After 35 years in showbiz, there’s not much Lenny Henry hasn’t turned his hand to. He’s done children’s television, stand-up comedy, sketch shows, sitcoms, drama, been a star of both small and big screen, turned his hand to Shakespeare on the stage, had his own radio show, presented documentaries, performed as a singer, and been the driving force behind comic relief.
Now, he’s set to add yet another string to his bow, as he prepares for a week at the helm of The Five O’Clock Show on Channel 4. It is a prospect that fills the irrepressible Lenny with enthusiasm. “The Five O clock show, wow!” he says. “Just the name strikes me with awe, wonder and a slight hungry feeling. It’s a lollopalooza of a show and I feel so lucky to be following in Paul O Grady’s shoes, he made it look easy and fun.”
His enthusiasm stems, in part, from the fact that he’s already a fan of the genre. “I’ve always wanted to do a talk /entertainment show, I’m a huge fan of Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman, Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady. There are so many people out there that have manned (and womanned, lets not forget Rosie O Donnell, Mel and Sue, Oprah and the mighty Ellen DeGeneres) the desk, that I think of it as an honour to be called up. I shall give it most of my all!”
It won’t quite be Lenny’s first time at the helm, as he once sat in for Paul O’Grady – an experience that clearly whetted his appetite. “My experience of working with the team when I sat in for Paul was joyous, they were full of ideas which coincided with the kind of thing I wanted to do and we just gelled. I had a hoot doing it, although trying to get Frank Carson to stop cracking gags was a bit of a challenge! I also enjoyed the Bhangra version of ‘Name that Tune’ we did – Very cool indeed.”
That sense of creativity and entertainment is much in evidence, looking at some if the things lined up for Lenny’s week. Items will include a 1975-themed show, to mark the year that Lenny started off in Showbiz, an intriguing-sounding Shakespeare-themed stunt show, and kids doing stand-up comedy.
“I want to have fun on the five o clock show,” explains Lenny. “Paul had a great sense of mischief on the programme and I would try to do that too. At 5, people want to have a laugh, check out interesting stuff and get involved with human interest stories. We’ve got that and much more …”
As ever, there will be a stellar array of guests stopping by for a friendly chat, with the emphasis on friendly. “I think there’s room out there for a show where guests come on and don’t get humiliated. My job, I think on the 5 o’clock show is to make guests feel comfortable and allow them to shine.” Those guests lined up to shine alongside Lenny include the actor and writer Sheila Hancock, US singing great Michael McDonald, former Blue-member Simon Webbe, and twinkle-toed actor Adam Garcia.
As ever when Lenny’s involved, it promises to be a week of warmth. Laughter and utter mayhem when Mr Henry sits in the hot seat from Monday 21st June.