Sir Lenworth George Henry CBE, better known as Lenny Henry, was born 29 August 1958. Henry’s first manager was Robert Luff, who signed him in 1975 and gave him the opportunity to perform as part of the Luff-produced touring stage version of ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. His earliest television appearance was on the New Faces talent show, which he won in 1975 with an impersonation of Stevie Wonder. The following year he appeared with Norman Beaton in LWT’s sitcom The Fosters, Britain’s first comedy series with predominantly black performers.
During the 1980’s Henry made a name for himself primarily as a comedian. 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 earlier, including Theophilus P. Wildebeeste and Delbert Wilkins. He participated in annual Comic Relief performances as well.
During the 1990’s, Henry became known as the choleric chef Gareth Blackstock from the television comedy series ‘Chef!’. He also tried his hand at soul singing, appearing, for example, as a backing singer on Kate’s song Why Should I Love You and, backed by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, at Amnesty International’s Big 30 fund raising concert. He would later say that neither move showed him at his best, and that he felt most comfortable with character comedy.
From 1991 until 1999 Lenny 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. Crucial also produced Funky Black Shorts, a series of 6 x 10 minute films for BBC2.
Lenny added yet another string to his bow with his first venture into the Classical music world. He breathes fresh life into the famous story of Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ as the narrator. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios the CD was released in March 2000. Later that year Lenny took to the seas with Tony Bullimore and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for a two-part documentary ‘Lenny’s Atlantic Adventure’ (BBC1).
In February 2009 Lenny made his Shakespearean acting debut taking the title role in the Northern Broadsides touring production of Othello. The show was very successful and received great reviews. Two years later, he made his debut as a playwright in April 2011 with ‘Corrinne Come Back and Gone’. The play explored the problems facing Caribbean immigrants returning to their homeland. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.Lenny was awarded the Lifetime Achievement – Performance Award at the 2003 British Comedy Awards.