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!