The great man would have been 100 today. He was born in a terraced house in York which today commemorates the fact with a blue plaque.
Frankie Howerd, as a post on The Downstairs Lounge records, went in and out of fashion several times during his long career. It was good that the found an adoring audience on the university circuit in his final years.
Downstairs Lounge writes of an appearance that turned his career around:
He had been invited to present the 1962 Evening Standard Drama Awards at the end of January in London’s Savoy Hotel. Feeling that his career deserved to reach its conclusion in an atmosphere a little more dignified than a seaside production of Puss In Boots, he accepted gladly.
It was another chance meeting with a young writer, much like that one some 16 years earlier, that would change Frankie’s mind about abandoning showbusiness and propel him on to greater fame and acclaim than he could possibly have imaged in those cold dark days in panto.
Buoyed by a lack of concern about his career (and quite a lot of gratis booze) Frankie lit up the awards show with a vintage tour de force, polishing old material and slipping in newly scripted gags with ease. In the audience that day accepting numerous awards were the young geniuses behind the ground-breaking new revue, Beyond The Fringe.
Impressed by the veteran performer’s compering, Peter Cook was one of the first to congratulate Frankie after the awards dinner. Cook extended an invitation to Frankie to perform in his newly opened Establishment Club in Soho, then by far the most fashionable comedy club in the land frequented by each night by an eager audience of university educated satire fans.
As usual, it took much gentle coaxing and much more forthright nagging to persuade Frankie Howerd to attempt to launch his career anew. The masterstroke in Howerd’s renaissance was to come from the fruitful mind of Johnny Speight.
His simple idea was not to reinvent Frankie for a hip new audience, used to the edgy satire of Lenny Bruce and the studied wit of Peter Cook, but to present Howerd as he was; a washed up, embittered vaudevillian totally at odds with his rarefied surroundings.
Stepping on to the stage of The Establishment on the 26th September 1962, Frankie Howerd was reborn for a new generation of comedy fans and his legendary status was confirmed.I have borrowed the audio above, which contains an extract from Howerd's appearance at The Establishment, from that post.
And I have personal reason to be grateful to Frankie Howerd. I must have been one of the few small boys allowed to stay up to watch Up Pompeii!
Sure enough, I got O level Latin some years later.