MY NOVEMBER 2000 VISIT WITH LENNY HENRY & DAWN FRENCH
a true life Dave Sim adventure
"I Followed Him To School One Day". Lenny Henry couldn't believe that I actually wanted to spend his entire working day with him. TV taping IS boring, but only if you never get to see it. This is really the only taping part that I got to see: the titles sequence for his BBC special LENNY HENRY: IN PIECES. This is the very rough storyboard they were working from. Lenny's basically interacting with an old-fashioned countdown clock and here he's trying to "escape" by running to the back of the frame and attempting to break out.
I had purchased a disposable camera for the occasion. This is Lenny, having rehearsed the shot a few times, ready for the "squashing his face up against the screen" shot. They had this whole rig with a giant sheet of acetate that two guys were going to hold as Lenny ran full tilt into it, the camera on the other side of the acetate. He was NOT HAPPY (as you can see) that someone was breaching his creative space. Until he saw it was me. And then he had to pretend it was okay because, you know, he's a CEREBUS fan!
[on the right: this is how we started the day: in the costume department where Lenny was getting fitted with his Little Orphan Annie wig. One of the skits was about Lenny, making use of Affirmative Action, demanding that he be allowed to play the lead in ANNIE. I'd like to have seen that one!]
That's the director of LENNY HENRY: IN PIECES on the right there. This is while they were still working on the shot, so he was a little tense. I have to admit that I couldn't understand why Lenny kept doing it. They had the shot, why not move on? Then he did a take and while we were watching it everyone was laughing. Lenny came back to have a look at that one. As he watched it, HE laughed. That's the shot he was waiting for.
One of the nights I was there, Lenny took me to see JOOLS HOLLAND not too far from his and Dawn's place in Reading. I'm not really a jazz fan, per se, but it was certainly much better jazz than I was used to hearing. It was only later that I found out that he was, you know, JOOLS HOLLAND! We went backstage at the intermission and I got this "All Access" badge to wear (Lenny didn't need one: he was one of the reasons that us ordinary folks want backstage passes: "And guess who I saw back there? LENNY HENRY!") (There's a downside to that: Lenny was -- apart from Jools Holland -- the only famous person back there, so we did a quick sweep, said hello to Jools Holland -- and then went back to our seats). I stuck my AAA backstage pass onto the back of one of my theatre tickets to keep it in "mint".
The sad part of all this was that when I arrived and the cab driver picking me up at Heathrow asked "You're over from America are you? Visiting relatives?" I decided to show off and said actually I was visiting a friend, Lenny Henry. And he said with a voice dripping malice "Your friend Lenny has been a Very. Naughty. Boy." This was the first I heard of the News of the World scandal -- Lenny caught cheating on Dawn French. YI! And I was walking into the middle of this? [Continued in Part 2...]