Frankie Howerd's partner dies

...leaving comic's legacy to their 'adopted son'

Dennis Heymer, Frankie Howerd's secret lover of 41 years, has died at the Somerset home they shared.

Heymer – who was also the comedian’s manager – was a waiter when he met Howerd in 1955, when homosexuality was still illegal. As well as the risk of blackmail, the comedian struggled with his sexuality.

Under that climate only their closest friends knew they were lovers.

‘He hated being gay,’ Heymer once said. ‘At the beginning I was hidden away when anyone of note came here [to their house]. I was hidden away from his sister, and his mother for a time.’

They remained together until Howerd died in 1992 aged 75, despite the star’s promiscuity and sometimes predatory nature. ‘It was dangerous and heartbreaking for me, I must be honest,’ Heymer said in a 1997 interview with the BBC.

One of Heymer's jobs was to drive Howerd on a Friday to see his psychiatrist who would ply him with LSD over the weekend, then on a Monday, Heymer would pick him back up and take him home.

In recent years, Heymer has been cared for by Chris Byrne – a controversial figure who was often described as Heymer and Howerd’s ‘adopted son’ to avoid gossip in the tiny Somerset village of Cross. But the couple also became partners after Howerd’s death.

Last week it was revealed that Byrne had married Heymer– despite a 40-year-age gap - so he could inherit the comedian's multimillion-pound estate, including all his memorabilia and the £800,000 Wavering Down cottage where they live.

This is said to include 38 years’ worth of Howerd’s gossipy showbiz diaries – although doubt was cast on their authenticity this weekend when Howerd’s younger sister Betty said he never had any interest in keeping a journal, saying ‘As far as I'm concerned they just don't exist.’

Heymer's death is likely to reopen the rift between Betty and Byrne. She thinks he is exploiting her brothers fame, but he says he is keeping the comic's memory alive – and recently set up a trust to raise money in his name for good causes.

Heymer, 82, died at Wavering Down, on Friday morning, Byrne told the local paper.

He said: ‘He died in my arms as I always said he would. It was quite peaceful and I thanked him for everything he had done for me, and he thanked me for what I had done for him.’

After a private cremation on Thursday, Heymer's ashes will be taken to a second service in a replica ancient Egyptian sarcophagus carried by a horse-drawn hearse, Apparently both Howerd and Heymer believed they had lived past lives in ancient Egypt. The coffin will be buried in Mr Howerd's grave in the village churchyard at Weare.

Last year, Rafe Spall played Heymer in a BBC Four drama, which also starred David Walliams as Howerd.

Published: 18 May 2009

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.