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Lenny Henry

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Title: Lenny Henry  
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Subject: Comic Relief, True Identity, Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, The Secret Policeman's Ball, Chef!
Collection: 1958 Births, 20Th-Century English Male Actors, 21St-Century English Male Actors, Actors Awarded British Knighthoods, Actors from West Midlands (County), Alumni of Royal Holloway, University of London, Alumni of the Open University, Black British Writers, Black English Comedians, Black English Male Actors, Black English Television Personalities, Comedians from Worcestershire, Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, English Impressionists (Entertainers), English Male Comedians, English Male Film Actors, English Male Television Actors, English Male Voice Actors, English People of Jamaican Descent, English Stand-up Comedians, Knights Bachelor, Living People, Male Actors from Worcestershire, Male Shakespearean Actors, People Educated at Castle High School (Dudley), People from Dudley, People from Shinfield
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Lenny Henry

Sir Lenny Henry
Henry in the 1980s
Birth name Lenworth George Henry
Born (1958-08-29) 29 August 1958
Dudley, West Midlands, England
Nationality British
Alma mater St. John's Primary School
Spouse Dawn French (m. 1984–2010; divorced)
Children Billie (adopted)
Website Official website

Sir Lenworth George Henry, CBE (born 29 August 1958) is a British stand-up comedian, actor, writer, television presenter, and comedian, best known for co-founding charity Comic Relief and presenting various television programmes, including The Magicians for BBC One.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Early career 2.1
    • 1980s 2.2
    • 1990s 2.3
    • 2000s 2.4
    • 2010s 2.5
  • Shakespeare 3
  • Music career 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • Narration 7
  • Filmography 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Henry was born in Dudley, West Midlands, on 29 August 1958, the son of Jamaican immigrants. One of seven children, he was the first to be born in the United Kingdom.[1] He attended St. John's Primary School and later The Blue Coat School in Dudley before completing his schooling at W.R. Tuson College in Preston, Lancashire.[2][3]


Early career

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 Show.[4] In July 2009, Lenny Henry stated he was contractually obliged to perform and regretted his part in the show.[5]

His earliest television appearance was on the New Faces talent show, which he won in 1975 with an impersonation of Stevie Wonder.[6] 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 Show.[7]


In 1980, Henry performed in Summer Season in Blackpool with Cannon and Ball.[7][8] 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".[8] 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 Kind, with comedians Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield.

Also in 1980, he teamed up with The Comic Strip where he met his wife, comedienne Dawn French.[9] 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 1984.

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 Canter.[10][11] 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 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 Neverwhere.[14]

Henry tried his hand at soul singing, appearing, for example, as a backing singer on Kate Bush's album The Red Shoes (1993) and, backed by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, at Amnesty International's Big 3-0 fund raising concert. He would later say that neither move showed him at his best, and that he felt most comfortable with character comedy. Henry 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 parodies.


In 2003, Henry was listed in 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 voices 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 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 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 WorldHeritage 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 & Small.[15]


Henry (right) in The Comedy of Errors in 2011

In 2010, Henry produced and starred in a five-part web series for the BBC Comedy website, Conversations with my Wife,[16] 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 home.

In 2009, 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."[17]

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 slum.[18]

Henry was criticized for his opening sketch for the 2011 Comic Relief, during which he spoofed the film 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".[19] Henry said: "I thought the King's Speech sketch was funny. Very funny. I make no apologies for it."[20]

He has presented the Teachers Awards on BBC television.

Henry played Iggy the African on an episode of Phineas and Ferb called "Where's Perry".

In 2012, Henry was one of the Diamond Jubilee Concert presenters. He also provided the voice of Peg-Leg Hastings in The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!. In 2014, it was announced that Henry wrote Danny and the Human Zoo for BBC One.

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 London.[21]

In 2015, Lenny starred in a play at the Chichester Festival Theatre Mineva Theatre. The play was Educating Rita. A two-man show which was a success. On press night after Lenny forgot his lines he walked off stage and said sorry. This was not popular.

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 Dudley.[22][23][24]


In February 2009, Henry appeared in the Northern Broadsides production of Othello, in the title role, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds,[25] 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."[26]

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."[27] 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".[28] 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."[29]

Henry has said that he saw parallels between himself and Othello. "I'm used to being the only black person wherever I go...There 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."[30]

The production was scheduled to transfer to the West End of London from September 11 to December 12, 2009, to be performed at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.[31]

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".[32]

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 Ephesus. 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."[33]

Music career

In 2015, Lenny was asked by Sky Arts to produce a show for them called Lenny Henry's Got The Blues,[34] Lenny got together with a group of musicians including Jakko Jakszyk, lead singer of King Crimson, to produce the album New Millennium Blues.[35] The album consists of both covers of blues classics, as well as original tracks co-written by Lenny.

Personal life

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 2007.[36] 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 now studying for a PhD on the role of black people in the media.[37]

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 separation.[38][39] Their divorce was finalised in 2010.[40]

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 since.[41] His guest editing of BBC Radio 4's Today programme received mixed reviews with some claiming "discrimination" as Henry disallowed white people from taking part.[42]

It was reported in June 2015 that Henry was to receive a knighthood.[43] In the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours, it was announced that he had been made a Knight Bachelor 'for services to drama and charity' and therefore granted the title 'sir'.[44]


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



Year Title Role
1988 The Suicide Club[45] 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

three of a kind

Lenny Henry Unleashed
1991 Alive and Kicking
Bernard and the Genie Josephus the Genie
1993-1996 Chef! Gareth
2003–2007, 2011— Comic Relief Presenter
2008 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
2015 Operation Health for Comic Relief Contributor
The Olivier Awards Presenter
The Syndicate Godfrey Watson (Series 3)
Danny and the Human Zoo Father


  1. ^ Mark Duguid. "Lenny Henry profile at". Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Owen Gibson (11 February 2008). "Where are all the black new faces?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  3. ^ "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 W.R. Tuson College – while appearing in a summer season in Blackpool with  
  4. ^ "Robert Luff (obituary)".  
  5. ^ Five Minutes With: Lenny Henry. BBC News, 18 July 2009.
  6. ^ Daily Telegraph (30 November 2010). "Lenny Henry interview". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Comedy Kings – an unofficial Cannon and Ball website". Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Henry, Lenny. "About Me: The Story So Far". Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  9. ^ "BBC Comedy Profiles: Lenny Henry". Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  10. ^ "Jon Canter". 
  11. ^ "BBC Guide to Comedy: Jon Canter". 
  12. ^ "Where will the next generation get its political anthems from?". LabourList. 
  13. ^ "Coast To Coast starring Lenny Henry". guerilla films. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  14. ^ "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. 
  15. ^ "BBC – CBeebies Grownups – Big & Small". BBC. Retrieved 5 October 2009. 
  16. ^ "BBC Comedy – Conversations with my Wife". BBC. Retrieved 1 October 2010. 
  17. ^ "Premier Inn 'horror' ad banned from children's network". BBC. 24 March 2010. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  18. ^ Mangan, L. (4 March 2011). "TV Review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  19. ^ Ryan Love (2011). "Digital Spy". Retrieved 21 March 2011. 
  20. ^ Matt Bendoris, "So Lenny, you used to be funny. What happened?" The Scottish Sun, 22 March 2011.
  21. ^ "Rudy’s Rare Records review", The Guardian, 14 September 2014.
  22. ^ "BBC orders Lenny Henry biographical drama". The List. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  23. ^ "BBC orders Lenny Henry biographical drama". Virgin Media. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Young, Gary (28 February 2014). "Lenny Henry writes TV drama about Dudley childhood". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  25. ^ "Lenny just a jealous guy... and it's no joke".  
  26. ^ Brown, Mark (10 February 2008). "A new Moor for West Yorkshire". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2008. 
  27. ^ Spencer, Charles (19 February 2008). "Othello with Lenny Henry at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, review". London:  
  28. ^  
  29. ^ Walker (19 February 2008). "First Night: Othello, Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds". London: The Independent. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  30. ^ Larkin, Maeve (19 February 2008). "Othello – Resource Pack" ( 
  31. ^ "Henry brings Othello to West End". BBC News. 24 April 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2008. 
  32. ^ "Othello – Resource Pack". BBC. 25 March 2006. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  33. ^ Taylor, Paul (23 November 2011). "First Night". The Independent. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Lenny Henry Collects Degree 28 April 2007
  37. ^ "Lenny Henry's long road to a PhD". BBC. 5 October 2010. 
  38. ^ Millar, Paul (6 April 2010). "Lenny Henry and Dawn French to separate".  
  39. ^ "Lenny Henry and Dawn French split". BBC. 6 April 2010. Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  40. ^ "Comedian Dawn French marries for second time".  
  41. ^ Homa Khaleeli, "Lenny Henry: diversity in the TV industry 'is worth fighting for'", The Guardian, 20 June 2014.
  42. ^ Sam Matthews, "Thought-provoking or biased? Mixed reaction to Lenny Henry's guest editing of Radio 4's Today programme", Mail Online, 30 September 2014.
  43. ^ Lenny Henry 'chuffed' at knighthood
  44. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61256. p. B2. 13 June 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  45. ^ "The Suicide Club, 1988 film starring Lenny Henry". 8 October 2009. 

External links


  • "Not enough black people in top media jobs, says Henry" (Media Guardian)
  • Messenger News interview, May 2008
  • [2]
In the early 1990s, Henry starred in the Hollywood film


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 problems[13] have prevented it from being distributed on video or DVD.


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