Lenworth George Henry CBE (born 29 August 1958), better known as Lenny Henry, is an English entertainer.
Henry was born in Dudley, Worcestershire, the son of parents who migrated to England from Jamaica in the 1950s. He studied at Sledmere Primary School, Bluecoat Secondary Modern School, WR Tewson School, and Preston college. He graduated with a degree in English literature from the Open University on April 28, 2007.
His earliest television appearance was on the New Faces talent show in 1975 where he repeatedly won. The following year he appeared in LWT's sitcom The Fosters alongside Norman Beaton, Britain's first comedy series with predominantly black performers. His formative years were in working men's clubs where his unique act — a young black man impersonating white characters such as the Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em character Frank Spencer (whom he impersonated on New Faces) — gave him an edge in what were racially divisive times.
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. Around this time, he met his future wife, Dawn French, who 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 (a Barry White-a-like), 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 cutting edge soul and electro tracks and introducing some of the characters that he would later popularise on television.
Henry's television work started principally with his own self-titled show, which has appeared in variant forms ever since. A principal scriptwriter for his television and stage shows during the 1990s was Jon Canter. Henry was also a part-time member of The Comic Strip.
Henry appeared in the final episode of The Young Ones as The Postman, in 1984.
In the early 1990s, Henry went to Hollywood to star in the film True Identity, in which his character spent most of the film pretending 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 along side Robbie Coltrane called Alive and Kicking, in which he played a heroin addict, which was based on a true story.
Henry is perhaps best known to modern audiences 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.
Henry 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. 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, he was listed in The Observer as one of the fifty funniest acts in British comedy.
Henry is also one of the celebrities most associated with the British Comic Relief'charity organisation, along with his wife, well-known 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 March–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, broadcast on CBeebies.
Henry has also appeared in advertisements for butter products in New Zealand, which were 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 also promoted the non-alcoholic lager, Kaliber.
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 March 16, 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 fundraising programme of 2007.
In March 2007, Henry visited Ipswich to emphasise community.
On the 16th of 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. He is currently (June-July 2007) presenting Lenny's Britain, a comedy documentary tour made with the Open University on BBC1 on Tuesday nights.
Henry met his future wife Dawn French on the alternative comedy circuit. The couple married on 20 October 1984, and have an adopted daughter, Billie. The couple have a home in Spencers Wood at Shinfield, near Reading, in Berkshire but have put it on the market in light of their purchase of a home close to Dawn's mother in Fowey, Cornwall.
He supports West Bromwich Albion.
He graduated from the Open University in 2007 with a BA (Hons).
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