Leslie Dennis Heseltine (born 12 October 1953) is an English television presenter, actor, and comedian. He is perhaps best known for presenting Family Fortunes from 1987 until 2002.
Dennis was born Leslie Dennis Heseltine on 12 October 1953 in the Garston suburb of Liverpool. His mother worked in a factory while his father, who worked in a betting shop after serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, was listed as a football player on the books of Liverpool FC but did not play for the first team. He lived in the suburb of Speke for a while and attended the Stockton Wood and Joseph Williams primary schools, before going on to attend Quarry Bank High School upon passing his 11-plus, by which time his family had moved to the suburb of Childwall. He had a weekend job in the men's clothing store Burton while in school, and started as a stand-up comedian in working men's clubs.
Early work and Family Fortunes
As a comedian, Dennis performed in social clubs all around the northwest of England. He was given his earliest opportunities in his home city of Liverpool, later crediting husband-and-wife theatrical agents Stuart and Dorene Gillespie (who had themselves been a successful variety act) with discovering him in his autobiography. His debut radio broadcast 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 the ITV talent show New Faces and appeared on numerous light entertainment shows. He 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 a judges panel that included fellow Liverpool comedian Arthur Askey.
In 1982, Dennis joined as one of the teams 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 in January 1986, Dennis carried on The Laughter Show as a solo performer and became the third host of Family Fortunes for a 15-year run between 1987 and 2002. It was at a recording of an episode of Family Fortunes in 1997 that Dennis was surprised by This Is Your Life.
When a contestant on Family Fortunes gave a particularly silly answer to a survey question, Dennis would sometimes say, "If it's [the answer] up there, I'll give you the money myself!" His Liverpudlian accent famously led him to pronounce "myself" as "meself", which soon made the sentence his catchphrase. This backfired on an episode where a contestant was asked to "name a way of toasting someone" and the contestant answered "over fire", which matched with "grill" for £12; according to an anonymous source, Dennis made good on his promise and provided the prize money himself.
Dennis' stage work includes Amos Hart in Chicago and Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl in the West End. He has starred in Skylight at the Water Mill Theatre in Newbury, Mr Wonderful at the Gateway Theatre in Chester, and Misery at the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham. He also appeared in Just Between Ourselves and co-starred alongside Janet Suzman in Cherished Disappointments in Love at London's Soho Theatre. He co-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 later starred in a hit season of Neville's Island at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
Dennis appeared as Mr. Fulton in High School Musical 2 on a UK tour from August 2009 to February 2010. He toured in Hairspray as Wilbur Turnblad alongside Michael Ball, Brian Conley and Michael Starke – who alternated the role of Edna Turnblad. He starred in the touring production of Legally Blonde The Musical in 2012, playing the role of Professor Callahan.
In 2017, Dennis played the role of Uncle Fester on the UK tour of the musical production of The Addams Family. The production starred Samantha Womack and Carrie Hope Fletcher and was produced by James Yeoburn and Stuart Matthew Price for United Theatrical, Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment and Music & Lyrics in association with Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.
In 2019, Dennis performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Restoration plays The Provoked Wife and Venice Preserved.
Early film and TV
Dennis' film debut was in the 1996 film Intimate Relations. He also appeared in the comedy film Large and Wildlife, a short film directed by Nick Allsop. He had previously made appearances on two episodes of Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer in The "Club" sketch, where he played himself. When he took part in a video-only special of Shooting Stars in 1993, Vic Reeves when introducing him pronounced his name as though it were French, saying "Les Dennis, the French fire engine".
Dennis has appeared in Brookside (as Jeff Evans; 2001) and episodes of Merseybeat, Family Affairs, Casualty, the short-lived revival of Crossroads, and Hotel Babylon.
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."
In early 2006, Dennis presented and performed in BBC One's The Sound of Musicals and guested in New Street Law on BBC One.
In summer 2006, he played scriptwriter Nick Chase in a new comedy play called Marlon Brando's Corset, which toured the UK from July 2006, including a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
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.
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.
As of 2010, Dennis presents the children's TV series Fee Fi Fo Yum for CBBC.
From 17 October 2011, Dennis started a week-long stint in Countdown's Dictionary Corner, ending on 21 October.
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.
In 2013 Dennis was reunited with Warwick Davis when the pair joined the cast of the West End production of Monty Python's Spamalot at London's Playhouse Theatre. His next theatrical appearance came in an adaptation of Peter James' novella The Perfect Murder".
In 2013, Dennis was a contestant in Celebrity MasterChef. He finished as runner-up to Ade Edmondson. He has since returned to the show as a guest judge.
In December of that year Dennis appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders titled "The Christmas Haunting".
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 petty burglar. 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 for dead by the show's villain, Michael's love rival Pat Phelan.
After Coronation Street
In April 2017, Dennis took the role of Uncle Fester in The Addams Family UK tour.
Dennis has a son named Philip from his first marriage to Lynne Webster, which lasted from 1974 to 1990. He also had an affair with actress Sophie Aldred, which he documented in his autobiography. He married actress Amanda Holden 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. They were married on 23 November 2009 in Highgate. Their son, Thomas Christopher, was born on 14 April 2011.
Dennis is a lifelong Liverpool FC fan.