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Look at our Lenny Henry when he started out

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 30, 2013

By Dan Shaw

  • A fresh-faced Lenny Henry in 1980

  • Lenny Henry, earlier this year, with the Dudley borough mace

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EARLIER this year Lenny Henry was awarded the freedom of Dudley borough but this photograph of him takes us back 33 years to the beginnings of his career.

Here he is, a fresh-faced 20-something, wearing an enormous bow tie and loud stage jacket, but for all his youth he still had several years' stage experience under his belt.

Lenny was born at Burton Road Hospital, Dudley, in August 1958. He grew up on the Buffery estate and attended St John's Primary School and the Blue Coat School before studying at W.R. Tuson College in Preston, Lancashire.

Some of his earliest performances were at the Queen Mary Ballroom in Dudley and in 1975 he won the TV talent show New Faces, aged only 16. That same year he went on tour with The Black and White Minstrel Show. In 1976 he appeared in the ITV sitcom The Fosters, the first British comedy to have a largely black cast.

This picture comes from the programme for Showtime 80 at the North Pier, Blackpool. Topping the bill were comedians Cannon and Ball and they were joined by ventriloquist Roger de Courcey, singers Jacqui Scott and Graham Bickley and juggling act Teddy Peiro and Patricio.

The programme describes Lenny Henry's act as combining "comedy with singing and impressions of top personalities, including an almost life-like send up of his idol Muhammad Ali. The repertoire is extensive, and Lenny points out he has the most natural gimmick in showbiz. 'It's not every day audiences are treated to coloured versions of Max Bygraves, Tommy Cooper or Michael Crawford,' he quips."

Around this time Lenny was appearing in Tiswas and from 1981 to 1983 he wrote and starred in Three of a Kind with Tracy Ullman and David Copperfield. His own TV series, The Lenny Henry Show was launched in 1984.

In 1985, with Richard Curtis, he founded Comic Relief in response to that year's famine in Ethiopia. The first Red Nose Day was held in 1988 and the charity has raised over £750 million.

Lenny Henry was appointed a Commander of the Order of British Empire in 1999.

Lenny received the freedom of the borough from the Mayor of Dudley, Councillor Alan Finch, back in October. At the ceremony he said, "It is a real honour and I'm really chuffed. I had the freedom of Dudley as a kid now I feel like it's been made official. My family are incredibly proud of me. I grew up here and was raised here. This is not supposed to happen to someone like me, but I feel like this is a blessing."

Did you go to school with young Lenny? Have you any stories or pictures to share? Contact dshaw@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to our editorial address on page 2.

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