Who would have thought it? A working class boy from Dudley becoming a Knight of the British Empire. These things simply don’t happen do they? But the un-imaginable happened this month as Mr Lenny Henry was knighted in the Queens honours list and re-titled Sir Lenny Henry.
This is fantastic news and a thoroughly deserved honour for Lenny Henry, one of the great stalwarts of the comedy and TV industry over the last 40 years. He’s been on quite a remarkable journey. He first came to the nation’s attention by winning New Faces way back in 1975 – a precursor to the likes of Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor. He went on to front the anarchic Tiswas which changed the face of Saturday morning children’s and eventually got his very own TV show ‘The Lenny Henry Show’.
Lenny founded Comic Relief with Richard Curtis in 1985 which has now raised a staggering £1billion+ for good causes in Africa and here in the UK.
Lenny branched out into films such as ‘Lenny – Live and Unleashed’, ‘True Identity’ and in recent years focused on Shakespearean theatre ‘Othello’ ‘A Comedy of Errors’ ‘Fences’ and ‘Educating Rita’ plus TV dramas such as ‘Chef’. Earlier this month he could be seen in BBC1’s ‘The Syndicate’.
In recent years Lenny has not just focussed on his own projects but has visibly taken a stand against racial discrimination in the TV industry, vigorously and effectively campaigning for greater recognition for Black acting talent, for a more level playing field thereby creating more opportunities for acting roles. As a result he hopes that ethnic minority actors will secure more roles and go on to be recognised for their ability at awards ceremonies such as the BAFTA’s. If successful in this endeavour it would help to stem the acting talent drain to the USA. After all, if America can recognise and employ Black British acting talent, why can’t the UK TV and film industry?
The same, to a lesser extent, applies to the comedy industry. Apart from himself and Stephen K Amos, no Black British comedians ever get a mention at the British Comedy Awards. Gina Yashere, who appeared in the Lenny Henry show, has long since moved to the USA to further her career, having grown frustrated with the barriers to furthering her comedy career in Britain.
Lenny has been a role model to many in his time and I find it most admirable to say the least that in the last decade he has taken time out to significantly further his education – achieving a degree and masters degree. He is currently working for his Phd. Of course that is all very impressive at any age or stage of life, but to be doing it in your 50’s when you’re at the top of your profession, with plenty of money in the bank and no real career or financial need to knuckle down and study is quite something. Evidence indeed that Sir Lenny Henry recognises the value of lifelong learning and that you’re never too old to learn. Clearly Lenny was not listening when someone said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
It is very rare for comedians to be awarded honours which makes this award of the highest honour possible all the more remarkable. It’s official recognition from the British establishment of Lenny’s ability as the comedian who has put a smile on the nation’s face and made audiences laugh for the last 40 years.
We offer hearty congratulations to Sir Lenny Henry for all that he has achieved in the last 40 years. Stand up comedian. Character comedian. Actor. Student. Fundraiser. Campaigner. There is so much he has achieve and so much to admire and learn from in all that he has done and continues to do. Long may Lenny and his good work continue.
Congratulations Sir Lenny Henry.
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