Lenny Henry won a TV talent contest in his teens to become one of the country’s best known actors and comedians, earning him a knighthood along the way

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Sir Lenworth George Henry, better known as Lenny, was born in Dudley, the West Midlands, to Jamaican parents. In 1975 aged 17, he won TV talent show New Faces with his impersonation of Stevie Wonder. The following year he appeared in the black sitcom, The Fosters.

As a stand-up comic he continued doing impersonations, including Trevor McDoughnut (Trevor McDonald), David Bellamy, and Theophilus P Wildebeeste, (Teddy Prendergrass). Pirate radio DJ Delbert Wilkins became the main character in The Lenny Henry Show, which ran for two series from 1985 on the BBC. From 1987-1988 Delbert had a show of his own on the same channel.

Lenny’s production company Crucial Films was key in finding new black talent in performing and writing. It produced the comedy series The Real McCoy for BBC2, which featured Leo Chester, Meera Syal, Eddie Nestor and Llewella Gideon.

In 1998 he starred with Marianne Jean Baptise in the BBC drama The Man, where he played a travel agent from Birmingham who wanted to play in a band.

Between 1993 and 1996 he played the lead in Chef!, a sitcom about Gareth Blackstock a tyrannical head chef at a country restaurant. So Much Things To Say, marked his first appearance in the West End, at the Wyndham Theatre, to critical acclaim.

In 2009, he made his Shakespearean debut in the title role of Othello, and his performance earned him the Best Newcomer Award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. He returned to Shakespeare in 2011 as Antipholus of Syracuse in A Comedy of Errors.

Lenny has also written a number of radio dramas, and his sitcom Rudy’s Rare Records, in which he played the title role, ran for two series on BBC Radio 4 in 2008-2009 before going on to be produced for the stage and television in 2014.

Since 1985, he has been a co-founder and a presenter of the Beeb’s charity fundraiser, Comic Relief.

For his services to drama, broadcasting and charity, Lenny has been awarded a CBE (1999) and a knighthood (2015). He is a Fellow of the Royal Television Society and received a BAFTA Television: Special Award in 2016. Throughout his career he has been critical of television’s lack of ethnic diversity in its programming, describing it as “a huge problem” in 2017.

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