Life’s no laughing matter: Lenny Henry’s Rising To The Surface book | Books | Entertainment


This second volume takes us through his comedy career in the 1980s and 90s. He had a shaky start with OTT, a version of Tiswas for adults.

He recalls visiting family in Dudley and overhearing them talk about the show. “It was terrible… He should be hung, drawn and quartered.” “Come on, he’s our brother.” “All right, just quartered.”

Eventually, he learned to stop “hiding behind hats, wigs, beards and silly costumes” and tried to find “the real Lenny Henry”, performing truthful routines based on growing up in a loving but fractious immigrant family and addressing the racial prejudice he’d faced.

Combined with his astonishing energy and joyous capacity for daftness, this material helped him become one of Britain’s most popular comedians.

But his success did not bring contentment in those early years, as he fretted over not being famous enough, gaining weight, and bearing the responsibility of representing Britain’s black population to a mass TV audience.

His openness about his unhappiness is commendable, although you sometimes find yourself wishing for less angst and more anecdotes.

But he became more grounded after marrying fellow comic Dawn French in 1984.

His great regret is that he didn’t see enough of his family while working himself to the bone.

Readers will regret it too, as there isn’t enough in this volume of his hilarious mother Winifred, who lights up the page whenever she appears.

There is fascinating stuff about his doomed attempt to crack America, and his formative role in Comic Relief.

But this second volume, detailing the ups and downs of his career, doesn’t have the same magic as the earlier volume dealing with the youthful experiences that shaped his unique outlook on life.

  • Rising To the Surface, Lenny Henry, Faber, £20, To order any of these books, please visit or call 020 3176 3832. Free UK p&p for orders over £20.

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