Frankie Howerd born 6 March 1917 (d. 1992)
Frankie Howerd OBE (born Francis Alick Howard in York, England, in 1917 — not 1922 as he claimed) was a distinctive English comedian and comic actor whose career spanned six decades.
Howerd was 'lightly' educated at Shooters Hill Grammar School (later to become Eaglesfield School) in Eltham, 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). In 1954, he made his screen debut opposite Petula Clark in The Runaway Bus, which had been written for his specific comic talents, but he never became a major film presence, although he appeared in a number of Carry Ons.
When he began experimenting with different formats and contexts, including stage farces, Shakespearean comedy roles, and television sitcoms, 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 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.
After five years without a regular television show (though he had hosted a one-off UK version of The Gong Show for Channel 4, which was critically panned and was not commissioned for a full series), Howerd returned to the TV screens in 1987 in the Channel 4 show Superfrank!. 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 19 April. He posed for his last photograph with friend Cilla Black when she went to visit him.
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 1955, Frankie met Dennis Heymer, who later became his manager. Dennis was with Frankie for thirty years until he died. One of his exes was comic actor Lee Young who created the TV sitcom Whoops Baghdad.
Frankie Howerd lived for the latter part of his life in the village of Cross, Somerset. On 15 May 2009, his former partner Dennis Heymer died in the home that he and Howerd had shared. He was aged 80. Howerd's home, Wavering Down, is now a tourist attraction and, in the summer, hosts concerts and opens regularly as a museum of Howerd's collection of memorabilia to raise funds for charities.
Howerd's grave is at St Gregory's church in Weare, Somerset.
A BBC TV biography about Frankie Howerd Rather You Than Me was produced and broadcast by BBC 4 in 2008. The comedian David Walliams was cast as Howerd. This portrayal of Howerd as an alcoholic sexual predator who had been sexually abused by his father, largely driven by Heymer, has driven Howerd's sister, Betty, to break a long silence to refute the allegations, claiming that the drama 'robs' her brother 'of his dignity'.
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