Lenny has been one of Britain’s best comedy performers for over 30 years. He is an award winning comedian, documentary maker, communicator and a founding member of Comic Relief.
He studied at Bluecoat Secondary Modern School, WR Tewson School, and Preston College, and has since obtained a degree in English literature from the Open University.
His earliest TV appearances were on the New Faces TV talent show in the 1970s where he was a repeat winner. His formative years were in working men’s clubs where his unique act – a young black man impersonating white characters such as Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – gave him an edge in what were racially divisive times. Subsequently he was a comedy performer on The Black and White Minstrel Show.
Later he appeared on the children’s programme Tiswas and subsequently 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 which both mocked and celebrated black British culture, such as Theophilus P. Wildebeeste (a Barry White-a-like), Brixton pirate radio DJ Delbert Wilkins and Trevor MacDoughnut (a spoof on Trevor McDonald). Much of his stand-up material, which was enormously popular on recorded LP, owed much to the writing abilities of Kim Fuller.
Henry’s TV work started principally with his own self-titled show, which has appeared in variant forms ever since. He was also a part-time member of The Comic Strip.
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 have prevented it from being distributed on video or DVD.
In the early 1990s, Henry was lured to Hollywood to star in the film True Identity, in which his character spent most of the film pretending to be a white person in order to avoid the mob.
Lenny Henry CBE is perhaps best known to modern audiences as the choleric chef of the comedic 1990s television series Chef!. In 1999 he also had a successful straight-acting lead role in the BBC drama Hope And Glory and tried his hand at soul singing, appearing, for example, as a back-up singer on Kate Bush’s last recorded album in 1993.
In 2003, he was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.
He was also 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.
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.
Henry is also one of the celebrities most associated with the British Comic Relief charity organisation along with Griff Rhys Jones.
Lenny has also been a firm advocate for cultural diversity, both at the BBC and throughout the entertainment field. He sees mentoring, leadership, goal setting and teamwork as the central tenets to every aspect of his career and the things he cares about. He is also prepared to talk about Comic Relief, cultural diversity in the work place and team work.