Photo gallery: The Fonz at Aylsham

Henry Winkler speaking at Aylsham last night.Photo: Bill Smith

Henry Winkler speaking at Aylsham last night.Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

Happy Days star Henry Winkler ensured a happy evening for some 200 Fonz fans who cheered and clapped him on to the stage at Aylsham.

Henry Winkler as The Fonz

Henry Winkler as The Fonz

Mr Winkler, who played the legendary Arthur Fonzarelli - aka The Fonz - in the 70s sitcom Happy Days attended an event at the town's Jubilee Centre,

The event was organised by the Norfolk Children's Book Centre at nearby Alby and centre owner Marilyn Brocklehurst said they had been amazed at the far-flung interest in seeing the former small-screen king of cool.

One woman had travelled from Peterborough, bringing along an LP with a picture of The Fonz on its sleeve for him to sign. Two nurses from the James Paget Hospital at Gorleston had also been among the audience. And Mrs Brocklehurst's son Tom, 28, had foregone a work shift in London to see one of his childhood TV heroes.

Mr Winkler charmed the audience as he spoke with passion and humour about his life and experience of dyslexia before reading from his Hank Zipzer children's books.

And he caused a ripple of delight as he reprised his famous Fonzie 'Ayyy' adding: 'For 10 years I reduced language to 'ayyy' but I could speak volumes just using that sound.'

'He's an absolute charmer. He really knows how to work a room,' said Mrs Brocklehurst. 'It's good for children to know that even with dyslexia they could get on in life, become famous - and earn pots of money.

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'We're very pleased to have him. Everybody's been very excited. He's a big star from another continent and to be here in Aylsham, for such a random reason, is very strange.'

Mr Winkler told students in west Norfolk earlier in the day how he came to be cast in his cool role.

'I went to Paramount Studios and they were doing auditions,' he said. 'I had six lines as the Fonz, next thing they say do you want the part, I say 'yes' and then I'm saying 'aayyyy' for 10 years.

'I got to play the character I wanted to be and wasn't. He's a reflection of who I wanted to be.'

Mr Winkler was visiting the school as part of the First News My Way campaign which aims to raise awareness about the difficulties of learning challenges in schools.

At the height of his fame, as millions around the world tuned into the hit US sitcom about American teenagers, broadcast in the late 1970s and early '80s, the Fonz was the coolest guy on the block. But behind the scenes, he was struggling with dyslexia.

'I want to tell them about the potential they have. I am a dyslexic, I was told I would never achieve, and I'm in the room with them and they're are going to read books I never thought I would write. I want to show them that they are powerful,' said Mr Winkler, who was awarded an OBE for his work for children with learning difficulties.

'You have greatness and your job is to figure out what it is and give it to the world.'

Speaking of his struggles, Mr Winkler said: 'Without a doubt it has helped me in some ways, it made me a fighter. It has kept me focused, at this moment I'm working on three television shows.

'It is hereditary, one in five have some form of learning challenge. Fifty-three percent of everyone in prison are dyslexic.'

Telling the children of his experiences growing up Mr Winkler said: 'I got a bad grade in everything but lunch.

'My german parents used to call me 'dummer hund', which for those who don't speak german means dumb dog.

'I was told I was stupid, that I was lazy, that I wasn't reaching my potential. You start to believe it when the fact is that I'm not.'

Mr Winkler, 67, did not discover he was dyslexic until he was 31 and his step-son, Jed, was diagnosed.

'Everything that they said to Jed was true to me and when I was 31 I finally found out I had a learning challenge.

'You have to negotiate your learning challenge, for me I covered it with a joke and improvised. 'In school I covered it up with humour, I was the class clown.'

Despite his dyslexia Mr Winkler has gone on to become a bestselling children's author writing the Hank Zipzer books.

'I started to read when I was 31 and I'm sad that I started so late.

'A friend of mine said 'you should write a book for young people about your learning challenge'. I thought: 'I can't write a book.

'You don't know what you can achieve unless you try.'

Today, Mr Winkler will be speaking to 110 teachers from across the region at an education conference in Mattishall near Dereham and opening a school library in Norwich.