Frankie Howerd

Frankie Howerd (born Francis Alex Howard in York, England, 6 March 1917 - not 1922 as he claimed; died in London, 19 April 1992) 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.



Selected filmography

  • Further Up the Creek (1958)
  • The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery (1966)
  • Carry on Doctor (1968)
  • Carry on Up the Jungle (1969)
  • Up Pompeii (1971)
  • Up the Chastity Belt (1971)
  • Up the Front (1972)

Selected bibliography

  • On the Way I Lost It by Frankie Howerd (1976).
  • The Complete Frankie Howerd by Robert Ross (2001).
  • Frankie Howerd: Stand-Up Comic by Graham McCann (2004). ISBN 1841153109.

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