When Lenny Henry was 16, he got on the day of school … and the little act of rebellion in 1975 opened the way to a glittering career.
Instead of going to town with friends, Lenny auditioned TV talent New Faces.
And he became one of the most famous new faces of all … victorious in comedy, theater and film.
Lenny conquered the hearts of Britain, finally packing a knighthood. As his pirate radio character Delbert Wilkins would say: "Wicked!"
Sir Lenny has TV-Tiswas everywhere this morning, sketch show Three of A Kind, 90s sitcom chef! to Broadchurch and a theater production by Othello.
He also made his mark on charity work from Comic Relief – and eh, even those Premier Inn ads.
The father-of-one, married for 25 years to comedian Dawn French until 2010, has made a unique impact on British entertainment.
With his 60th birthday next week, it is the perfect time to celebrate him.
The Lenny Henry Birthday Show on BBC1 on Wednesday night shows classic clips.
It also includes new sketches, including a dispatch of Bishop Michael Curry, who preached at the wedding of Harry and Meghan.
Lenny says: "You never imagine yourself turning 60. Having a memorial show is fantastic."
He will also be interviewed by the old Sir Trevor McDonald, who is often imitated by Lenny.
& # 39; Warrior & # 39; mother
Lenny describes his mother Winifred Henry, a seamstress and factory worker who died in 1998, as a "warrior" who had a huge influence on his life.
"She had our back, she was at work all day, so she ruled through fear, she was difficult because she had to be," he says.
Lenny lets Sir Trevor giggle as he launches an impression of his mother, who has placed his Jamaican family as children in the hall of their home in Midlands and warned: "You must be with the people of Dudley & # 39; hintegrate & # 39 ;, or you won & # 39; t pass in. "
Winifred once stormed Lenny's school "like Godzilla with a handbag" to shout at a teacher who had kicked him on the back because he had thrown paint into the art class. Only a few weeks later, Lenny remembered, almost drowned in a pool, and it was that teacher who jumped in full dress to save him.
"Then she was very sweet to him then!", Lenny says of his mother. "Great Britain in 1957 when she came was different from what she thought it would be, she thought it would be milk and honey, and it was not." They were not blacks, no Irish, no dogs, anywhere you went. "
Marx brothers fan
Sir Lenny fell in love with comedy for the first time and watched films by Marx brothers in his summer holidays when he was about 12.
He also liked Bruce Forsyth, The Two Ronnies and Eric and Ernie and would try out the impressions of them all. "I always made jokes for my comrades and they really appreciated it, even if it was nonsense they would say they would continue", says Lenny.
His friends urged him to perform in a local disco. Lenny remembers: "For all my colleagues at Dudley's Queen Mary Ballroom I did Elvis, Tommy Cooper, Muhammad Ali … it brought the house down." The DJ said he should be on TV. He says: "One day I got off school, put on my Sunday clothes and went to the New Faces audition in this Birmingham club, I thought: these are my people."
The judges were so impressed with Lenny that they let his audition run and run until he bowed and they all stood up. But when he came home, he had to face his mother. "My mother was silhouetted in the window,"
he says. "I had to convince her, so I put the whole audition back in the hallway, she smiled half … The smile came when I asked her a house and a
big TV. "
Meet the Queen
Lenny, who made a CBE in 1999, was knighted in the Birthday Honors 2015 for services to drama and charity.
"I would not accept it," he reveals. "But then I called my sister Sharon and I have never heard her so excited in my life.
& # 39; She went to the palace, even though I was not. She was damned if she did not become Sir Sharon Henry. The rest of the family agreed with her. They said: 'It is an honor, go and do it & # 39 ;. "
Arriving at Windsor Castle he remembers that Sharon had forgotten her passport, but fortunately she was allowed inside. A footman took him to the side to tell him rudely where to stand and what to do, including advice on how to address the queen: "It is Mrs. as in spam, not as balm". Lenny says, "I remember thinking: & # 39; You've achieved a lot and you're being honored. & # 39;
"Then, not a word of lie, the lackey says," You stay in the Premier Inn? "
Elsewhere in tonight's show, Lenny Sir Trevor teases: "We are knights of the empire here, just like ordinary people hanging out and giving our butlers the night off. & # 39;
From comedy to drama
He is asked if the switch from funnyman to serious acting was easy. "It was really difficult," he replies, "because I could not act."
A chance encounter with a theater producer after hosting a radio show led to him doing Shakespeare in 2009. "The thing that changed my life was Othello, that was the real beginning of it," he says, revealing that he thought that Dudley's workers would not be the kind of people Shakespeare would do.
"Shakespeare was always chic white people in a panty with a cabbage in the front, they always had a lisp," he laughs. He remembers a performance in which two women, their faces hidden by nikabs, look intensely.
After his last monologue and dramatic death scene, he heard someone say: "Shame man", the other replied: "Innit hear".
Lenny was involved in Comic Relief from the beginning in 1985.
He says: "Richard Curtis went to Africa to see what we could do and I think he was startled, he went into a room and everyone was dead.
"He went to another room and people were half dead, he went to another room and people would almost survive and asked what the comedy community could do to help."
From that moment, Britons fell in love with Comic Relief and Red Nose Day – the first raised £ 15 million. Lenny also visited countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia to make important documentaries about how donations were desperately needed. "It was hard, we spoke to small children who had lost their family, I spoke to a great-grandfather who had lost his children and their children and he was in charge of the great-grandchildren.
"He said that if there are problems in Britain, I will get a message for me and I will sort it … People were great …"
& # 39; It used to be all white boys and I & # 39;
Lenny makes a lot of comments on diversity in his new sketches.
One of the lyrics of his rap video is: "This is the TV that reflects society, not much diversity." He also remembers that he was the only black man among the Comic Relief crew when they visited Ethiopia.
"It used to be all white boys and me," he recalls. "Everybody thought I came from Ethiopia, now the crews are a bit more diverse." But Lenny says to Sir Trevor: "Things must have changed because we are two brothers talking to each other on prime tv." Forty years ago you had been the man in the field of security, so people did not come to the BBC. "People like us were not on TV. "We were on the screen now and then, and you have never really seen many people in color.
"We still have a long way to go."
- The Lenny Henry birthday performance is on BBC1 on Wednesday evening at 8:00 PM.