Lenny Henry

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Lenny Henry
CBE
Lenny Henry 1980s (cropped 3).jpg
Henry in the 1980s
Born Lenworth George Henry
(1958-08-29) 29 August 1958 (age 55)
Dudley, West Midlands, England
Nationality British
Occupation Actor, comedian, activist, writer
Years active 1975–present
Height 6'4 (1.94m).
Spouse(s) Dawn French (m. 1984–2010)
Children Billie (adopted)
Website
Official website

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

Early life[edit]

Lenny Henry, the son of Jamaican immigrants, was born at Burton Road Hospital in Dudley in 1958. One of seven children, he was the first to be born in the UK.[1] He was a pupil at St John's Primary School, and later The Blue Coat School in Dudley, before completing his school education at W.R. Tuson College (now Preston College).[2][3]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

His 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 his act was as a young black man impersonating 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]

1980s[edit]

In 1980, he 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 1987 general election, Henry lent his support to Red Wedge by participating in a comedy tour organised by the campaign.[12]

In 1987, he appeared in a TV film Coast to Coast. It was a comedy thriller with John Shea about two DJ's 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.

1990s[edit]

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) in order 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 Neverwhere.

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.

2000s[edit]

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, comedienne 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, 10–23 March 2003, in aid of Comic Relief.

He was the voice of 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 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 BBC1 on Tuesday nights.

In late 2007, he hosted a stand-up comedy tour of the UK.

In early 2008, his show lennyhenry.tv 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.[citation needed]

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, Lenny 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 also supplies the voices of both Big and Small in the BBC CBeebies Children's programs Big & Small.[14]

He also voiced Elephant in Tinga Tinga Tales.

2010s[edit]

In 2010, Henry produced and starred in a five-part web series for the BBC Comedy website, Conversations with my Wife,[15] 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."[16]

In 2011, Henry presented a Saturday night magic series called The Magicians on BBC1.

In March 2011, Henry 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.[17] Henry was criticised 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.[18]

Henry said: "I thought the King's Speech sketch was funny. Very funny. I make no apologies for it."[19]

He recently presented the Teachers Awards on television.

He played Iggy the African on "Phineas and Ferb: Where's Perry" special in the UK.

In 2012 he 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.

Shakespeare[edit]

In February 2009, Henry appeared in the Northern Broadsides production of Othello, in the title role, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.[20] 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".[21]

Henry received widespread critical acclaim in the role. 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."[22] 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".[23] 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."[24]

Henry has said 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."[25]

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 Whitehall.[26]

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." This was where he first met Barrie Rutter.[27]

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."[28]

Personal life[edit]

Henry met Dawn French on the alternative comedy circuit. They married in 1984 in Westminster, London;[29] they have an adopted daughter, Billie (born 1991).[citation needed]

Henry graduated in English Literature, (BA Hons), with the Open University in 2007.[30]

Henry 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.[31]

On 6 April 2010, Henry and French announced they were separating after 25 years of marriage. It is believed[according to whom?] that the separation was amicable. They decided to split in October 2009, but postponed it as they were still in discussion over the separation. They were officially divorced in October 2010.[32]

Bibliography[edit]

Narration[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role
1988 The Suicide Club[33] Cam
1989 Work Experience Terence Welles
Lenny Henry Unleased
1991 True Identity Miles Pope
Alive and Kicking
Bernard and the Genie Josephus the Genie
1997 Famous Fred Fred (voice)
2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Shrunken Head (voice)
2008 Penelope Krull (voice)
2008—2011 Big & Small Big (voice)
2011 The Magicians Presenter
2012 The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists Peg-Leg Hastings (voice)
2013 Postman Pat: The Movie — You Know You're The One Mr Bernard (Tow Truck Manager)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mark Duguid. "Henry, Lenny (1958- )". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Owen Gibson (11 February 2008). "Where are all the black new faces?". London: www.guardian.co.uk. 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 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."" 
  4. ^ "Robert Luff – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London). 23 February 2009. Retrieved 1 March 2009. 
  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?". 
  13. ^ "Coast To Coast starring Lenny Henry". guerilla films. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  14. ^ "BBC – CBeebies Grownups – Big & Small". BBC. Retrieved 5 October 2009. 
  15. ^ "BBC Comedy – Conversations with my Wife". BBC. Retrieved 1 October 2010. 
  16. ^ "Premier Inn 'horror' ad banned from children's network". BBC. 24 March 2010. Retrieved 20112-3-18. 
  17. ^ Mangan, L. (4 March 2011). "TV Review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  18. ^ Ryan Love (2011). "Digital Spy". Retrieved 21 March 2011. 
  19. ^ Matt Bendoris, "So Lenny, you used to be funny. What happened?" The Scottish Sun, 22 March 2011.
  20. ^ "Lenny just a jealous guy... and it's no joke". Yorkshire Evening Post. 10 April 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2008. 
  21. ^ Brown, Mark (10 February 2008). "A new Moor for West Yorkshire". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2008. 
  22. ^ Spencer, Charles (19 February 2008). "Othello with Lenny Henry at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, review". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  23. ^ Michael Billington (19 February 2008). "Othello". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  24. ^ Walker (19 February 2008). "First Night: Othello, Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds". London: The Independent. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  25. ^ Larkin, Maeve (19 February 2008). "Othello – Resource Pack" (PDF). Northern Broadsides. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  26. ^ "Henry brings Othello to West End". BBC News. 24 April 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2008. 
  27. ^ "Othello – Resource Pack". BBC. 25 March 2006. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  28. ^ Taylor, Paul (23 November 2011). "First Night". The Independent. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  29. ^ Marriages England and Wales 1984–2005
  30. ^ Lenny Henry Collects Degree 28 April 2007
  31. ^ "Lenny Henry's long road to a PhD". BBC. 5 October 2010. 
  32. ^ Millar, Paul (6 April 2010). "Lenny Henry and Dawn French to separate". Digital Spy. Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  33. ^ "The Suicide Club, 1988 film starring Lenny Henry". www.imdb.com. 8 October 2009. 

External links[edit]

Articles