Page last updated at 02:55 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 03:55 UK

End of 25-year double act for comedy couple

Dawn French and Lenny Henry at Comic Relief Press Launch
Both French and Henry supported Comic Relief

Comedy couple Dawn French and Lenny Henry's 25-year marriage seemed one of the strongest in show business.

Both enjoyed success on stage and screen, and their shared love of comedy stood them in good stead for the demanding and sometimes conflicting schedules of two high-profile careers in the limelight.

But, over the years, their prominent partnership had to endure the strain of racist abuse, reports of infidelity, and a long, failed effort to conceive a child.

The duo first met in 1981 when Henry was an established star of BBC's Three of a Kind and French was part of the alternative comedy scene at the Comic Strip club in London.

French was initially critical of Henry's stand-up routines.

And according to an interview with the Sunday Times magazine, after their first night together, French said she feared Henry, who had been going out with a "lot of blondes", would take a shine to her long-term professional partner, Jennifer Saunders.

Lenny Henry and Dawn French
They met on the alternative comedy circuit

However the couple soon got over their first impressions and formed a strong bond, marrying in 1984 at St Paul's Church in London's Covent Garden.

Both Henry, now 51, and French, 52, went on to achieve considerable success in their professional comedy careers.

French is best known for her TV series, including her collaboration with Jennifer Saunders - the French and Saunders sketch show which began in 1987.

And in the 1990s she became a household favourite as Geraldine Granger in TV drama The Vicar of Dibley.

'Heartbreaking'

Meanwhile Henry - who moved to Britain from Jamaica as a child and made his TV debut at 18 - fronted his own series The Lenny Henry Show, which from 1984 ran for a decade.

Last year he won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Othello on the London stage.

Both comedians also became key figures of Comic Relief.

Dawn French and Lenny Henry
The couple tied the knot in 1984

However the couple - who have an adopted daughter, Billie, now 18 - have had to encounter some difficulties in their private life.

In her autobiography, French described the "heartbreaking" trials of IVF as the couple repeatedly failed to conceive a child.

As one of the most visible mixed-race marriages in Britain, the couple have also suffered hate mail, arson and vandalism.

At one point, the couple were forced to move house after vandals smeared excrement on their front door and posted messages through the letterbox saying: "You have been visited by the Ku Klux Klan."

In 1999, the duo had to deal with newspaper reports alleging Henry had been unfaithful while on tour - however Henry denied having had an affair.

Until their separation was announced on Tuesday, the comedians seemed content in their relationship, with Henry often speaking of his happy home and referring to his wife as his "life partner" in routines.

In an interview in 2007, French said her husband was "the one".



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