LONDON — The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is set to honor British comedian, actor and writer Lenny Henry. He will receive BAFTA’s Special Award in recognition of his “outstanding creative contribution to television” at the British Academy Television Awards on May 8.
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.”
Majumdar added: “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.”
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.”
Henry’s first television exposure came in 1975 on the ITV talent show “New Faces.” In the late 1970s he was a regular contributor to the ITV Saturday morning children’s show “Tiswas.” He 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 he 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 included 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 can currently be seen in the lead role of Troy Maxson in “Fences” at the Duchess Theatre in London.
In 1985, Henry was one of the founding members of the charity “Comic Relief,” along with comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis. It has gone on to raise over £1 billion ($1.46 billion) through its Red Nose Day and Sport Relief campaigns.
The Special Award was presented last year to television producer and writer Jeff Pope. Previous recipients include television executive Jane Tranter (2009), documentary-maker Paul Watson (2008), producer Andy Harries (2007), documentarian Adam Curtis (2006) and director and screenwriter Paul Greengrass (2005).