Nicky Henson was born in London, the son of Harriet Martha (Collins) and comedian Leslie Henson. He trained as a stage manager at RADA and made his theatrical debut in 1963, thereafter alternating between stage and screen. Henson was a member of the Young Vic Company from its inception in 1970 and later also joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre Company. He had the good looks and resonant voice perfectly suited to impersonating a diverse gallery of classic literary characters: Pozzo in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as title roles in Later Leonardo (as Da Vinci in 1976) and Oedipus at the Crossroads (in 1977).
Henson played a few leads in motion pictures, albeit mostly in low budget exploitation films. He is remembered for the cult horror film The Death Wheelers (1973) as the leader of a pack of zombie bikers. A keen motorcyclist himself, Henson performed all but three of the stunts (those three fell to his stand-in, a guy named Cliff Diggins, who invariably ended up in hospital each time). He was also top-billed in a lesser remake of Henry Fielding’s novel (The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976)) and furnished an agreeable parody of Roger Moore in the James Bond pastiche No. 1 of the Secret Service (1977).
A familiar face on television, Henson excelled at playing cultivated gents, snobs, playboys or cads. His many guest roles included five appearances in The Bill (1984) (as three different characters), an acerbic Chief Superintendant in A Touch of Frost (1992), a celebrity chef judge in Pie in the Sky (1994) and a nefarious former associate of the butler in Downton Abbey (2010). He is also fondly remembered as a swaggering gigolo in Fawlty Towers: The Psychiatrist (1979). Rather self-deprecating, he once commented to have “done pretty well for someone with no ambition”. Though battling cancer for the last twenty years of his life, Henson continued acting on screen until 2018. His first wife was the actress Una Stubbs with whom he appeared in the popular soap EastEnders (1985) in 2006.
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