Frankie Howerd (born Francis Alex
Howard) was a distinctive English comedian and comic
actor. He spelt his stage surname with an e.
Lightly educated at Shooters Hill grammar school
in Eltham in London, his early hopes of becoming a
serious actor were dashed when he failed an audition
for RADA. He got into entertaining during his wartime
stint in the army. Despite suffering from appalling
stage fright he continued to work after the war, beginning
his professional career in the summer of 1946 in a
touring show called For The Fun Of It.
He soon started working in radio, making his debut
at the start of December 1946 on the BBC Variety Bandbox
programme with a number of other ex-servicemen. His
fame built steadily throughout the late 1940s and early
1950s (aided by material written by Eric Sykes, Galton
and Simpson and Johnny Speight), but then he began
experimenting with different formats and contexts,
including stage farces, Shakespearean comedy roles
and television sitcoms, and he began to fall out of
fashion. After suffering a nervous breakdown at the
start of the 1960s, he began to recover his old popularity,
initially with a season at Peter Cook's satirical Establishment
Club in Soho. He was boosted further by success on
That Was The Week That Was (TW3) in 1963 and on stage
with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(1963-65), which led into regular television work.
He was awarded an OBE in 1977.
He was famous for his seemingly off-the-cuff remarks
to the audience, especially in the show Up Pompeii!,
which was a direct follow-up from Forum. His television
work was characterised by addressing himself directly
to the camera and littering his monologues with verbal
tics: "Oooh, no missus", "Titter ye
not", and so on. Another feature of his humour
was to make obvious double entendres and then blame
the audience for having dirty minds when they laughed.
Howerd's face was a gift to comedy but a testament
to tragedy. When a reporter wrote that he had a face
like "a landslide of sadness", Howerd got
in touch with him to say how right that was.
Throughout his career, Howerd hid his potentially
career-destroying homosexuality (which had been illegal
in Britain until 1967) from both his audience and his
mother. However, back stage, he was notoriously bold
in his advances.
In the last years of his career, Howerd developed
a cult following with student audiences and performed
at universities. He was also a regular and popular
guest on the late night BBC Radio 1 programme Into
The Night, hosted by Nicky Campbell.
Howerd suffered respiratory problems at the beginning
of April 1992 and died in hospital of heart failure
on April 19. He posed for his last photograph with
friend Cilla Black when she went to visit him.