Lenny Henry Turns 60

The Lenny Henry Birthday Show
Star Rating: ****
Broadcast: 22nd August 2018, BBC1

As birthday presents go getting a 60 minute birthday tribute show on primetime BBC1 television must rank pretty highly. That is one big early birthday present Sir Lenny Henry got exactly one week ahead of his 60th birthday on 29th August 2018.

This fabulous show showcased exactly why Sir Lenny Henry has become such a national treasure. To think he first broke through to national consciousness 43 years ago via winning New Faces in 1977, aged just 17 years young. Older readers will recall this as one of the original talent shows long before shows like Britain’s Got Talent and the X Factor.

Sir Lenny Henry PhD

From thereon the rest as they say is history. This highly enjoyable show had as its centre piece an interview with his fellow knight of the realm and national treasure, Sir Trevor Mcdonald.  The mutual affection and comfortableness with one another was a joy to watch. Lenny was on great form telling stories about growing up as a young lad from Dudley hoping to make it as a Comedian. The tales of his strict Jamaican mum were great to hear and clearly influenced a lot of his earlier material from his younger days. There was a great energy, passion and vitality to his story telling which we used to see a lot more of when he did the chat show circuit.

The interviews was interspersed with some top quality sketches that harked back to prime time Lenny when his comedy and sketch shows were must see television events. I loved the sketches of Bishop Michael Curry, Childish Gambino and Stormzy in particular. It reminded you that Lenny Henry’s still today pretty much the only TV comedian who could carry off impersonating such famous Black figures authentically, which curiously enough is both impressive and disappointing at the same time.

The old clips from Tiswas and other shows were lovely to watch as they took the viewer on a trip down memory lane.

What’s mightily impressive and what sets Lenny apart from many of his peers is the unusual career path his trodden – from Comedian, to charity fundraiser par excellence (Comic Relief has raised over £1billion to date since its inception in 1985), to knighthood, to academic (in under 20 years between aged 40-59 Lenny knuckled down and got himself a degree, masters and PhD,  despite being hugely wealthy and famous and not really having to do so), to an actor, not just of “regular roles” but taking on heavyweight Shakespeare roles too.

Troy (Lenny Henry) and Cory (Ashley Zhangazha) in Fences

Sir Lenny Henry’s impact on the British comedy scene is legendary. More recently he’s got ever more active in the fight for diversity in the media. In terms of diversity there’s still a long way to go as it shouldn’t be that only a select few Black and minority performers like Sir Lenny Henry are getting TV shows and films commissioned. There are countless excellent comedians and comedic writers who’d be great on television and should get regularly commissioned shows, including Comedians such as Marlon Davis, Prince Abdi, Judi Love and Nathan Caton, whom Lenny gave cameo roles to during his Stormzy sketch.

The Lenny Henry Birthday Show was a fitting, joyful and lovely tribute that briefly highlighted the varied career of a much loved national treasure.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Photo from Fences ©  courtesy of Nobby Clark

The Lenny Henry Birthday show is available on BBC i-player until 27th September 2018

Links

  1. Lenny Henry graduates from Royal Holloway University – 13th July 2018
  2. Arise Sir Lenny Henry – receiving a knighthood  at Windsor Castle – 29th June 2015
  3. Beyond a Joke: Inside the dark minds of stand-up comedians – Tiemo review of Bruce Dessau book – 2nd September 2018
  4. Brung up Proper: Jason Manford autobiography – Tiemo book review – 21st August 2018
  5. Mack the Life: Lee Mack autobiography- Tiemo book review – 19th August 2018

 

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