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Lenny Henry: Special Award 2016

Find out more about the Television Awards Special Award recipient in 2016


Lenny Henry is widely regarded as one of the UK’s best-known and most beloved performers. As well as his comedy output, both for television and live stand-up, he has written books, been a BBC Radio 1 DJ, performed Shakespeare and other plays on stage, and starred in films. And then there’s Red Nose Day, the now annual TV event that Henry helped launch in 1988 to support the charity Comic Relief (30 million viewers tuned in to that first night, raising more than £15 million). Henry’s services to charity and the arts were recognised in 1999 when he was appointed a CBE, and then knighted in the Queen’s 2015 Birthday Honours.

The biggest, most extraordinary moment [in my career] perhaps has been the British public’s commitment to Comic Relief.

The British Academy Awards in 1997BAFTA/Doug McKenzie
Lenny Henry presenting the British Academy Film and Television Awards in 1997
The British Academy Awards in 1997BAFTA/Doug McKenzie
Henry on stage with Diana Ross at the British Academy Film and Television Awards in 1997

 As one of the UK’s leading black performers, Henry has been a strong advocate in the campaign for improved diversity in the arts, an aim that BAFTA shares. 

Henry took the opportunity provided by the platform of BAFTA’s annual Television Lecture to focus on the subject in 2014, taking the television industry to task over its record on diversity with a headline-grabbing speech. He joined us again a year and a half later to assess what progress had been made and discover whether this will be enough to ensure growth and sustainability for diverse talent in the industry.

I want to ensure that the young, up-and-coming talent enter an industry that is truly diverse and reflects the society we live in. 

As well as his incredible back catalogue, it’s such progressive thinking as this that underlines why Sir Lenny is a worthy recipient of BAFTA’s Special Award. His ambitions may have changed since those early days – “Today, I am driven by an ambition to do good work and to work with people who feel the same” – but his drive to succeed and make a difference to the television industry remain the same. 


Photos courtesy of BBC Photo Library

Words by Toby Weidmann