Frankie Howerd

Frankie Howerd

Date of birth: 06-03-1917
Date of death: 19-04-1992

Known for his rambling, innuendo-laden style, and cheeky admonishments to the audience, Frankie Howerd had a roller-coaster career spanning six decades.

Born in York but raised in London, Howerd spent his youth reading books and performing in plays. As a child he aspired to be a Hollywood star, but a rejection from RADA put paid to his straight acting ambitions.

He began to entertain while on national service, and on demob in 1946, toured Britain in a show called For the Fun of It in 1946; and his profile rose when he was asked to appear on the BBC radio show Variety Bandbox.

Howerd's gossipy and camp style, and catchphrases such as 'Oooh no missus' and 'titter ye not', gave him a distinctive style. Against the fashion for slick comedians, he was happy to admit when a joke had gone wrong or whether he’d simply forgotten it – and would dare to tell them audience to stop laughing so he could finish his stories.

Howerd started to diversify in the Fifties: appearing in comedy plays, including playing Bottom in Midsummer Nights Dream, and films such as The Runaway Bus, and 1962's The Cool Mikado, starring Tommy Cooper and directed by Michael Winner. Howerd described the latter as 'the one production in show-business that I'm positively ashamed to have appeared in'.

He fell out of fashion in the Sixties, and was hit with financial problems. But after a successful comeback cabaret performance at Peter Cook’s fashionable Establishment Club in Soho, Howerd was soon booked on new satire programme That Was the Week That Was.

With jokes about politicians growing acceptable, Howerd grew popular again as he teasingly lampooned important public figures of the time. Howerd soon became a national treasure, appearing in TV shows and films such as Up Pompeii, Up the Chastity Belt, The Howerd Confession, and a number of Carry on films, including Carry on Doctor, and Carry On Up the Jungle.

Though he was off the screens in the early Eighties, he found another new outlet in student crowds who were discovering the new alternative comedy, and saw Howerd as something of an iconic figure. He even addressed the Oxford Union in 1990.

Howerd was gay, but publicly hid his homosexuality, which was illegal until 1967, for fear it would harm his career – although backstage he was known for making bold advances. In 1955, he formed a relationship with waiter Dennis Heymer, who later became his manager.

He died in 1992 in his Somerset home of Wavering Down after suffering respiratory problems, linked to a virus he contracted during a trip up the Amazon the previous year.

In 2008 a BBC biopic about his life, Rather You Than Me, was broadcast, based on interviews given by his Heymer. Howerd was portrayed by David Walliams.

For a man who loved innuendo, he would be pleased to hear that in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups, broadcast in 2010 and voted for by the public, he was placed at number 69.

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Up Pompeii! to make a comeback

New audio recording to mark 50 years of the Frankie Howerd classic

Frankie Howerd’s Up Pompeii! is to be revived as a new audio recording, 50 years after the ancient Roman comedy first aired.

David Benson – who has previously played Howerd in a one-man stage show – will be reprising his role for the recording.

He will be playing the slave Lurcio in a version of the spin-off stage play that Howerd originally asked one of his writers, Miles Tredinnick, to pen in 1988 so he could tour off the back on the of the BBC One comedy.

However, those plans were shelved when the comic was offered a chance to reprise his role as Pseudolus in the similar  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Piccadilly Theatre in London's West End. The play only saw the light of day in 2011, almost 20 years after Howerd’s death.

The new recording features an all-star cast including Tim Brooke-Taylor as Captain Treacherus, Emmerdale star Frazer Hines as Ludicrus Sextus, Kenny Everett’s sidekick Cleo Rocos as Suspenda and Madeline Smith – the Hammer Horror star who appeared  opposite Howerd in the 1971 film version of  Up Pompeii! – as Ammonia.

Up Pompeii! first aired on BBC One on September 17, 1969, as part of the Comedy Playhouse series. It ran for two seasons in 1970 and two specials, as well as the film. It attracted up to 12million viewers at its peak.

This new feature-length audio revival will be recorded at two public performances at London’s Shaw Theatre on Saturday October 12, and released on CD and download via Amazon, iTunes and in late November.

The audio adaptation was co-written by Barnaby Eaton-Jones,  who has previously revived I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again... Again! and The Goodies, and who has a role in the new recording as as Kretinus.

Benson has a track record of reviving comedy greats. He became known for his one-man stage show, Think No Evil Of Us: My Life With Kenneth Williams when he played the Carry On star. He has also played  Noël Coward in the 1990s BBC comedy series Goodnight Sweetheart and has toured with the Dad’s Army Radio Show, in which two performers played 25 characters.

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Published: 2 Sep 2019

Titter ye may... | Unseen Frankie Howerd footage to be aired

Titter ye may...

Previously unseen footage of Frankie Howerd is to be…

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