well as appearances from kids and people who had appeared on the original show In the summer of 2007, he presented Lenny's Britain, a comedy documentary tour made with the Open University on BBC One on Tuesday nights In late 2007, he hosted a stand-up comedy tour of the UK

In early 2008, Henry's series lennyhenrytv was broadcast on BBC One The programme has an accompanying website of the same name and broadcasts strange, weird and generally amusing on-line videos and CCTV clips He starred in the Radio 4 show Rudy's Rare Records On 31 December 2008 and 1 January 2009, he appeared on Jools Holland's Hootenanny on BBC Two, singing part of the song Mercy along with singer Duffy In January 2009, he appeared on the BBC's comedy show, Live at The Apollo, in which he played host for the night, introducing Andy Parsons and Ed Byrne, where he referred to Wikipedia as "Wrongopedia" for containing incorrect information about his life

In October 2009, Henry reprised his role of Deakus to feature in comedy shorts about story writing alongside Nina Wadia, Tara Palmer Tomkinson and Stephen K Amos He also offers his own writing tips and amusing anecdotes in the writing tips video clip on BBC raw words – story writing He supplies the voices of both Big and Small in the BBC CBeebies Children's programs Big & Small19


In 2010, Henry produced and starred in a five-part web series for the BBC Comedy website, Conversations with my Wife,20 about a fictional couple conversing over Skype while the wife is away on business leaving the husband played by Henry to hold the fort at homecitation needed

In 2008, he became the face of budget hotel operator Premier Inn, and to date continues to star in adverts for them One of the adverts caused controversy and was banned from children's programming hours The advert, from 2010, parodied a well-known scene from the film The Shining, with Lenny Henry spoofing the scene originally starring Jack Nicholson, by smashing a door with an axe and then thrusting his head through the door saying: "Here's Lenny"21

In 2011, Henry presented a Saturday night magic series called The Magicians on BBC One The show returned in 2012, however Henry was replaced by Darren McMullen

In March 2011, he appeared with Angela Rippon, Samantha Womack and Reggie Yates in the BBC fundraising documentary for Comic Relief called Famous, Rich and in the Slums, where the four celebrities were sent to Kibera in Kenya, Africa's largest slum22

Henry was criticized for his opening sketch for the 2011 Comic Relief, during which he spoofed the film The King's Speech and grew impatient with Colin Firth's portrayal of King George VI as he stammered over his speech The Sun reported that the British Stammering Association had branded the sketch as "a gross and disgusting gleefulness at pointing out someone else's misfortune"23

In 2014, Lenny appeared in and produced a play based on his radio show Rudy's Rare Records, which played at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre before moving on to a run in London24

In 2015 Danny and the Human Zoo a ninety-minute film for television was made and shown, written by Henry and directed by Destiny Ekaragha, it was a fictionalised account of the former's life as a teenager in 1970s Dudley252627


In February 2009, Henry appeared in the Northern Broadsides production of Othello, in the title role, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds,28 directed by Barrie Rutter, who, before the production opened, said of the decision to cast him: "knives might be out at me or at Lenny I don't care This has come about from a completely genuine desire to do a piece of theatrical work Bloody hell, how long has the Donmar had Hollywood stars going there for £200 He's six-foot five He's beautifully black And he's Othello"29

Henry received widespread critical acclaim in the role Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph said "This is one of the most astonishing debuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen It is impossible to praise too highly Henry's courage in taking on so demanding and exposed a role, and then performing it with such authority and feeling"30 Michael Billington in The Guardian noted "Henry's voice may not always measure up to the rhetorical music of the verse, but there is a simple dignity to his performance that touches one"31 Lynne Walker of The Independent said of Henry that his "emotional dynamism is in no doubt The frenzy within his imagination explodes into rage and, finally, wretchedness It's not a subtle reading but it works powerfully in this context"32

Henry has said that he saw parallels between himself and Othello "I'm used to being the only black person wherever I goThere was never a black or Asian director when I went to the BBC Eventually I thought 'where are they all' I spent a lot of time on my own Things have changed a bit, but rarely at the BBC do I meet anyone of colour in a position of power"33

The production was scheduled to transfer to the West End of London from 11 September to 12 December 2009, to be performed at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall34

He was introduced to Shakespeare when he made the 2006 Radio 4 series Lenny and Will, which saw him going "in search of the magic of Shakespeare in performance"35

In November 2011, Henry made his debut at the Royal National Theatre in London in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, directed by Dominic Cooke, in which he played the character of Antipholus of Syracuse The production was selected to be broadcast live to selected cinemas worldwide in March 2012 as part of the National Theatre Live programme Henry's performance gained generally very positive reviews Paul Taylor in The Independent wrote that "Henry beautifully conveys the tragicomic plight of an innocent abroad"36

Music careeredit

In 2015, Henry was asked by Sky Arts to produce a show for them, Lenny Henry's Got The Blues He got together with a group of musicians including Jakko Jakszyk, lead singer of King Crimson, to produce the album New Millennium Blues The album consists of both covers of blues classics, as well as original tracks co-written by Lenny37 Henry later released "hard hitting animated blues video" directed by Iranian filmmaker, Sam Chegini titled The Cops Don't Know which was premiered on Classic Rock Magazine on 20 April 201638

Personal lifeedit

Henry met Dawn French on the alternative comedy circuit They married in 1984 in Westminster, London; and have a daughter, Billie born 1991, whom they adopted He graduated in English Literature, BA Hons, with the Open University in 200739 He studied for an MA at Royal Holloway, University of London in screenwriting for television and film, where he received a distinction and where he is nowwhen studying for a PhD on the role of black people in the media40

On 6 April 2010, French and Henry announced they were separating after 25 years of marriage It was reported that the separation was amicable They had decided to separate in October the previous year but left it until then as they were still in discussion over the separation4142 Their divorce was finalised in 201043

Henry has been an outspoken critic of British television's lack of ethnic diversity in its programming During a speech at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in March 2014, he called the lack of minorities "appalling," and he has continued to raise the issue publicly since44 Henry is a lifelong supporter of West Bromwich Albion Football Club

Henry was dating Lisa Makin at the time of the 2016 BAFTA Awards45


Henry was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire CBE in the 1999 New Year Honours46 He was knighted in the Queen's 2015 Birthday Honours for services to drama and charity4748 In July 2016, Sir Lenny became the chancellor of Birmingham City University to help inspire young people particularly in the West Midlands to get into learning

In 2016, Henry was made a fellow of the Royal Television Society49

Henry was awarded the BAFTA Television: Special Award in 201650


  • Margolis, Jonathan Lenny Henry – A Biography, Orion, 1995; ISBN 978-0-7528-0087-5


  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman audiobook 2005

Screen and Stageedit

Year Title Role
1987 Coast to Coast Ritchie Lee
1988 The Suicide Club Cam
1989 Work Experience Terence Welles
1991 True Identity Miles Pope
1997 Famous Fred Fred voice
2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Shrunken Head voice
2008 Penelope Krull voice
2012 The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists Peg-Leg Hastings voice
2014 Postman Pat: The Movie Mr Bernard Tow Truck Manager; voice
Year Title Role
1976–1977 The Fosters Sonny Foster
1981 Three of a kind
1991 Alive and Kicking
Bernard and the Genie Josephus the Genie
1993–1996 Chef! Gareth Blackstock
1999–2000 Hope and Glory Ian George
2003–2007, 2011— Comic Relief Presenter
2008 lennyhenrytv Presenter
2008–2011 Big & Small Big voice
2009, 2011 Live at the Apollo Presenter two episodes
2010— The Teaching Awards Presenter
2011 The Magicians Presenter
Famous, Rich and in the Slums Contributor
2012 Jackanory Junior – 'Rastamouse'51 Narrator
The One Lenny Henry 52
2015 Operation Health for Comic Relief Contributor
The Olivier Awards Presenter
The Syndicate Godfrey Watson Series 3
Danny and the Human Zoo Samson Fearon
2017 Broadchurch Ed Burnett Series 3


Year Title Role Theatre
2009 Othello Othello Northern Broadsides / West Yorkshire Playhouse

Trafalgar Studios, London

2011/12 The Comedy of Errors Antipholus of Syracuse National Theatre, London Olivier
2013 Fences Troy Maxson UK tour

Duchess Theatre, London

2014 Rudy's Rare Records Adam

also dramaturg and co-creator

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Hackney Empire, London

2015 Educating Rita Frank Minerva Theatre, Chichester
2017 The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui Arturo Ui Donmar Warehouse, London


  1. ^ 1
  2. ^ 2
  3. ^ Mark Duguid "Lenny Henry profile at" screenonlineorguk Retrieved 7 February 2014 
  4. ^ Owen Gibson 11 February 2008 "Where are all the black new faces" London: The Guardian Retrieved 9 January 2009 
  5. ^ "Lenny Henry's Preston memories" This is Lancashire Newsquest Media Group 27 January 2008 Retrieved 11 October 2008 Henry left school without any qualifications but decided to retake his "O" levels at Preston College – then called WR Tuson College – while appearing in a summer season in Blackpool with Cannon and Ball in the early 1980s "I thought 'I'm going to do my O levels', which is a bizarre thing for a rock 'n' roll 21-year-old comedian to do" 
  6. ^ "Robert Luff obituary" The Daily Telegraph London, England 23 February 2009 Retrieved 1 March 2009 
  7. ^ Five Minutes With: Lenny Henry BBC News, 18 July 2009
  8. ^ Iley, Chrissy 30 November 2010 "Lenny Henry interview" The Daily Telegraph London Retrieved 4 March 2011 
  9. ^ a b "Comedy Kings – an unofficial Cannon and Ball website" Retrieved 4 March 2011 
  10. ^ a b Henry, Lenny "About Me: The Story So Far" Retrieved 4 March 2011 
  11. ^ "BBC Comedy Profiles: Lenny Henry" Retrieved 4 March 2011 
  12. ^ oGeMmAo 11 April 2009, The Young Ones – Summer Holiday – Part 3, retrieved 2016-07-23 
  13. ^ "Jon Canter" Pbjmgtcouk 
  14. ^ "BBC Guide to Comedy: Jon Canter" Bbccouk 
  15. ^ "Where will the next generation get its political anthems from" LabourList Retrieved 28 December 2015 
  16. ^ "Coast To Coast details" guerilla films Retrieved 11 March 2013 
  17. ^ "Neil Gaiman's Urban Fantasy "Neverwhere", Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, Nov 6–10" Cornish College of the Arts 9 October 2013 Retrieved 8 November 2014 
  18. ^ Miles, Barry; Mabbett, Andy 1994 Pink Floyd - The Visual Documentary Omnibus ISBN 0-7119-4109-2 
  19. ^ "BBC – CBeebies Grownups – Big & Small" BBC Retrieved 5 October 2009 
  20. ^ "BBC Comedy – Conversations with my Wife" BBC Retrieved 1 October 2010 
  21. ^ "Premier Inn 'horror' ad banned from children's network" BBC 24 March 2010 Retrieved 2012-03-18 
  22. ^ Mangan, L 4 March 2011 "TV Review" Guardiancouk Retrieved 4 March 2011 
  23. ^ Ryan Love 2011 "Digital Spy" Retrieved 21 March 2011 
  24. ^ "Rudy's Rare Records review", theguardiancom, 14 September 2014
  25. ^ "BBC orders Lenny Henry biographical drama" The List 28 February 2014 Retrieved 8 March 2014 
  26. ^ "BBC orders Lenny Henry biographical drama" Virgin Media 28 February 2014 Retrieved 8 March 2014 
  27. ^ Young, Gary 28 February 2014 "Lenny Henry writes TV drama about Dudley childhood" Birmingham Mail Retrieved 8 March 2014 
  28. ^ "Lenny just a jealous guy and it's no joke" Yorkshire Evening Post 10 April 2008 Retrieved 10 April 2008 
  29. ^ Brown, Mark 10 February 2008 "A new Moor for West Yorkshire" London, England: The Guardian Retrieved 10 February 2008 
  30. ^ Spencer, Charles 19 February 2008 "Othello with Lenny Henry at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, review" London, England: Daily Telegraph Retrieved 5 April 2008 
  31. ^ Michael Billington 19 February 2008 "Othello" London: The Guardian Retrieved 5 April 2008 
  32. ^ Walker, Lynne 19 February 2008 "First Night: Othello, Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds" London, UK: The Independent Retrieved 5 April 2008 
  33. ^ Larkin, Maeve 19 February 2008 "Othello – Resource Pack" PDF Northern Broadsides Retrieved 5 April 2008 
  34. ^ "Henry brings Othello to West End" BBC News 24 April 2008 Retrieved 24 April 2008 
  35. ^ "Othello – Resource Pack" BBC 25 March 2006 Retrieved 5 April 2008 
  36. ^ Taylor, Paul 23 November 2011 "First Night" The Independent Retrieved 3 March 2012 
  37. ^ The Guardian
  38. ^ "Lenny Henry launches The Cops Don't Know video" Classic Rock 20 April 2016 Retrieved 2016-05-05 
  39. ^ Lenny Henry Collects Degree 28 April 2007
  40. ^ "Lenny Henry's long road to a PhD" BBC 5 October 2010 Retrieved 28 December 2015 
  41. ^ Millar, Paul 6 April 2010 "Lenny Henry and Dawn French to separate" Digital Spy Retrieved 28 December 2015 
  42. ^ "Lenny Henry and Dawn French split" BBC 6 April 2010 Retrieved 6 April 2010 
  43. ^ "Comedian Dawn French marries for second time" BBC Online 22 April 2013 Retrieved 28 December 2015 
  44. ^ Khaleeli, Homa 20 June 2014 "Lenny Henry: diversity in the TV industry 'is worth fighting for'" The Guardian Retrieved 28 December 2015 
  45. ^ "He has a type! Lenny Henry's girlfriend bears uncanny resemblance to ex-wife Dawn French as she supports him for his Special Award win at the TV BAFTAs" Daily Mail 2016-05-09 Retrieved 2016-12-25 
  46. ^ "Lenny sees red over nose ban" BBC 2 March 1999 Retrieved 13 December 2015 
  47. ^ "Supplement no 61256" The London Gazette 13 June 2015 p B2 Retrieved 28 December 2015 
  48. ^ "Lenny Henry 'chuffed' at knighthood" BBC News Retrieved 29 March 2016 
  49. ^ "Sir Lenny Henry awarded RTS fellowship and judges award" BBC News 2016-03-23 Retrieved 2017-04-06 
  50. ^ "BAFTA Television in 2016" Retrieved 2016-12-25 
  51. ^ "Jackanory Junior – 'Rastamouse'" Bbccouk BBC 23 November 2012 Retrieved 2 June 2016 
  52. ^ BBC – The One Lenny Henry

External linksedit

  • Interview with Lenny Henry and Barrie Rutter on BBC News
  • Lenny Henry at the BFI's Screenonline
  • Lenny Henry at the MBC's Encyclopedia of Television
  • Lenny Henry at the Bbccouk Guide to Comedy
  • Lenny Henry at the Internet Movie Database
  • Learn how to write stories with Lenny Henry BBC raw words


  • "Not enough black people in top media jobs, says Henry" Media Guardian
  • Messenger News interview, May 2008
  • Thedrumcom article

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