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Desert Island Discs

Lenny Henry

Lenny Henry with his daughter, Billie, in 1992. Kevin Wheal/Shutterstock

Lenny Henry has written his first novel, The Boy with Wings. Published last week, it’s a children’s book about a boy with superpowers – something the 63-year-old actor and comedian thinks would improve every classic. “Dickens would be much better if Oliver Twist was a superhero,” he told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 1989. “Give me some more or I’ll blast you with a photon ray. Bleak House? It’ll be bleak after I blast it with my heat vision.” He got a B in his English literature O-level: “I was too busy reading comics.”

Lenworth George Henry grew up in Dudley, near Birmingham. His Elvis Presley impressions wowed schoolmates, then talent-show judges, then Dawn French, whom he married in 1984. “I wasn’t going to get girls any other way,” he says. He phoned her nightly while topping the bill in Blackpool to sing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You. “It’s very soppy,” he says. (They got divorced in 2010.)

Henry “gave comedy a kick up the bum” by telling “non-racist, non-sexist” gags that weren’t just “the guy leaning on the microphone telling jokes about how fat people are”. It’s not easy pruning the dodgy bits, he admits. “You’ll cut your leg off before you kick out something that gets a laugh.”

🎵 Kiss, Prince and the Revolution

🎵 13 Question Method, Ry Cooder

🎵 Is This Love, Bob Marley & the Wailers

🎵 Company, Rickie Lee Jones

🎵 I’d Rather Be with You, Bootsy Collins

🎵 I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder

🎵 Shipbuilding, Robert Wyatt

🎵 One Nation Under a Groove, Funkadelic

📕 Catch-22, Joseph Heller

🎁 Watchmen, Alan Moore

Listen to the episode here.