Lenny Henry is one of Britains best known Comedians. Over the last decade Lenny Henry has risen from being a cult star on children’s television to being one of Britain’s best
known and loved personalities – who has had a crucial influence on the creation of black-centred comedy and characters.
His character creations range from Brixton’s favourite wideboy Delbert Wilkins to the one man ‘sex machine’ Theophilus P. Wildebeeste and the Guinness supping Grandpa Deakus. Lenny and his various char acters appeal across all classes, creeds and age groups.
Lenny was born in 1958 in Dudley, West Midlands. "My family came to the UK at a time when blacks were just beginning to be integrated into British society. I was one of just three blacks in our school"
His first television exposure was as a comic on New Faces. In the late seventies he appeared in TISWAS, the Saturday morning children’s’ show in which Lenny was a regular contributor alongside Chris Tarrant and Bob Carolgees.
“TISWAS” represented an anarchic, irreverent style of comedy and Chris Tarrant made a big impression on me. It was then that I began to develop my work – I did Three of a Kind straight afterwards and started looking at what other comedians were doing. I remember going to the Comedy Store and realising that I didn’t have to rely on
impersonations so much and that I could be funnier by being myself!"
Since 1991 Lenny has worked primarily through his own production company Crucial Films. Lenny’s ‘Step Forward’ Workshop for new writers, in conjunction with the BBC, led to a new comedy series for BBC2. Entitled The Real McCoy, it consisted of six half-hour shows and was designed to present a black perspective through humour, sketches
and musical numbers.
Lenny was the first British comic to make a live stand-up comedy film in the tradition of American comedians such as Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. Lenny Henry Live and Unleashed was filmed before a live audience at the Hackney Empire and went on general release throughout the UK.
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.
Henry is well 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 and producer of the 1996 BBC drama serial Neverwhere.
Lenny also tried his hand at soul singing, appearing, for example, as a back-up 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.
Lenny Henry has long worked in association with British Comic Relief charity organisation, along with his wife, comedienne Dawn French.
Other more recent roles include 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.
On 16 June 2007, Lenny appeared with Chris Tarrant and Sally James to present a 25th Anniversary episode of Tiswas.
Today children will know his voice from the voices of both Big and Small in the Children’s TV show Big and Small
In February 2009 Henry appeared in the Northern Broadsides production of Othello, in the title role, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
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.”
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”.
Henry has said he saw parallels between himself and Othello. “Im 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.”
Henry met his wife and ex-partner Dawn French on the alternative comedy circuit. The couple married in 1984 in Westminster, London; they have an adopted daughter, Billie.
On 6 April 2010, it was announced that Henry and French were to separate after 25 years of marriage.