Last night, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts honored Lenny Henry, one of Britain’s best-loved comedians and writers, with the Special Award at the Royal Festival Hal.
The 2016 Special Award is named in honor of the late TV Director Alan Clarke, and was presented to Lenny Henry in recognition of his outstanding creative contribution to television.
The Alan Clarke award was last presented in 2015 to television producer and writer Jeff Pope. Previous recipients include television executive Jane Tranter (2009), documentary filmmaker Paul Watson (2008), producer Andy Harries (2007), documentarian Adam Curtis (2006) and director and screenwriter Paul Greengrass (2005).
Krishnendu Majumdar, Chair of BAFTA’s Television Committee, said: “There is no-one more deserving of the Special Award this year than Lenny Henry. He has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a performer and writer, appearing in dozens of shows from ‘Tiswas’ to the hugely popular ‘Lenny Henry Show’ and most recently in the drama, ‘The Syndicate;’ proving his appeal spans all generations and genres. Lenny’s recent groundbreaking BAFTA lecture has helped to reframe and reignite the discussion about diversity in British television, with the conversations he has sparked already leading to positive changes. This, coupled with his incredible contribution to the industry, makes him the perfect choice for the Special Award.”
Lenny Henry said: “This is fantastic! I am truly humbled and truly hopeful that this award is a pan-industry acknowledgement that diversity must be at the heart of our industry if we are to reflect British society now and, most importantly, in the future.”
Dudley-born Henry’s first television exposure came in 1975 on the ITV talent show “New Faces.” In the late seventies he was a regular contributor to the ITV Saturday morning children’s show “Tiswas.” Henry later joined with Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield to create the sketch show “Three of A Kind” (BBC One, 1981-1983). This was followed by “The Lenny Henry Show,” for which Henry received a BAFTA nomination for Light Entertainment Performance in 1985. The show also received a BAFTA nomination for Light Entertainment Program in 1989.
During the 1990s Henry set up his own production company Crucial Films, which produced “Funky Black Shorts,” a series of 10 minute films for BBC Two, and was involved in the development of “The Real McCoy” comedy series, designed to present a black perspective through humor. Onscreen, Henry starred in shows such as “Bernard & The Genie” (BBC One, 1991) directed by Richard Curtis, “White Goods” (ITV, 1994) co-starring Ian McShane and “Chef!” (BBC One, 1993-1996), where he played the eponymous lead role. He also made several documentaries, including “New Soul Nation” (Channel 4, 1993) and the South Bank Show special “Darker Than Me” (ITV, 1994), and hosted the British Academy Film and Television Awards in 1997.
From 1999 to 2000 Henry played the Head Teacher in the BBC One drama “Hope and Glory.” In the following decade his credits include comedy series “Lenny Henry in Pieces” (BBC One, 2000-2003) which won the Golden Rose at the Montreux Television Festival in 2001, the ITV drama “Goodbye Mr Steadman” (2001) and the documentary series “Lenny’s Britain” (BBC One, 2007).
In February 2009 Henry made his Shakespearean acting debut in the title role of “Othello,” for which he was awarded Best Newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. In 2011 he returned to Shakespeare playing Antipholus of Syracuse in “The Comedy of Errors” at the National Theatre. He was most recently seen in the lead role of Troy Maxson in “Fences” at the Duchess Theatre in London.
After completing a degree in English Literature, Henry gained an MA in Screenwriting for Film and Television. He is currently studying for a PhD on the role of BAME people in the media.
Lenny Henry was also one of the founding members of the charity, Comic Relief, along with comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis. Since it’s beginning in 1985, the charity has gone on to raise over £1 billion through its Red Nose Day and Sport Relief campaigns.
Henry has also previously won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Comedy Awards in 2003, and more recently the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Actor in 2014 as well as being awarded the Royal Television Society Fellowship in March this year.
He was knighted in the Queen’s birthday honors in 2015, so it’s Sir Lenny Henry to you.
Watch his acceptance speech from last night’s BAFTA event: