Belfast Telegraph

Frank Carson gave me a cracking start with his Tiswas tip-off: Sir Lenny Henry

Sir Lenny Henry
Sir Lenny Henry
Frank Carson

By David O'Dornan

Comedian Sir Lenny Henry has credited the late Frank Carson with playing a crucial role in helping him land a TV role that would transform his career.

Belfast-born Frank tipped off Chris Tarrant, his friend and co-star on popular kids' show Tiswas, about Sir Lenny's potential after seeing him perform.

Sir Lenny had been touring with a stage version of The Black and White Minstrel Show alongside Keith Harris during the late 70s in Great Yarmouth and came to Frank's attention because he had his own stand-up show nearby.

In his new autobiography Who am I, again?, out now, Sir Lenny (61) explains: "Unbeknownst to me Frank Carson had encouraged Chris Tarrant, the producer and lead presenter of the rambunctious Saturday-morning kids' show Tiswas, to come and see me in the Minstrels' show.

"I had a feeling that the Black and White Minstrels would most definitely not be Tarrant's bag, but I was glad hat he was coming and hoped he'd be impressed.

"Then, disaster! Keith Harris had bronchitis and no voice, which meant that Orville and Cuddles couldn't talk either!

"So Keith was out of the show and I was designated to be compere for the night.

"Fortunately, I now had enough material to link the show together on my own.

"Tarrant was in the house, so I wanted to do my best.

"Tiswas had been running since 1974 and was gaining a reputation for anarchy and reckless behaviour, live... every Saturday morning. Frank had recommended me for the show and I didn't want to let him down."

The comic then recalls how, as he took to the stage, he slipped and split his trousers.

"I get up immediately and attempt to regain my dignity by doing some impromptu crowd work, messing around with the front row, and eventually leave the stage with my hands covering the offending rip in my pants," he writes.

Despite his recovery, he reveals that Tarrant left the show without seeing him backstage, prompting fears he had blown his chance.

In fact, Tarrant would later send a handwritten note to Lenny inviting him to visit the Tiswas set.

It would lead to him winning a role on the television show from 1978 to 1981 alongside Frank, who passed away in 2012.

Sir Lenny said: "Tarrant loved Frank Carson's bizarre turns on the show. The recurring idea was that Frank was always trying to get on the show to promote whatever he was doing at the time.

"He'd come on in disguise and pretend to be a reporter or a Mystic Meg-type character, and Tarrant, mid-routine, would always sniff out his true identity.

"Later, they would go to a really rough pub called The Garryowen, which served food and drinks way, way into the night, and crack gags and laugh for hours.

"I only ever did that once or twice - those guys could really drink.

"I was a lightweight and couldn't keep up (with them), but the momentum of the show was unstoppable.

"My experience on Tiswas was glorious... and it was all thanks to Frank Carson."

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