Lenny Henry

Lenny Henry

Date of birth: 28-08-1958
Born in Dudley, West Midlands, to Jamaican immigrant parents, Lenny Henry has been a stand-up comedian since 1975, winning the ITV talent show New Faces when he was just 16.

It landed him a role on LWT's sitcom The Fosters – Britain's first comedy series with predominantly black performers – and gave him a jump-start on the circuit of working men's clubs and summer seasons, where he would perform impressions and joke-book gags.

He also signed up to be one of the comedians on tour with the controversial Black and White Minstrels Show – alongside white song-and-dance men who blacked-up to sing old songs from the days of slavery. He later said of the shows: ‘I didn't really know any better... It hurts thinking about it now. I think the term "ill advised" could be bandied about here.’

He eventually quit the show as he found a new outlet in the Saturday-morning kids' show Tiswas in 1978. Although his early appearances did not go down well, he began to create recurring characters such as David Bellamy and Trevor McDonut, which found favour with the young audience.

Throughout the early Eighties he continued to perform in summer seasons alongside the likes of Cannon and Ball, while also starting to tour his own show in colleges.

After Tiswas, he was signed up to the 1981 BBC sketch show Three of a Kind alongside Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield, which ran for three series. At about this time, he first visited the Comedy Store where he met his future wife, Dawn French, and realised there was a different form of comedy: 'I didn't have to rely on impersonations so much and that I could be funnier by being myself.’

Three of a Kind was followed by his first solo show, the Lenny Henry Show, featuring Delbert Wilkins. It has reappeared under various guises over the years, including Lenny Henry Goes To Town, a prime-time Saturday night show in 1998 in which he visited a different UK town every week, and Lenny Henry In Pieces , which won the Golden Rose Award at the 2001 Montreux Television Festival. In the summer of 2007 he returned to the idea of touring the UK, with Lenny's Britain, a comedy documentary made during his live tour.

Henry claims to be the first British comic to have made a live stand-up comedy film, with Lenny Henry Live and Unleashed going on general release back in 1989. His other live shows have included In Loud (1994), Larger Than Life in (1996), Large 99 (1999), Have You Seen This Man (2002).

Henry also set up his own production company, Crucial Films, whiche made the BBC Two comedy series The Real McCoy.

In 1991, Henry made his Hollywood debut in True Identity, in which he played a white man, but the film proved a flop. In 1993 he made the first series of Chef! for BBC One, playing a short-tempered chef, and was named BBC personality of the year by the Radio and Television Industry Club. A second and third series followed.

He has also appeared in a number of dramatic roles, playing a drug dealer in BBC One's Alive and Kicking in 1991 and as headteacher Ian George in the BBC One drama Hope and Glory, which ran for three series from 1999.

In 1997, Lenny travelled to the Amazon to film a survival documentary for BBC One; and he sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for a two-part documentary, Lenny's Atlantic Adventure, in 2000.

In early 2008, he hosted internet clip show lennyhenry.tv for BBC One, and starred in the Radio 4 show Rudy's Rare Records.

Henry was made a CBE in 1999 and gained a BA in English Literature from the Open University in 2007.

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Sir Lenny Henry announces UK tour

To tie in with the publication of his memoirs

Sir Lenny Henry has announced a new tour to coincide with the publication of his memoirs.

The comic has announced a 34-date tour of An Evening with Lenny Henry - Who Am I, Again? starting in Birmingham on 20 October. 

In part one of the show, Sir Lenny will share stories from growing up in the Black Country, puberty, school, friendship, family secrets and unashamed racism.

In part two, he will be interviewed by his friend, the broadcaster and author Jon Canter, followed by questions from the audience.

Sir Lenny said: ‘I’m looking forward to travelling around and telling these stories. Writing the book was a huge feat and I’m very proud of it - I can’t wait to share more stories and fun about growing up in the Midlands, my early days in the clubs, pubs and discotheques and of course working on Tiswas, Three of a Kind and The Lenny Henry Show.

‘The show promises to be an evening of memories, laughter and fun - I can’t wait to get started.’ 

His book – which Chortle first reported back in October 2017- will be out on Faber on October 3. It is described as a ‘heartfelt and hilarious’ portrait of his early years that touches on migration, race, home and family. Click here to order.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on Friday, and the tour dates are.

20 October: Birmingham Hippodrome
21 October: Sheffield City Hall
22 October: York Barbican
24 October: Croydon Fairfield Hall
25 October: Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion
26 October: Watford Colosseum
27 October: Basingstoke Anvil
29 October: Leeds Town Hall
30 October: Hull City Hall
31 October: Gateshead Sage
1 November: Edinburgh Edinburgh International Conference Centre
3 November: Blackpool Opera House
4 November: Salford The Lowry
5 November: Bradford St George’s Hall
6 November: Liverpool Empire
8 November: Hackney Empire
9 November: Southampton Guildhall
10 November: Plymouth Pavilions
11 November: Oxford New Theatre
12 November: Bournemouth Pavilion
14 November: Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
15 November: Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall
16 November: Cardiff Wales Millennium Centre
17 November: Coventry Warwick Arts Centre
18 November: Northampton Derngate
20 November: Southend Cliffs Pavilion
21 November: Leicester De Montfort Hall
22 November: Dudley Town Hall
24 November: Portsmouth Guildhall
25 November: Cambridge Corn Exchange
26 November: Ipswich Regent Theatre
27 November: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
28 November: Bath Forum
29 November: Stoke Regent Theatre

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Published: 13 May 2019

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