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Posts tagged ‘Frankie Howerd’

What the Camp Comedian Has To Say to the Creative Writer

I love camp, on-the-cusp comedians who subvert gender stereotypes.Julian Clary

A good example is Julian Clary who is above all a genius with words – playful, teasing, fluid, quixotic, suggestive, subversive – and he has an acute sense of irony. His camp public persona in itself subverts what I believe may lie much deeper in him, which is more subtle and complex, the true person beneath the entertaining mirage.

 

I’ve long loved camp comedians. They follow on from a line of great gay writers: Evelyn Waugh, Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, to name just a few that come to mind. There are many examples among gay comedians, but my great favourite first of all was Frankie Howerd.

Frankie HowerdThere were others I loved too, Kenneth Williams foremost among them. I instinctively warmed to these entertainers and felt drawn to them. Perhaps it was because they represent, metaphorically, border country, phantoms behind the magic lantern, different dimensions, stories within a story. The man dressed as a woman, the woman dressed as a boy. And in Shakespeare’s time of course, the young boy dressed as a woman.

Whether or not any of them  hid their  true sexuality whilst in the public eye – as was the case with Frankie Howerd – that essential gay character suffused their performances and their personal style; I don’t believe it can fail to do so, in any creative area.

Not long ago, I saw Julian Clary in the role of Slave of the Ring in the pantomime Aladdin at the Birmingham Hippodrome. He shone out above all the other performers.

And my favourite character in the TV series Are You Being Served was played by John Inman.John Inman

When I first saw him in this sitcom, I was entranced. Here was an adult man, behaving in the most silly way imaginable, and being loved for it.

I loved him, everything about what he was doing and being and saying, and what he was projecting.  He told me something different about the adult world, and personhood, and what he turned upside down was the rigid compartmentalised view of the world that can so easily crush us in childhood and early teens.

People of Inspiration Part 5 – Frankie Howerd, My All-Time Favourite Comedian

A recent TV programme on Channel 4 inspired me: “Frankie Howerd: The Lost Tapes.”

Frankie Howerd, my all-time favourite comedian (source: Channel4.com)

Frankie Howerd my all-time favourite comedian (source: Channel4.com)

Frankie Howerd is my all-time favourite comedian.

In my recent “Next Big Thing” blog I noted that, as an author, I owe part of my inspiration to characters I’ve loved on TV and movies.

Frankie Howerd is up there with the greatest.

I think of him now with love and admiration. He shines out in the world of popular entertainment.

To me, his comic personna represented the archetypal underdog, which the British love. His success during his time as one of our most-loved entertainers was probably due in large part to the English Class System.

Frankie Howerd, I felt, was “the common man” speaking to you one-to-one about what you and he truly feel about  all those who have far grreater pretensions to sophistication, intellect,wealth or status.

The Channel 4 programme noted that his most outstanding quality was connection with the audience. People loved him through his shambolic delivery,  through “the hotch potch that he was”.

During my childhood & young teenage years he was for me a source of great delight.  Before I saw the recent Channel 4 programme, I hadn’t previously realised he was closely involved with the Beatles during their early days and even filmed a scene with them for the film Help, which ended up on the cutting room floor.

I longed to see that scene again but it seems it was destroyed.

I remember him coming on in the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium and his first words were “Thank you for waiting for me.”

And that was exactly what we had been doing. Waiting for Frankie Howerd to come on.

There was no feeling of egotism about it. It had the quality of Frankie meeting up with you at a time which you and he had arranged. As if you were friends, just keeping an appointment to meet up.

Frankie’s most famous sayings: “Titter ye not” and “No. It’s wrong to mock the afflicted” and “Please yourselves” stand out in my memory: the hilarity was all in the delivery and the context and the personna Frankie offered. “I only do this for the money” and “What d’you expect, with they money they give us?”

Frankie was the comedian of whom we would say, “We must see it! Frankie Howerd is in it!”

Unforgettable, too, was his use of his own full name, “Francis”, to denote some kind of appeal to a more serious, higher status self, one with more gravitas.

He was the actor Aristophanes, the ancient Greek comedy writer, would have loved for his plays.

My family adored Frankie’s ice cream commercial on TV when he’d claim he was only doing it for the money, try the ice cream and then says, “Oooohh! It’s not bad after all!”

The Channel 4 programme revealed the anxieties behind his performance, and how much he depended on his devoted partner, Dennis. I believe, too, that Frankie’s style of lewd, effete, lecherous humour as exemplified in the TV sitcom series “Up Pompeii” in which he shone out as the slave who never got to the end of his Prologue, is something only gay men truly excel at.

Frankie Howerd died on 19 April 1992 and just before he died, in his last public appearance, he spoke to an audience of students in the Oxford Union saying, “I’m not what you would call an intellectual… brainy… a clever clogs,” delighting the Oxford students.

And as I write about him now, I remember that immortal line he spoke to the Roman Centurion near the end of  the “Up Pompeii” movie: “Oh, and by the way, you owe me a cucumber.”

Do you have a favourite comic entertainer of all time? I’d love to hear your own choice!

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