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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
The real Lenny Henry
Lenny Henry
Lenny Henry in his Golden Rose-winning In Pieces
Lenny Henry's Golden Rose award has capped a long and tumultuous career in British television.

The comedian has endured his fair share of criticism without forfeiting the affection of the British public.

Born on 29 August 1958 in the West Midlands town of Dudley, Lenworth George Henry shot to fame in 1975 aged just 17 after appearing on the TV talent show New Faces.

His winning appearance led to joining the comedy series The Fosters and the anarchic children's show Tiswas, where he started to forge his own energetic and spontaneous comedy style.

His next career move was to haunt him for many years.

He joined the Black and White Minstrel Show, in which "blacked up" white entertainers sang songs for the American South - a concept which has since been much ridiculed and reviled.

Future wife

After five years touring with the show - and frankly admitting his need to get out - Henry joined Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield in the sketch series Three Of A Kind in 1981.

Dawn French
Dawn French: Successful in her own right

"Alternative" comedy was hot, and through TV producer Paul Jackson, Henry met cutting-edge comedians the Comic Strip team - one of whom was his future wife, Dawn French.

At first Dawn French was critical of Henry's manner and the stand-up routines he still used to make a living, which had evolved in northern working men's clubs.

He would wipe sweat from his forehead and say it tasted like chocolate - or threaten to move next door to hecklers if they did not shut up.

Despite their first impressions of each other, the couple got engaged, marrying in 1984 at St Paul's Church in London's Covent Garden.

An indication of Henry's changing political stance is that in 1984 he refused to judge a Miss Blackpool beauty contest saying that it was degrading to women.

Comic Relief

His TV career was progressing fast with BBC1's The Lenny Henry Show, and later The Delbert Wilkins Show.

Lenny Henry in Hope And Glory
The serious side: Hope And Glory

He also embarked on a long relationship with the Comic Relief charity project, for which he is now a key fundraiser.

1993's Chef! was another successful BBC One vehicle - but behind the scenes Henry was trying to nurture new black comedy talent, helping to set up BBC Two's The Real McCoy sketch show.

He also began to take on more serious roles.

Hope and Glory, in which Henry plays an embattled head teacher, first aired on BBC One in 1999 and has since gone through three series.

Other serious projects have included White Goods, Alive And Kicking and The Man.

Stress

In 1992 Henry and Dawn French adopted a daughter, Billie.

But their marriage - long regarded as one of the most solid in British showbusiness - has not been without stress, enduring newspaper allegations about Henry's love life in 1999.

Afterwards Henry spent some time at London's Priory clinic, which specialises in treatment for depression.

Monday's Golden Rose award marks another, more positive turn in Henry's fortunes - and will go on a mantelpiece already groaning with awards.

These include the Radio & Television Industry Club Award for BBC Personality of the Year 1993, the Royal Television Society Award for his outstanding contribution to multiethnic programming in the UK through his company Crucial Films, and a CBE in March 1999 for his charity and entertainment work.

And at only 42, Henry looks set to provide comic relief for years to come.

See also:

19 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Lenny and Dawn: still a double act
17 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Comic Relief a roaring success
26 Apr 01 | Showbiz
Attenborough honoured at Emmas
06 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Race awards recognise diversity
30 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Golden Rose for Henry
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