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Sir Lenworth George Henry (born 29 August 1958), known as Lenny Henry, is a British stand-up comedian, actor, singer, writer and television presenter, known for co-founding the charity
Comic Relief Comic Relief is an operating British charity, founded in 1985 by the comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to the famine in Ethiopia. The concept of Comic Relief was to get British comedians to make the pub ...
, and appearing in TV programmes including children's entertainment show ''
Tiswas ''Tiswas'' (; an acronym An acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase, usually using individual initial letters, as in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or European Union, EU (European U ...
'', sitcom ''Chef!'' and ''The Magicians (UK TV series), The Magicians'' for BBC One. He was formerly married to Dawn French. He is currently the Chancellor of Birmingham City University and is acting in the production of the Amazon Prime The Lord of the Rings (TV series), Lord of the Rings.Otterson, Joe (December 3, 2020). "'Lord of the Rings' Series at Amazon Adds 20 Actors to Cast". Variety. https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/lord-of-the-rings-series-amazon-cast-1234845274/ Retrieved 4 December 2020.


Early life

Lenworth George Henry was born at Burton Road Hospital in Dudley, on 29 August 1958, to Winston Jervis Henry (1910–1978) and Winifred Louise Henry (1922–1998), who British Jamaicans, emigrated to Britain from Jamaica before he was born. The fifth of seven children, Henry was the first child of the family to be born in the United Kingdom. When Henry was ten years old, he began spending time with the man who was later revealed to be his biological father, Albert Augustus "Bertie" Green (1927–2004), another Jamaican immigrant with whom his mother had a brief relationship when she first arrived in England from their native Jamaica. He was named after the doctor who delivered him, Dr Lenworth. Henry attended Defunct schools in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley#St John's Primary School, St John's Primary School and later The Blue Coat School, Dudley, The Blue Coat School in Dudley before completing his schooling at Preston's College, W.R. Tuson College in Preston, Lancashire.


Career


Early career

Henry's formative years in comedy were spent in working men's clubs, where he impersonated mainly white characters, such as the ''Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em'' character Frank Spencer. His earliest television appearance was on the ''New Faces'' talent show in 1975, aged 16, which he won with impersonations of Frank Spencer, Stevie Wonder and others. His first manager was Robert Luff, who signed him in 1975 and gave him the opportunity, from the ages 16 to 21, to perform as a comedian as part of the Luff-produced touring stage version of ''The Black and White Minstrel Show''. In July 2009, Lenny Henry stated he was contractually obligated to perform and regretted his part in the show, telling ''The Times'' in 2015 that his appearance on the show led to a profound "wormhole of depression", and he regretted his family not intervening. In 1976, he appeared with Norman Beaton in London Weekend Television, LWT's sitcom ''The Fosters (1976 TV series), The Fosters'', Britain's first comedy series with predominantly black performers. He also made guest appearances on television programmes including ''Celebrity Squares'', ''Seaside Special'' and ''The Ronnie Corbett Show''.


1980s

In 1980, Henry performed in Summer Season in Blackpool with Cannon and Ball. 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". Around the same time, he co-hosted the children's programme ''
Tiswas ''Tiswas'' (; an acronym An acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase, usually using individual initial letters, as in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or European Union, EU (European U ...
'' from 1978 until 1981 playing such characters as Rastafarian Algernon Razzmatazz, David Bellamy and Trevor McDoughnut (a parody of Trevor McDonald), and subsequently performed and wrote for the show ''Three of a Kind (1981 TV series), Three of a Kind''. Also in 1980, he teamed up with alternative-comedy collective The Comic Strip. While involved with the group, he met his wife, comedian Dawn French. 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 people, Black British culture, such as Theophilus P. Wildebeeste (a homage to Teddy Pendergrass using the 'TP' initials) and Brixton pirate radio disc jockey DJ Delbert Wilkins. His stand-up material, which sold well on vinyl record, 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 music, soul and Electro (music), 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 (TV series), 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. ''The Lenny Henry Show'' ran periodically for a further 19 years in various incarnations. He performed impressions such as Tina Turner, Prince (musician), Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Run DMC, among others. It was in 1985 that Henry co-founded the British Comic Relief (charity), Comic Relief charity organisation, and 1988 when the first ever Red Nose Day was celebrated. Over 150 celebrities and comedians, including Lenny Henry, took part in an evening long BBC broadcast, which was watched by 30 million viewers and raised over £15 million. Prior to the 1987 United Kingdom general election, 1987 general election, Henry lent his support to Red Wedge by participating in a comedy tour organised by the campaign. In 1987, he appeared in a TV film, ''Coast to Coast (1987 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 have prevented it from being distributed on video or DVD.


1990s

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, Facial prosthetic, prostheses, and a wig) to avoid organised crime, the mob. The film was not commercially successful. In 1991, he starred in a BBC drama alongside Robbie Coltrane called ''Alive and Kicking (TV drama), 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 (TV series), Hope And Glory''. He was co-creator with Neil Gaiman and producer of the 1996 BBC drama serial ''Neverwhere''. Henry appeared as a backing singer on Kate Bush's album ''The Red Shoes (album), The Red Shoes'' (1993) for the song ''Why Should I Love You?,'' on which Prince played guitar. He also performed, backed by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, at Amnesty International's The Secret Policeman's Balls, Big 3-0 fund raising concert. Henry returned to the BBC to do ''Lenny Henry in Pieces'', a character-based comedy sketch comedy, sketch show which was followed by ''The Lenny Henry Show'', in which he combined stand-up, character sketches and song parodies.


2000s

In 2003, Henry was listed in ''The Observer'' as one of the fifty funniest acts in British comedy. He was the voice of the British speaking clock for two weeks in March 2003 in aid of Comic Relief. Henry voiced Dre Head, the "shrunken head" on the Knight Bus in the 2004 Alfonso Cuarón movie ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (movie), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'', and read the audiobook version of Neil Gaiman's ''Anansi Boys''. He also voiced Sporty 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 (food), Alpen muesli, and promoted the non-alcoholic lager, Kaliber (product), Kaliber. In June 2000, for a BBC documentary, he sailed a trimaran from Plymouth to Antigua with yachtsman Tony Bullimore. 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 (musical), Lord of the Dance troupe. In 2006, Henry starred in the BBC programme ''Berry's Way''. He did the voice of Characters in the Kirby video game series#Dark Nebula, 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 The Catherine Tate Show characters#Geordie Georgie, Geordie Georgie from ''The Catherine Tate Show''. The sketch was made for the BBC Red Nose Day fundraising programme of 2007. On 16 June 2007 Lenny appeared with Chris Tarrant and Sally James (presenter), Sally James to present a 25th Anniversary episode of ''
Tiswas ''Tiswas'' (; an acronym An acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase, usually using individual initial letters, as in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or European Union, EU (European U ...
''. The show lasted 90 minutes and featured celebrities discussing their enjoyment of ''
Tiswas ''Tiswas'' (; an acronym An acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name or phrase, usually using individual initial letters, as in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or European Union, EU (European U ...
'' 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 ''lennyhenry.tv'' was broadcast on BBC One. The programme has an accompanying website of the same name and broadcasts strange, weird and generally amusing online videos and Closed-circuit television, CCTV clips. He starred in the BBC Radio 4, Radio 4 show ''Rudy's Rare Records''. On 31 December 2008 and 1 January 2009, he appeared on Jools Holland's ''Hootenanny (UK TV series), Hootenanny'' on BBC Two, singing part of the song ''Mercy (Duffy song), Mercy'' along with singer Duffy (singer), Duffy. In January 2009, he appeared on the BBC's comedy show, ''Live at the Apollo (TV series), Live at The Apollo'', in which he played host for the night, introducing Andy Parsons and Ed Byrne (comedian), 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 & Small''.


2010s

In 2010, Henry produced and starred in a five-part web series for the BBC Comedy website, ''Conversations with my Wife'', 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 2008, he became the face of budget hotel operator Premier Inn. One of the 2010 adverts caused controversy and was banned from children's programming hours as it parodied a well-known scene from the film ''The Shining (film), The Shining'', with Lenny Henry spoofing the scene originally starring Jack Nicholson, smashing a door with an axe and then thrusting his head through the door saying: "Here's Lenny." In 2011, Henry presented a Saturday night magic series called ''The Magicians (UK TV series), 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 Comic Relief is an operating British charity, founded in 1985 by the comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis and comedian Lenny Henry in response to the famine in Ethiopia. The concept of Comic Relief was to get British comedians to make the pub ...
called ''Famous, Rich and in the Slums'', where the four celebrities were sent to Kibera in Kenya, the African continent's largest slum. 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 George VI, King George VI as he stammered over his speech. ''The Sun (United Kingdom), 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". In 2014, Henry 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. Henry wrote ''Danny and the Human Zoo'', a ninety-minute television film shown on BBC One in 2015. Directed by Destiny Ekaragha, it was a fictionalised account of Henry's life as a teenager in 1970s Dudley. Henry played Samson Fearon, a character based on Henry's own father Winston. In November 2019, it was announced that Henry would guest star in "Spyfall (Doctor Who), Spyfall", the two-part opening episode of ''Doctor Whos Doctor Who (series 12), twelfth revived series, which began broadcast on New Year's Day 2020. Henry played technology billionaire Daniel Barton.


2020s

In December 2020, Henry was announced as a cast member of Amazon Prime's The Lord of the Rings (TV series), Lord of the Rings spin-off series. In 2021, Henry appeared as a contestant on the The Masked Singer (British series 2), second series of ''The Masked Singer (British TV series), The Masked Singer'', masked as the Blob. He finished in 6th place.


COVID-19 vaccination

In March 2021 Henry wrote an open letter urging everyone to get COVID-19 vaccine, COVID-19 vaccination. Henry stated people ought to, "trust the facts" and distrust misinformation. Henry also wrote, “Because we love you – we want you to be safe and we don’t want you to be left out or left behind. While other communities are rushing to get the vaccine and millions have already been vaccinated, some Black people in our community are being more cautious,” The letter encourages black UK adults to take an informed decision over the vaccine and get vaccinated so as to protect themselves and those they care for.


Shakespeare

Henry was introduced to Shakespeare when he made the 2006 BBC Radio 4, Radio 4 series ''Lenny and Will'', which saw him going "in search of the magic of Shakespeare in performance". In February 2009, he appeared in the title role in the Northern Broadsides production of ''Othello'' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Before the production opened the director Barrie Rutter 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 Warehouse, Donmar had Hollywood stars going there for £200? He's six-foot five. He's beautifully black. And he's Othello." Henry received widespread critical acclaim in the role. Charles Spencer (journalist), 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." Michael Billington (critic), 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". Lynne Walker (critic), 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." 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." 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. 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 positive reviews. Paul Taylor in ''The Independent'' wrote that "Henry beautifully conveys the tragicomic plight of an innocent abroad."


Music career

In 2015, Henry was asked by Sky Arts to produce a show for them, ''Lenny Henry's Got The Blues''. He worked 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 Lenny. Henry later released "hard-hitting animated blues video" directed by Iranian filmmaker, Sam Chegini titled ''The Cops Don't Know'' which was premiered by ''Classic Rock (magazine), Classic Rock'' magazine on 20 April 2016.


Personal life

Henry met Dawn French on the alternative comedy circuit. They married in 1984 in Covent Garden, London"Dawn French: Someone firebombed the home I shared with Lenny Henry"
''BirminghamLive'' (UK). Retrieved 18 July 2019.
and have one child, a daughter named Billie.
''The Independent'' (UK). Retrieved 13 December 2007.
On 6 April 2010, French and Henry announced they were 'amicably' separating after 25 years of marriage. Their divorce was finalised in 2010. Since 2012, Henry has been in a relationship with theatre producer and casting director Lisa Makin. Henry obtained a Bachelor of Arts, BA Hons degree in English Literature from the Open University in 2007 and an Master of Arts, MA in Screenwriting for TV and Film from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2010. He subsequently studied at the latter institution for a doctorate on the role of black people in the media. In July 2018, Henry was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy, PhD degree in Media Arts for the thesis titled ''Does the Coach Have to be Black? The Sports Film, Screenwriting and Diversity: A Practice-Based Enquiry''. Henry has been an open critic of British television's lack of ethnic diversity in its programmes. 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. Henry is a lifelong supporter of West Bromwich Albion F.C., West Bromwich Albion Football Club.


Honours

Henry was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1999 New Year Honours. He was Knight Bachelor, knighted in the 2015 Birthday Honours, Queen's 2015 Birthday Honours for services to drama and charity. In July 2016, Henry became the chancellor of Birmingham City University citing his passion to give life changing opportunities to young people from a wide range of backgrounds. Henry has also been listed in the ''Powerlist'' of the 100 most influential Black Britons, including ranking fourth in 2016. In 2016, Henry was made a fellow of the Royal Television Society. Henry was awarded the BAFTA Television: Special Award in 2016. Also in 2016, Henry was awarded an honorary doctorate from Nottingham Trent University in recognition of his significant contribution to British comedy and drama, along with his achievements in international charity work.


Bibliography

* Margolis, Jonathan. ''Lenny Henry – A Biography'', Orion, 1995; 196 pages. * Henry, Lenny. ''Who am I, again?'', Faber & Faber, 2019; 288 pages. * Henry, Lenny. ''Access All Areas'', Faber & Faber, 2021; 192 pages.


Narration

* ''White Teeth'' by Zadie Smith (audiobook) 2000. * ''Anansi Boys'' by Neil Gaiman (audiobook) 2005. * ''My Name Is Leon'' by Kit de Waal (audiobook) 2016. * ''Who am I, again?'' by Lenny Henry (audiobook) 2019.


Screen and stage

;Film ;Television


Stage


References


External links


Interview with Lenny Henry and Barrie Rutter on BBC News

Lenny Henry
at the British Film Institute, BFI's Screenonline
Lenny Henry
at the British Film Institute
Lenny Henry
at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, MBC's Museum of Broadcast Communications#Encyclopedia of Television, Encyclopedia of Television
Lenny Henry
at the Bbc.co.uk Guide to Comedy *
Learn how to write stories with Lenny Henry
BBC raw words Articles

(Media Guardian)
Messenger News interview
May 2008
Thedrum.com article
{{DEFAULTSORT:Henry, Lenny 1958 births Living people 20th-century English comedians 20th-century English male actors 21st-century English comedians 21st-century English male actors Actors awarded knighthoods Alumni of the Open University Alumni of Royal Holloway, University of London Audiobook narrators BBC Radio 1 presenters Black British comedians Black British writers Black British male actors Black British television personalities Blackface minstrel performers British male Shakespearean actors Chrysalis Records artists Comedians from Worcestershire Comic Relief 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 English television producers Fellows of the Royal Television Society Knights Bachelor Male actors from the West Midlands (county) Male actors from Worcestershire People educated at St James Academy, Dudley People from Dudley People from Shinfield Science fiction fans People associated with Birmingham City University