Sir Lenworth George Henry CBE (born 29 August 1958), known as Lenny Henry, is a stand-up comedian, actor, singer, writer and television presenter, known for co-founding the charity Comic Relief, and appearing in TV programmes including children’s entertainment show Tiswas, sitcom Chef! and The Magicians for BBC One.
Sir Lenny was born at Burton Road Hospital in Dudley, to Winifred Louise Henry (1922–1998), who emigrated to Britain from Jamaica before he was born. The fifth of seven children, Henry was the first to be born in the United Kingdom.
Henry’s first manager was Robert Luff, who signed him in 1975 and gave him the opportunity to perform from age 16 to 21 as a comedian as part of the Luff-produced touring stage version of The Black and White Minstrel Show, which has widely been seen as an embarrassment and one of the most racist shows in British history. Henry stated he was contractually obligated to perform and regretted his part in the show, in a 2015 interview he said that his appearance on the show led to a profound “wormhole of depression”, and regretted his family not intervening to prevent him from continuing in the show.
In 1976 he appeared in LWT‘s sitcom The Fosters, Britain’s first comedy series with predominantly black performers. The Fosters also stared Norman Beaton and Carmen Munroe went on to play Desmond and Shirley Ambrose in Channel 4 hit show “Desmond’s”
Lenny went on to have his own show that ran in the late 80’s and twice more in the 90’s and early 00’s. In February 2009, he appeared in the title role in the Northern Broadsides production of Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Henry received widespread critical acclaim in the role.
Henry has been an open critic of British television’s lack of ethnic diversity in its programmes. During a speech at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in March 2014, he called the lack of minorities “appalling” and he has continued to raise the issue publicly.