Leigh Francis is a comedian and one of the most recognisable faces on British television. He’s most famous for his alter egos and comedy characters such as Keith Lemon.
- Growing Up
- First TV Appearance
- Bo Selecta
- Personal Life
- The Real Keith Lemon
- Keith Lemon Debut
- Celebrity Juice
- Other Work
- Where is Leigh Francis Now?
On the 30th of April 1973, Leigh Francis was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire (Riding). While he was growing up, he became friends with another local lad at school called Keith Lemon.
The two friends, along with their other classmates, would often make little films at their houses while their parents were out. As a result, this started Leigh’s experimentation with being on camera, filming, and making up comedy characters to amuse his friends.
Originally, Leigh wanted to pursue his first love for graphic design. When he left high school, Leigh decided to study at Leeds College of Art to follow his dreams of a career in this field. After graduating from college he briefly worked for The Yorkshire Post.
Leigh Francis’ first notable TV appearance was on the Paramount Channel where he featured in a series of comedy films called “Stars in their Houses”. The young comedian would, in his now familiar style, take the mickey out of celebrities in their homes such as this one based on Celine Dion.
These comedic shorts soon caught the attention of Channel 4 who saw the potential in this young comedian from Leeds. He briefly appeared on the teen pop magazine show “Popworld” in 2001 but Leigh had bigger plans in store.
Leigh Francis was creating a new comedy show called “Bo Selecta”. This was partly named after a recent garage hit by The Artful Dodger and Craig David which included the famous words “When the crowd says Bo Selecta”.
It was here that Leigh created the celebrity superfan Avid Merrion. He got the inspiration for the name from the popular Leeds Shopping Centre.
Avid Merrion would chase and interview famous celebrities, often lampooning them. These celebrity interviews included slapping Justin Timberlake with raw meat, and having an operetta conversation with the late singer Meatloaf.
In other sketches, Leigh Francis would dress up as celebrities with the infamous “Bo Selecta” marks and then take the mickey out of them. Celebrities including the local Mel B, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Trisha Goddard, and Marilyn Manson all got the Bo Selecta treatment.
Bo Selecta ran for four series between 2002 to 2006 and achieved a massive cult following. The show also put Leigh Francis into the mainstream of British television and showed off his talent for impersonating, in his own distinctive way, celebrities and comedy characters.
However, these impersonations would prove to be quite controversial. It was said that the show’s constant lampooning of singer Craig David had an impact on his music career.
Craig David is a chart-topping singer songwriter from Southampton and was part of the inspiration of the show’s title Bo Selecta.
He appeared many times within the series and would often criticise Leigh Francis’ portrayal of him and the effect it had on his career. Since then he has denied it was the sole responsibility for the decline in record sales as he had started to turn away from chasing commercial success.
In October 2002, Leigh Francis married Jill Carter, who he’d known since high school, at Allerton Castle in North Yorkshire. His best man was his old friend Keith Lemon who provided inspiration for Leigh’s next comedy project.
Since his marriage, the couple have had two children. Their children are called Matilda and Dolly.
Leigh’s childhood friend Keith Lemon is a machine operative from Halifax. Although he bears no physical resemblance to the comedy character portrayed by Leigh Francis, he does have the same mispronunciations and malapropisms which have been picked up and made into one of the most distinctive personalities on television.
The “Keith Lemon” character had already debuted as part of the Bo Selecta series and had posed as Businessman of the Year ‘93. Despite this, Leigh could see the potential of the character and decided to take it further.
This character’s post Bo Selecta debut came in 2008 when Keith Lemon, played by Leigh Francis, travelled the world in “Keith Lemon’s Very Brilliant World Tour”. In this series, he would go to different destinations around the world while meeting celebrity guests along the way.
These guests included Holly Valance and Stefan Dennis in Australia, Spice Girls Mel B and Mel C in the USA, and Holly Willoughby in Mexico. Only one series of this show was screened on ITV 2 and later released on DVD.
After the series finished, Leigh Francis was busy with another ITV project called Celebrity Juice. This panel show was hosted by his Keith Lemon character and was first piloted in September 2008.
This show features two teams captained by Holly Willoughby and Fearne Cotton with celebrity guest panellists ranging from Phillip Schofield to Joey Essex and many people in between. These contestants take part in a range of crazy games with Keith Lemon at the centre of them all keeping “order”.
The characteristics of the Keith Lemon character are: loud, funny, flamboyant, and suggestive. Despite this, the real Keith Lemon is different to what is portrayed however this character has become the making of Leigh Francis.
Keith Lemon’s catchphrases such as “ooosh!” and “bang tidy” have become part of modern popular culture. Once again, Leigh had found both a cult character and a hit show which continued for many years.
The character of Keith Lemon has taken on a life of its own and has featured in other TV programmes and films too. These include a self-titled film in 2012 which took several million pounds in the box office, and his charity programme “Lemon Aid” which helped make people’s dreams come true.
Keith Lemon has appeared on other TV shows, most notably his remake of “Through the Keyhole”. In his Keith Lemon character, he combined the role of host and house detective to put his own stamp on the TV classic.
One of the former presenter Sir David Frost’s final acts was to wish the new host success in his former role. The first episode of the revived show was screened unintentionally on the day of the legendary broadcaster’s death in August 2013.
Since “Through the Keyhole”, Leigh has gone on to film other tv shows including “The Keith & Paddy Picture Show” throughout 2017 to 2018. This was a comedy parody series based around all time classic films such as Dirty Dancing.
After this show finished, Leigh went on to produce “Shopping with Keith Lemon”. Leigh presented the show and interviewed celebrities asking them a mix of normal, humorous and weird questions while Leigh and the celebrity shop.
Nowadays, it’s very difficult to separate Leigh Francis from Keith Lemon. The man behind the character is a family man with two daughters whereas his alter-ego is loud, rude, and suggestive to women.
From entertaining his friends at his parents house to entertaining an entire nation, this Yorkshire lad from Leeds has done very well for himself and is set to remain on our screens for many years to come.