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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American remake of Up Pompeii! to be seen for the first time in 50 years

Frankie Howerd reprised his role

The US remake of Frankie Howerd’s Up Pompeii! is to be screened publicly for the first time, more than 50 years after it was made.

Howerd reprised his role for an unbroadcast pilot episode of the Ancient Roman comedy, which was retitled Up The Toga, for the ABC network . 

His character Lurcio was renamed Fracas, and he co-starred with US actors Jeanne Arnold, Foster Brooks and Paul Hartman, using a script by Jeff Harris and Bernie Kukoff.

Up The Toga

For decades, its very existence was unknown as the tapes were destroyed or wiped, and there was no evidence of the script. Even the comprehensive IMDB describes the show as ‘probably the obscurest of all obscure pilots; it isn't mentioned in handbooks or listings’.

Then some photographs from the recording, under the alternate title The Pompeii Way, were spotted in photo libraries, piquing fans’ interest – and scripts were unearthed in Howerd’s personal archive at the University Of York.

In 2022, a 16mm film copy ‘with some scratching’ was put up for sale on eBay – with the Hampshire-based seller asking forg  £799 –  and was snapped up by an enthusiast. 

It has now been fully restored and colour graded by archive experts Kaleidoscope and will be screened at the BFI in London next month, as part of a celebration of the Missing Believed Wiped initiative to track down lost film and TV shows.

The two-day event will also include a screening of the pilot  Holding The Fort, a comedy written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran before they went on to create The New Statesman, Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart.

Although the  1979 pilot did not air, it was picked up and ran for three series on ITV. The premise was that The situation was that Russell Milburn (Peter Davison) becomes a house-husband to raise his baby daughter while his wife, Penny (Patricia Hodge) goes out to work.  Matthew Kelly played Russell’s best friend. 

The Long Lost Show runs over two sessions on August 5 at the BFI, also including and Marks and Gran discussing heir careers.

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Published: 17 Jul 2023

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