Lenny Henry is a gift to Britain thanks to Comic Relief and so much more

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Sir Lenny Henry will host his final Comic Relief on Friday, 15 March. (BBC)

Sir Lenny Henry is the definition of a national treasure, he has had a huge impact on British culture. From his comedy beginnings to his dramatic acting prowess on the stage and screen, and his passion for charity work through Comic Relief, Henry has proven time and again why he deserves the title.

Henry will be hosting Red Nose Day for the final time on Friday, 15 March, stepping down after 39 years, it seems impossible to think of the event —which he co-founded with Richard Curtis in 1986— without him, and it'll be a bittersweet farewell when he does finally sign off.

Henry told BBC News of his final stint with the charity event: “I think I’ll be incredibly proud because it’s been a large part of my life and to see a new generation of people taking it forwards – we’ve got Maya Jama, David Tennant, Romesh Ranganathan – there’s such a huge amount of people coming up.

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Lenny Henry has said he is 'incredibly proud' of Comic Relief and Red Nose Day, and everything it has been able to achieve. (BBC)

“It’ll be fantastic to leave knowing that there’s – I’m getting emotional now – a new group of people taking over and treating it the way we did.” He also said “this is a good time to part ways and to allow a new generation to take the baton and move the whole thing on a bit”.

Read more: What time is Red Nose Day 2024 on TV?

Comic Relief may not be the same without him, but it's not the only great thing Henry has done for the entertainment industry. And, ahead of the special, it feels only right to celebrate his many achievements.

Lenny Henry through the years

New Faces winner Lenny Henry with his mother, 13th January 1975. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Lenny Henry pictured with his mother in 1975 during his early years on the British comedy scene. (Getty Images)

Henry is one of the most distinctive voices in the British comedy scene, having first began to carve a niche for himself by working the circuits in his teen years. He showed his talent for impersonations early, namely his ability to create amusing parodies of white people like Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em's Frank Spencer.

His knack for getting laughs led to him landing roles in New Faces and The Fosters, both of which helped propel him to the front of public consciousness. He proved himself adept at all kinds of comedy, but it was his impersonations that drew him the most attention.

Henry began to set his sights on more serious roles in the 1990s, but it was his 2009 performance of Othello that earned him huge critical acclaim as a dramatic actor. He was lauded for giving "one of the most astonishing debuts ever", thus beginning a new chapter in his career away from comedy.

Lenny Henry (Othello), Jessica Harris (Desdemona) in OTHELLO by Shakespeare at Trafalgar Studios 1, London SW1  18/09/2009  a Northern Broadsides / West Yorkshire Playhouse co-production set design: Ruari Murchison costumes: Stephen Snell lighting: Guy Hoare director: Barrie Rutter
As well as dominate the comedy circuit, Lenny Henry has earned critical acclaim for his dramatic roles particular his Shakespearean debut in Othello in 2009. (PA Images)

The actor has since appeared in dramas like Broadchurch, Doctor Who, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. He has also wowed in several collaborative projects with Neil Gaiman such as Neverwhere and Anansi Boys.

As well as help with causes like Comic Relief he has shared insight into the Windrush Generation. He did so when he turned his talents to writing, penning the ITV drama Three Little Birds with Russell T Davies based on his mother's Windrush experience.

The show helped improve understanding of her life and the experiences of the Windrush Generation not long after the Windrush scandal, which saw several people be illegally detained, denied legal rights, and threatened with deportation.

LONDON - JANUARY 31: Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis, take part in Red Nose Day 2011 sketch, on 31 January, 2011 in London. (Photo by Comic Relief/Getty Images)
Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis (pictued in 2011) co-founded Comic Relief and Red Nose Day, which has raised over £1bn for charity since it began. (Getty Images)

Henry has also shared his own story in the biography Who Am I Again? in 2019 where he reflected on the racism he faced during his formative years and when he was married to Dawn French. In it, he wrote: "I didn’t want to smash the oppressor, or kill Whitey. I wanted to smash box office records and buy my Mama a house."

"I do wish I stood up more against racism. I wonder if turning one’s back is really the answer," Henry added.

Read more: Dawn French and Lenny Henry had to move police officers into their home due to 'continual racism'

While he hasn't minced words in his reflection of his youth, what cannot be denied is all he has done through Comic Relief, Red Nose Day and Sport Relief. Over the years the charity telethon that has raised more than £1bn for charity.

His work as co-founder and host has been integral in helping others, and is a legacy he can most certainly be proud of. And all of this shows that Henry is more than just a comedian, he is one of the most prolific Black British entertainers of our time.

Comic Relief will air on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC iPlayer from 7pm on Friday, 15 March.

Watch: Lenny Henry says Black history education should be more than just one month a year