Sir Lenny Henry at 60: A career in pictures


British comedian, actor and television presenter Sir Lenny Henry turns 60 on Wednesday 29 August. To mark the occasion, we’re taking a look back over his career and life in pictures.

Photo composite of Sir Lenny Henry.

Sir Lenny has been entertaining people for more than 40 years.

Born in 1958 in Dudley, West Midlands, Sir Lenny said of his childhood: “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.”

Television exposure came to Sir Lenny at the age of 16 on the talent show New Faces, when he bunked off school to try his luck as a comedian in 1975, seen below.

Lenny Henry on New Faces in 1975.

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Lenny Henry on New Faces in 1975.

Sir Lenny became a regular on the Saturday morning ITV children’s show Tiswas (below), alongside its main hosts Chris Tarrant and Sally James (front).

Lenny Henry, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Tomlinson, Frank Carson, Sally James, Chris Tarrant and John Gorman on TISWAS TV show in 1978.

He said: “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.”

Sir Lenny’s characters on Tiswas included Algernon Winston Razamatazz, below left.

Lenny Henry on TV show TISWAS.

The next comedy adventure was Three of a Kind sketch show with Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield, running for three years on the BBC until 1983.

The show won accolades at the Variety Club Awards in 1984, seen below.

Comedians David Copperfield, Tracey Ullman and Lenny Henry with their awards for TV show 'Three of a Kind' at the Variety Club Awards in 1984.

In 1984, Sir Lenny married fellow comedian Dawn French at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, London.

British comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry at their wedding at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, 21st October 1984.

Sir Lenny got his own sketch programme, the Lenny Henry Show in 1984, running for two series in the 1980s.

It featured Sir Lenny as the Brixton-based pirate radio DJ Delbert Wilkins, below.

Lenny Henry as Delbert Wilkins on the Lenny Henry Show

As well as DJ Delbert Wilkins were other characters, such as “Brixton’s Prince of Cool”, a style counsellor and a fashion model.

Seen below, left to right, are Vas Blackwood as Winston, Sir Lenny Henry as Delbert Wilkins and Ellen Thomas as Rose, from the Lenny Henry Show.

Lenny Henry as Delbert Wilkins on the Lenny Henry Show

In 1985 Sir Lenny and Four Weddings and a Funeral director Richard Curtis co-founded Comic Relief, a British charity with the vision of creating a world free from poverty, using comedy to raise money and change lives.

Sir Lenny is seen below with Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and puppets from the satirical puppet show Spitting Image at a Comic Relief photocall in 1986.

'Light Relief' Spitting Image photocall for Comic Relief with Dawn French, Lenny Henry and Jennifer Saunders.

The first Red Nose Day, part of Comic Relief, took place in 1988, with more than 150 celebrities and comedians making a television appeal on the BBC to an audience of 30 million, raising £15 million. Sir Lenny spent the first Red Nose Day with children in Ethiopia.

Comic Relief continues to this day, with Sir Lenny appointed as an Honorary Life President of Comic Relief in 2017.

In 1989, Sir Lenny made a live stand-up comedy film called Lenny Henry Live and Unleashed in front of a live audience at the Hackney Empire, the first British comic to do so.

Stills from Sir Lenny’s live show are seen below, including his impersonation of Hollywood actor Eddie Murphy (below).

Lenny Henry in live stand-up comedy film Lenny Henry Live and Unleashed in 1989.

Sir Lenny starred in Touchstone/Disney film True Identity in 1991, shot in LA and New York. He played an actor who disguises himself as a white man to escape from the mob, seen in a film poster and stills below.

Film poster for 1991 film True Identity.

Lenny Henry in film True Identity.

Sir Lenny is seen above and below left in True Identity.

Lenny Henry and Frank Langella in 1991 film True Identity.

Also in 1991, Sir Lenny made BBC drama Alive and Kicking, playing a drug dealer with Robbie Coltrane (below centre) as a drug counsellor. It also featured Paul Barber as Earl Preston, below left.

Paul Barber as Earl Preston, Robbie Coltrane as Liam Kane and Lenny Henry as Stevie Smudger Smith in Alive and Kicking

The drama earned the Monaco Red Cross and The Golden Nymph Award at the Monte Carlo Television Festival.

In the 1990s, Sir Lenny worked through his own production company Crucial Films and created a workshop for new writers in conjunction with the BBC, called Step Forward.

The workshops led to a new series called The Real McCoy; six half-hour shows that aimed to present a black perspective through humour, sketches and musical numbers. Four further series followed.

Series five of The Real McCoy featured (below, left to right) Kulwinder Ghir, Llewella Gideon, Judith Jacob, Leo Chester, Felix Dexter, Ishmael Thomas, Meera Syal and Robbie Gee.

Kulwinder Ghir, Llewella Gideon, Judith Jacob, Leo Chester, Felix Dexter, Ishmael Thomas, Meera Syal and Robbie Gee seen in a promotional photo of series five of The Real McCoy

Sir Lenny turned his hand to documentaries in 1997 with Lenny’s Big Amazon Adventure, a survival programme in the Amazon, seen below.

Lenny Henry in Lenny's Big Amazon Adventure in 1997

Sir Lenny was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Performance Award at the 2003 British Comedy Awards.

Also in 2003, Sir Lenny made his first appearance in the London West End in the one-man show So Much Things to Say (see below), co-written with Kim Fuller.

Lenny Henry in one-man show So Much Things to Say at Wyndham's Theatre, London.

He went on tour with the play in the UK, Australia and New Zealand in 2004.

The actor trod the boards again with his Shakespearean debut in 2009 starring as Othello at the Trafalgar Studios in London, seen below with Jessica Harris as Desdemona.

Lenny Henry as Othello and Jessica Harris as Desdemona in William Shakespeare's Othello at the Trafalgar Studios in London.

He won the Best Newcomer Award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for his performance.

In 2010, Sir Lenny and Dawn French ended their 25-year marriage.

One of Sir Lenny’s most well-known impersonations is of the British newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald early in his career. In 2013 the pair were photographed together at a press night at the Duchess Theatre in London.

Sir Tevor McDonald meets actor Lenny Henry following his performance on press night of 'Fences' at the Duchess Theatre in London.

Sir Lenny has met the Queen on numerous occasions including here in 2014 at the Dramatic Arts reception at Buckingham Palace.

Queen Elizabeth II meets guests, including Lenny Henry, during the Dramatic Arts reception at Buckingham Palace on February 17, 2014 in London.

The following year, he received his knighthood, becoming Sir Lenny Henry, seen below at the investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle.

Sir Lenny Henry after receiving a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II during an Investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle on December 4, 2015 in Windsor, England.

Some of Sir Lenny’s most recent television work includes the BBC drama series The Syndicate in 2015, seen being filmed below, which explored the life-changing repercussions of a group of people winning the lottery.

Lenny Henry filming The Syndicate

Sir Lenny also played greengrocer Ed in ITV crime thriller series Broadchurch in 2017, seen below.

Sarah Parish as Cath and Lenny Henry as Ed.

As Sir Lenny approached his 60th birthday he revealed changes to his diet for health reasons, including cutting out sugar and reducing alcohol intake, leading to dramatic weight loss.

Despite his new strict eating regime, he recently told the One Show that he still intended to let himself have a good time for his big day.

Sir Lenny is seen below at a screening of the film BlacKkKlansman in London, the week before his 60th birthday.

Sir Lenny Henry attends the Blackkklansman Special Screening at Ham Yard Hotel on August 21, 2018 in London.

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