Lenny Henry: ‘Eric was really good to me’

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Meeting the legendary Eric Morecambe will always hold dear memories for Lenny Henry.

As a young up-and-coming comic in the late ‘70s, Lenny worked with Morecambe’s favourite son and his partner Ernie Wise on a show in Bournemouth, and recalls the experience with fondness.

“I went on in the first half and was supposed to be on for 12 minutes.

“Morecambe and Wise’s audience were brilliant and were keeled over laughing, so I ended up doing 17 minutes.

“But afterwards, I got a telling off from the stage manager for running over time.

“Eric saw this from the side door and afterwards, he pulled me to one side and told me not to worry, and said he thought I was brilliant. He told me to do exactly the same amount of time the next night. So I did about 18 minutes the second time!

“Eric also told to me use his dressing room, said there was beer and everything. He was really good to me.”

Our Eric would surely be proud to see how far his young protege has come since then. With TV credits including Tiswas, Chef!, Three of a Kind and

The Lenny Henry Show, iconic characters such as Delbert Wilkins, Algernon Razzamatazz and Theophilus P Wildebeeste in his locker, and an ability to turn his versatile hand to everything from playing Shakespeare’s Othello to promoting Premier Inns, the 54-year-old has developed into one of Britain’s most loved and talented performers.

And as co-creator of Comic Relief, Henry has tirelessly campaigned since 1985 to raise money for the poor and disadvantaged, particularly in Africa. This work never stops. Even on this day, Lenny is rushing to give a presentation to Comic Relief partners British Airways about his recent trip to Kenya.

After helping to raise over £100million for the charity, little wonder Henry has just been awarded the Freedom of his home town of Dudley in the West Midlands. It’s the least he deserves.

“Woohoo!” yells Lenny at the news. He means it, too. It’s a genuine Homer Simpson childlike excitement, the kind that first captured viewers’ hearts when he won ITV’s New Faces talent show as a 16-year-old.

“It’s fantastic, it’s great, an honour. So that’s me and Sue Lawley now!

“I’ve also got a star on a pavement in Birmingham. I always said people would end up walking all over me.

“Dudley is great. There’s the Black Country Museum, Dudley Zoo, the canal...a plethora of riches.”

Lenny also has a great passion for music. As a kid, he says his parents had so many photos of Elvis on the wall “I thought he was a relative”.

His love for music has inspired his latest comedy stage show, Pop Life! He says it’s a ‘remixed’ version of his recent stand-up tour Cradle to the

Rave, which came soon after his divorce from Dawn French after over 25 years of marriage.

“Reviewers said the Cradle to the Rave show was great but quite sad, so trust me to do a show that reflects the last two or three years of my life,” he says.

“So this one is twice as funny. I think every day about music. I listen to it all the time and I love visiting vinyl shops. I get to sing Jailhouse Rock in this show and I play the piano. I’ve just passed my Grade 4 piano at the age of 54, so I should get to Grade 10 by the time I’m 145...”

Pop Life! stops off at Lancaster’s Grand Theatre on Sunday, October 28.

For Lenny, playing a smaller venue will be a challenge, but it’s one he’s relishing.

“I did my first gig aged 16 with The Grumbleweeds at Blackpool Opera House and there were 3,000 people screaming their heads off, so I got used to that from an early age. My favourite places to do comedy are places like the London Palladium and Birmingham Hippodrome, so it’s quite strange to do smaller shows.

“For a while the north of England was quite rough, for me. But I remember the time I played the Morecambe Dome in the ‘80s. I seem to recall it started quite rough, but I ended up having a fantastic time.”

I expect Lenny will have an equally great time on October 28 in Lancaster, and no doubt his audience will as well.

In the meantime, Lenny has asked us to publicise his new twitter account. Follow him @itislennyhenry .

Tickets for Lenny Henry - Pop Life! are available by calling 01524 64695. Tickets cost £25. The show starts at 7.30pm.

GREG LAMBERT