Dennis in Cardiff Bay in 2010
|Born||Leslie Dennis Heseltine
12 October 1953
Garston, Liverpool, England
|Occupation||Broadcaster, actor, game show host, comedian|
|Notable work||New Faces (1974)
The Laughter Show (1984-1991)
Family Fortunes (1987-2002)
Coronation Street (2014-2016)
|Lynne Webster (m. 1974-1990)
Amanda Holden (m. 1995-2003)
Claire Nicholson (m. 2009)
Leslie Dennis Heseltine, known as Les Dennis (born 12 October 1953) is an English television presenter, actor and comedian. He was the presenter of Family Fortunes for 15 years from 1987 until 2002.
Dennis was born in Garston, Liverpool. His father worked in a betting shop after service in the Royal Navy during World War II and a period as a football player on the books of Liverpool F.C. (but did not play for the first team), whilst his mother worked in a factory. Whilst living in a prefab in Speke, he attended the Stockton Wood and Joseph Williams primary schools and then Quarry Bank High School after passing the 11-plus, by which time his family had moved to Childwall. He had a Saturday job in Burton's clothes store whilst still at school and started in entertainment as a stand-up comedian in working men's clubs.
As a comedian Dennis worked the North West social and working men's clubs. He was given his earliest opportunities by Liverpool-based husband and wife theatrical agents Stuart and Dorene Gillespie (Stuart and Dorene had been a successful act themselves in variety) and in his autobiography he credits them with discovering him. His first radio appearance was in 1971 on Stuart's BBC Radio Merseyside series Variety Time (the programmes were taped in front of a live audience in Merseyside clubs). In 1974, he won New Faces, an ITV talent show and appeared on numerous light-entertainment shows. Dennis almost became the first contestant ever to score the maximum 120 points on New Faces; but had to settle for 119 when Tony Hatch gave him 9 out of 10 in his final mark, drawing derision from the rest of the panel that included Arthur Askey.
In 1982, he joined as one of the team on Russ Abbot's Madhouse and The Russ Abbot Show before forming a comedy partnership with fellow impressionist Dustin Gee, which in turn led to a series of their own, The Laughter Show. Following Gee's sudden and unexpected death on 3 January 1986, Dennis carried on The Laughter Show as a solo performer and became the third host of Family Fortunes for a fifteen-year run from 1987 to 2002. It was at a recording of an episode of Family Fortunes in 1997 that Les Dennis was surprised by the This Is Your Life team, with host Michael Aspel coming onto the set just at the conclusion of one episode to present Les with the "big red book" and to say "This is your life" to a shocked Dennis. Aspel had arranged for the Family Fortunes buzzer to keep sounding at the end of the episode where Dennis usually says goodbye to the viewers, and to have the words "Les Dennis Tonight..." appear on the Family Fortunes big studio screen, much to the bewilderment of Dennis, who only realised what was happening when he turned around and saw Michael Aspel walking onto the set.
His theatre work included Amos Hart in Chicago, Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl in the West End. He had starred in Skylight at the Water Mill Theatre, Newbury, Berkshire; Mr Wonderful at the Gateway Theatre, Chester, Misery at the Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; toured in the play Just Between Ourselves and appeared with Janet Suzman in Cherished Disappointments In Love at London's Soho Theatre. He starred with Christopher Cazenove and John Duttine in a national tour of 'Art' and as Norman Bartholomew in Anthony Shaffer's dark comedy Murderer at London's Menier Chocolate Factory. He also starred in a hit season in Neville's Island at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
He appeared in the role of Mr Fulton in "High School Musical 2" in a UK tour from late August 2009 to February 2010. He had also made an appearance on two episodes of Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer in The Club sketch, where he played himself. He also took part in a video-only special of Shooting Stars in 1993, where Vic Reeves introduced him pronouncing his name as if it were French saying "Les Dennis, the French fire engine". He toured in Hairspray as Wilbur Turnblad alongside Michael Ball, Brian Conley and Michael Starke - who alternated the role of Edna Turnblad. In 2012 he starred in the touring production of Legally Blonde The Musical playing the role of Professor Callahan. In 2017 he played in the Addams family the musical the UK tour as Uncle Fester.
Dennis's big-screen debut was in the film Intimate Relations with Julie Walters, Rupert Graves and Laura Sadler and he appeared in the comedy feature film Large and in Wildlife, a short directed by Nick Allsop.
Dennis appeared in the second series of the UK Celebrity Big Brother during the period when his marriage to Amanda Holden was breaking down again - he described his time in the BB House as "not one of his wisest moves", although he went on to finish as runner-up to Mark Owen.
On 11 August 2005 Dennis appeared as a guest star in an episode of the first series of BBC sitcom Extras, written by and starring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. In this appearance, Dennis portrayed a fictional version of himself, alongside Gerard Kelly, who played a camp theatre director, the recurring character Bunny. Dennis would go on to say that "you could say Extras changed my life."
He appeared as a guest in August 2006 on the ITV drama series, The Bill starring as a man suspected of murdering his father. Dennis appeared alongside fellow former Russ Abbot performer Lisa Maxwell, who played D.I. Samantha Nixon in the series.
At the 2006 Edinburgh International Television Festival, it was announced Dennis would make a return to the gameshow genre, presenting a new big-money quiz show titled In the Grid for Channel 5. The show debuted on 30 October 2006 and aired for one series. From April 2007, he also hosted UKTV Gold's TV Now and Then quiz show. The same month he guest-starred on BBC One's Holby City.
He appeared on The Friday Night Project as a panellist on "Who knows the most about the guest host?" when Rupert Everett guest hosted. In theatre Dennis guest-starred as narrator in Side by Side by Sondheim at the Venue, London.
As one of the team, he completed running the Safaricom Marathon in Lewa to raise funds for the BBC Wildlife Fund, screened on BBC One's Saving Planet Earth in July 2007.
In August 2007, he starred in the hit play Certified Male--about the highs and lows of modern manhood--at the Edinburgh Festival. He then toured in The Servant of Two Masters, directed by Michael Bogdanov and at Christmas he returned to pantomime after a ten-year break, co-starring in Cinderella with Hollywood veteran Mickey Rooney at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland, produced by First Family Entertainment.i
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Dennis's autobiography, Must The Show Go On?, was published by Orion in early 2008.
In April 2008, Dennis toured in Eurobeat Almost Eurovision prior to a West End season in the show. Also in 2008, he narrated the home video clip show on Challenge, Les Dennis's Home Video Heroes, and appeared in the ITV documentary Les Dennis' Liverpool, which was, coincidentally, broadcast a week after BBC Two ran Alexei Sayle's Liverpool, a three-part documentary on the city.
During Christmas 2008 panto season, Dennis appeared as Buttons in Cinderella at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool. The pantomime also featured Jennifer Ellison as Cinderella, and Cilla Black as the Fairy Godmother. At Christmas 2008, Les was featured on the Wombats' Christmas single and video Is This Christmas? in aid of MENCAP.
Dennis was a celebrity player on Alan Carr's Celebrity Ding Dong in 2008; he began the episode by mentioning how the set was a ripoff of the Family Fortunes set, only to have Alan Carr interrupt him by making an "X" with his arms and imitating the infamous "UH-UHH!" sound.
In 2009, Dennis played Herbert Soppitt in J. B. Priestley's When We Are Married at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds and the Playhouse, Liverpool. At Christmas 2009, he returned to the Liverpool Empire to appear in Peter Pan with Fonz actor Henry Winkler and again in 2010 to play the role of Aladdin's brother, Wishee Washee in Aladdin.
From 17 October 2011, Dennis was due to start a week-long stint in Countdowns Dictionary Corner.
In 2011 he again worked with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, with recurring appearances as a fictionalised version of himself in the Warwick Davis comedy series, Life's Too Short. From August 2012, he performed in the play Jigsy at the Assembly Rooms (Edinburgh) as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
On 23 January 2014, it was announced that Dennis would join the long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street, playing the part of Michael Rogers (later changed to Michael Rodwell after press release), a fictional petty criminal. He began filming on 27 January 2014, and made his first appearance on TV on 24 March 2014. The show's producer Stuart Blackburn said: "Les is a fantastic performer and a real coup for Corrie. I can't wait for him to join the team".
On 18 November 2016, Dennis's character Michael Rodwell was killed off from Coronation Street, after suffering a heart attack and being left by enemy Pat Phelan.
Dennis married actress Amanda Holden, his second wife, on 4 June 1995. They had a temporary split in 2000 when Holden's affair with actor Neil Morrissey was exposed in the press, before eventually separating in December 2002 and divorcing in 2003.
Dennis met Claire Nicholson in 2005. The couple have a daughter, Eleanor Grace, who was born on 24 April 2008; Dennis and Nicholson were married on 23 November 2009 in Highgate. Their son Thomas Christopher was born on 14 April 2011.
|Host of Family Fortunes