Archive for the ‘records’ Tag

The Comic Strip – Stripped and ready for action

In the early 1980s an anarchic group of young comedians sought to change the world with violence, Marxism and quite a lot of swearing.

comic-strip

The Comic Strip

The Comic Strip,
The Comic Strip,
Springtime Records HA HA 6001,
1981

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Bowels aside, by and large there are no great ‘movements’ in comedy today. Today’s generation of comedians seem to be out only for themselves. As long as the country’s motorway service stations are supplied with a steady stream of hilarious CDs for sales reps to listen to, then all is well with the world and no great or establishment-challenging art has to take place. The career progression for aspiring young comedians these days is clear and easy to follow: start as a guest on a topical news quiz, chair a panel show, host an ironic gameshow, then look forward to your own regular night of compered variety fun on primetime TV and yet more DVDs for the service station racks. Along the way the venues get gradually larger, from dingy comedy clubs, via corn exchanges and provincial guildhalls, to arenas and finally stadiums. And then you’ve made it. Maybe go to America and annoy them for a bit, make a few appearances in a film few people will see, or just fill out an arena every couple of years if something in the local Ferrari dealership catches your eye.

There used to be some accepted wisdom that post-war comedy would always have groups of similarly minded individuals come along every so often. Groups who would radically change the scene they inherited and shake up notions of what comedy was meant to be. From the wartime anarchy of the Goons, through Beyond The Fringe, Monty Python, Not The Nine O’Clock News, and right on into the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s, there have always been groups of young talented people ready to evolve comedy, to react against social norms and perceived methods of working, to challenge, to dare, to experiment and rail against the madness of the modern world. Not now though. Now we have nothing. Just endless bloody panel shows and endless Russell bloody Howard. Future generations will pity us, they really will. Sadly though, we won’t even be able to take offence at their condescending patronizing pity, as we will be too sedated from the soporific effects of watching Russell Howard to even notice or care what is happening. Russell Howard. Russell Russell Howard…

The story of the young radicals who would become the Comic Strip began collectively around 1979, with a group of comedians performing in the newly opened Comedy Store in London. There, in shows compered by angry Scouse Marxist Alexei Sayle, established double acts such as The Outer Limits (Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer) and 20th Century Coyote (Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson) performed lively anarchic comedy that would soon come to be referred to as ‘alternative’. Alternative comedy as a concept and a term was invented by Tony Allen, also a regular at the Comedy Store, and came as a reaction against hackneyed gags that relied on stereotypically easy targets, those joke staples of established club comics such as ethnic minorities and mothers-in-law.

The prime mover behind the Comic Strip as a coherent group was Peter Richardson. Keen to stage a play, he found a cheap venue in the Raymond Revue Bar, a strip club that after it closed and was cleared of naked women and lecherous tourists, was suitably empty, cheap and in a prime Soho location. Soon the idea of the play was abandoned but Richardson recognised that the venue would make the ideal late night comedy venue. Luring his chums from the Comedy Store to perform at the venue, along with lugubrious stand up Arnold Brown and double act French and Saunders, the scene was set for a comedy revolution.

A lot happened very fast in the life of the collective Comic Strip regulars. Within a year of forming, a national and international tour had been mounted, followed by a TV special and the production of this vinyl artefact which all raised the group’s profile. By 1982, with the persistence and enthusiasm of Peter Richardson being the main driving force, both the BBC and the newly created Channel 4 had signed up the Comic Strip players in the shape of The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents…

With the faces and personalities now so familiar to comedy fans after almost forty years of exposure, it’s easy to forget just what an impact these comedians once made. The individual members of the Comic Strip are these days members of the establishment themselves. With respected bodies of work, and long critically acclaimed careers they seem somehow safe and reliable. It is easy to forget that they were once the outsiders and that their work was seen as subversive, corrupting and dangerous.

Alexei Sayle for instance is now only an occasional comedian. His career as a writer has largely taken over but anyone who needs to remind themselves why he was once so feared needs only to listen to his contributions to this record. Plucked straight from a live Soho performance in the Comic Strip with no studio finesse or post-production polish, Sayle’s contributions are visceral and raw. No effort is made to tone down his act and he, perhaps more than anyone else on this record, evokes what it must have been like to witness the arrogance and self-assurance of the Comic Strip in their prime.

Sayle in the album opener Introduction sets out his stall as an ‘alternative’ comedian from the off. Jokes referencing Marxism and Enver Hoxha sit alongside more traditional gags about beer and curry. A rudimentary ‘Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? (Sayle’s unlikely 1982 Top 15 hit) can be briefly heard towards the end of his set but his full album closer Stream Of Tastelessness has to be heard to be believed. Never mind comedians, there are few individuals lucky enough to live outside secure prison wings that could sustain such a level of insane invective, shouting, swearing and spittle for the full nine and a half minutes that Alexei Sayle does!

The other acts on the record also show glimpses of what they would go on to achieve. Nigel Planer debuts a prototype Young Ones creation on The Outer Limits track Neil At Wembley, complete with self-deprecating commentary, terrible maudlin material, and long tedious songs about depression. Elsewhere on Lenny Flowers, Planer and Richardson experiment with an extended narrative sketch about a heavy metal band reforming which must surely have inspired Edmondson’s later creation, the degenerate rockers Bad News. Performing aside, Peter Richardson’s other main contribution is showing his keenness for organising and structuring the anarchy around him. As well as producing the record, Richardson ropes in future creative partners Pete Richens and Ben Elton for script writing duties on the track Page 3 Girls.

In the performances of Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall it is immediately apparent that they are comfortable with their own brand of comedy, that now familiar blend of unbridled anarchy, social awkwardness and casual violence that would serve them well for the next thirty years of their career. Listening to Mayall recite his angry and very awful poetic verses on the two tracks devoted to Rik’s Poetry, it is clear that Rik, as with Planer’s Neil, is ready to step straight into his Young Ones role.

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders too seem remarkably comfortable in their sole contribution to the album, Psychodrama. Adopting the personas of two vapid and health obsessed American tourists, their skill at accents and subtle observant acting stands out from the rest of the more brash confrontational comedy on offer. That’s not to say their routine lacks bite or ability to shock. As the two Americans descend into ever more spiteful competitiveness and mutual loathing, the piece doesn’t look quite so out of place.

Before DVDs, VHS, and even before TV executives began to notice them, The Comic Strip as an album was a calling card for a group who were determined to forge a new style of comedy. It was a clear and bold statement of intent from the outset that didn’t compromise or make any concessions to listeners’ sensibilities. The ripples that this album caused are still around today, from the many comedy clubs that have proliferated across the country, to any mainstream TV show that bills itself as somehow edgy or dark. That all these once daring, dangerous comedians are now respected documentary makers, presenters, novelists, film stars, and in some cases just plain dead, is not their fault. They were young and they tried to change the world and I applaud them for that. The fact the modern world is such a mess is Russell Howard’s fault, and I blame him entirely for that.

So to finish on a high, here is Rik Mayall, with help from Adrian Edmondson on toy gun, reminding us why they were so ruddy brilliant and dangerous in the first place:

Freddie Parrotface Davies – Spray it again Sam

With the unlikely combination of budgies, bowler hats and an incurable speech impediment, Freddie Davies created his alter ego Samuel Tweet.

Freddie Davies,  A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet, Contour 2870 449, 1975

Freddie Davies – A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet

Freddie Davies,
A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet,
Contour 2870 449,
1975

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Samuel Tweet was not born. Like some end of the pier comic Frankenstein, Freddie Davies would have to create him from discarded props and unwanted speech defects, gradually constructing Tweet until he was ready to be unleashed into the world, to wreak havoc and spray unsuspecting passers-by with litres of superfluous spittle. Containing the monster and killing him off would take a lot longer…

Freddie Davies though was born, in this case in 1937 in Brixton. It was not long before the outbreak of World War 2 saw Freddie evacuated away from South London in order to stay with relatives in Salford. He soon became a regular at the Salford Hippodrome, watching from the wings as his grandfather (the comedian Jack Herbert) performed his act. After leaving school and inspired to follow his own path in showbiz, Freddie took to performing in charity shows while working at the local Co-op. It wasn’t until after he finished his National Service in 1958 that Freddie finally resolved to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and pursue a career as a comedian.

Freddie received sound counsel from no less than Des O’Connor, eagerly pouncing on him as Des exited from a stage door. Des’s advice was simple, and was the same advice as Max Bygraves had given Des some years before, namely become a Butlins Redcoat. So off Freddie went to Skegness, performing in weekly shows alongside fellow redcoat Dave Allen at the resort’s Gaiety Theatre. All well and good, but Freddie had set in motion a chain of events that would cause a monster to be created.

Outside of the weekly show, a Redcoat’s duty largely consisted of amusing the campers and falling in swimming pools. And as you can imagine, that duty is quite a strain after a while. The need to be funny all the time, spending every waking minute of the day as the epitome of hilarity, would tax some of the most adept and quick-witted of comedians. Freddie’s solution was simple, rather than rely on his wits, he would simply adopt a silly voice. A daft over-pronounced lisp solved all of his problems. Suddenly announcements for knobbly knees competitions or glamorous granny pageants could be delivered to crowds of suitably amused campers, doubled up with laughter at Freddie’s newly found speech impediment. What a simpler carefree age it must have been back then.

The next steps in Freddie’s gradual mutation into Samuel Tweet came in 1963 after his stint at Butlins and while he was trying to make a name for himself on the northern club circuit. After accidentally buying a homburg hat that was a few sizes too big, Freddie decided that he was best off keeping it and ramming it down over his ears. Cue further instant hilarity. The final jigsaw piece came when an unsuspecting heckler challenged Freddie to tell a joke about a budgerigar. By chance he knew one, and as the joke involved two voices, he reused the lisping idiot voice from his Butlins day. The combination of an oversized bowler hat, a ridiculous lisp and an obsession with budgies had finally resulted in the creation of Samuel Tweet. The following year in August 1964, an appearance on Opportunity Knocks exposed Samuel Tweet to the nation and suddenly Freddie ‘Parrotface’ Davies was a household name. Like Trill.

TV and radio work followed, including in 1968 his own radio show The Golden Parrot Club which saw Freddie and the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra hosting an hour of variety with aspiring comedians like Les Dawson and musical acts such The Wurzels or Clinton Ford. Later in 1974, Freddie earned his own TV show The Small World of Samuel Tweet. The plot was minimal and revolved around the business machinations of Freddie’s pet shop in the village of Chumpton Green, a settlement which owed its ancient feudal allegiance to the eponymous Lord Chumpton, played by Cardew Robinson. Needless to say a large number of parrots and budgies were involved. So popular was the series amongst children that a second series in 1975 was launched along with a novelty spinoff record.

For those of you unable or unwilling to remember what Samuel Tweet sounded like in his heyday, this LP is the perfect aide memoire. If you have been in therapy to try and forget, then it’s probably worth giving it a miss. The songs themselves are, it must always be remembered, aimed squarely at the children’s market, but even with that caveat they are exceedingly annoying. From the first track Keep Smiling onwards, Freddie is lisping and spraying saliva for all he is worth. The sentiments in Keep Smiling are admirable enough, encouraging children to keep grinning even if they are being smacked around. The song would be bearable if not for that lisp. Why Freddie why?

Even more unbearable is the lisp combined with deliberate mispronunciations as occurs on the last track on side one, Kindness To Animals. Again the sentiments are fine but Freddie’s insistence on pronouncing ‘animals’ as ‘aminals’ would make the most ardent vegan want to punch a hamster. The children’s chorus singing along with the Parrotfaced vocals don’t seem to have seen the script and insist not only on pronouncing every ‘s’ without a lisp, they also manage to pronounce ‘animals’ without sounding like they have suffered some terrible mass brain injury. The song clearly intends to teach children about animal care, and not about the joys of proper diction.

The album’s crowning glory is of course side two, the conceptual masterpiece that is A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet. Set initially at least in Freddie’s fictional Chumpton Green pet shop and featuring Damaris Hayman and Colin Edwyn from the TV series, the tale is a strange tale of parrots and drugged hallucinations, combining elements of The Wizard of Oz and Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Freddie is met and harassed by a Norfolk postman, Jock MacTavish (an angry Scottish policeman) and Mrs Higginbottom, a cleaner so posh you wonder who is dusting her Jacobean manor house while she is scraping layers of dried parrot guano and rat droppings off of Freddie’s floor.

Due to a state of advance dental decay caused by excessive consumption of dog treats (I might have made that up) Freddie has to be rushed to see his dentist Mr Oppenheimer, who is also, like many dentists, a mad German scientist. Mr Oppenheimer may be the same scientist who worked on the Manhattan project, he certainly sounds and behaves as if is suffering from advanced radiation sickness. Under sedation at the dentist and succumbing to the powerful anaesthesia, Freddie meets up with canine incarnations of his friends, all of whom are jolly racial and regional stereotypes ready to amuse with daft accents and unlikely cravings for sausages and a little amorous ‘woof and tickle’. Then just like Dorothy in Oz, Freddie manages to return, in this case by biting his dentist while in dog form. The dentist is then sensibly carried off for rabies shots. I hope at least some of that made sense, I gave it my best shot…

In the sleeve notes for his 1970 album Mr Parrot Face, Freddie Davies dropped some fairly unsubtle hints as to how he felt about his alter ego, Samuel Tweet. Comparing Tweet to Frankenstein’s monster and bemoaning the indestructibility of both creations, the frustration is palpable. It would take another ten years or so before Freddie Davies managed to finally and irrevocably kill off his monstrous avian obsessed creature by escaping to the relative safety of cruise ship cabaret, a floating sanctuary where no one on board had ever seen or heard of Samuel Tweet. A further career as a straight actor has brought some semblance of order and peace to Freddie Davies’ life, and he continues acting and performing to this day. Just don’t mention budgies.

If the horror films of Hammer and Universal teach anything though, it is that nothing as grotesque and as gruesome as Samuel Tweet can be relied on to stay dead forever. Let’s hope for the sake of humanity that he is safely spluttering away in some far off dimension under an irrevocable curse, never to return to trouble our world again. Keep smiling!

More Parrotfaced squawkings at Freddie’s official site:
http://freddiedavies.com/

Jake Thackray – Not the North Country Noël

So much more than just a North Country Noël Coward, singer-songwriter Jake Thackray produced some enduringly witty and well-observed songs.

Jake Thackray - Jake’s Progress

Jake Thackray – Jake’s Progress

Jake Thackray,
Jake’s Progress,
Columbia SCX 6345,
1969

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It seems that Jake Thackray is often compared to Noël Coward. Certainly his erudite, clipped, staccato tones are reminiscent of Coward’s measured delivery, and it’s true that both performers deliver self-penned songs infused with carefully observed wit and hilarity. But listen to the works of Jake Thackray and you will discover so much more than a singer in thrall to Noël Coward. For all Thackray’s politely delivered words, his ditties so often deliver a turn of phrase or accent that instantly signals his upbringing in Leeds and his honest passionate love of the people and places of Yorkshire.

It is hard to imagine Noël Coward tackling the sort of topics that Jake Thackray does. Though both were born into unremarkable suburban families, Coward soon became part of the theatrical elite, adopting the airs and graces of the upper class to affect an accent and lifestyle far from that of his birth, gradually becoming more upper class than most of the upper class. Jake Thackray though wrote gleefully of jumble sales, buxom lasses, poultry and North Country buses. If Noël Coward had experienced the rough pleasures of any of those earthly delights, then his usually forthright and frank biographers have failed to record it.

Born in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1938, Jake Thackray initially flirted with the notion of becoming a priest after attending St Michael’s College in Leeds. Thankfully for the sake of music he instead decided to become a teacher and left the priesthood well alone to those of a more sober disposition. After graduating from Durham University, Jake spent almost four years teaching English in France, roaming across the country to schools in Brittany, Lille, the Pyrenees, and for a brief period Algeria. Upon his return to England in 1964, he took up a teaching position back in his native Leeds.

His French travels proved an important part in developing the Jake Thackray style of singing, far more than any cursory study of Coward’s compositions he may have casually undertaken. It was in France that Jake Thackray first heard the likes of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel, deeply passionate singer-songwriters in the chansonnier tradition who performed lewd, crude songs of love, suffering and desire. Thackray went on to collaborate with Brassens on tracks such as Brother Gorilla (Le Gorille). Initially though he remained a teacher, performing his songs in the classroom to a captive audience and in local pubs and clubs around Leeds and Bradford to a slightly less captive, but equally enthusiastic audience.

Regular spots on local radio and television brought Thackray’s work to the attention of composer Brian Fahey who recommended him to the EMI record producer Norman Newell. Lured down to London, Newell recorded the sessions which would become Jake Thackray’s 1967 debut album The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray and would go on to oversee all of Jake’s subsequent studio releases.

Jake’s Progress, Jake Thackray’s second album released in 1969, bore witness to the fruits of his labours since the first album. Occasional appearances on the regional TV show Look North, had earned him a chance in 1968 to appear nationally on the BBC show Braden’s Week, hosted by Canadian consumer champion Bernard Braden. Now broadcasting nationally, viewers were apparently appalled by the rough Yorkshireman with his bawdy suggestive songs. Jake’s natural charm soon won the TV audiences over though and he stayed with Braden’s Week until Braden himself left in 1972, subsequently joining the show’s natural successor That’s Life. The demands of the weekly topical consumer show format meant that Jake had to write and perform a song every week. While other performers could afford to craft their songs over months and years, Jake Thackray worked dedicatedly and diligently to produce the songs that made his name.

Jake’s Progress showcases many of the regular themes of Jake Thackray’s songs. The opening track Country Girl for instance, is that perfect blend of an outwardly respectable composition which hides a barely concealed licentiousness amongst its rough bucolic verses. Amidst the goat milking, church hall dances and catalogue clothes, there lurks a lustful maiden who thinks nothing of lying down in moonlit bracken with her many lovers before brushing the straw from her hair and returning to respectable society. If ever a song served to distance the earthy, shameless, observant humour of Jake Thackray from the staid considered wit of Noël Coward, then it would be this one.

More pastoral love scenes are enacted across the album. On The Blacksmith and the Toffee-Maker, Jake Thackray spins a comic yet tender tale of a shy blacksmith wooing a village toffee-maker pining away into a lonely spinsterhood. Salvation Army Girl features the respectable titular heroine playing her bugle in village pubs while all the time whispering sweet lusty promises to Jake. On the Shelf also features a woman on her own, coping and getting on with life without tears. It too is a sensitive and tender paean, devoid of false pity and with the very merest touch of lament and melancholy. Nurse is all innuendo and lust, in the finest Carry On tradition. The dramatic pay-off to all the yearning and pleading is truly wonderful and sadly, far too clever for me to reveal here.

Aside from his sardonic observances on the machinations of love and lust, Jake’s Progress also contains many moments of humour which demonstrate Jake Thackray’s unique and lively sense of wit. The Hole is pure whimsy, telling a tall tale of Jake sticking his finger through a hole in a door to relieve the boredom while waiting for a bus. As the ludicrousness escalates, police, dogs, and reporters from the BBC gradually gather before Jake is taken to court, pleading an excuse of ‘justifiable curiosity’.

There is plenty of self-deprecating humour at Jake’s expense too. On Family Tree, the Thackrays are revealed to be a reprehensible clan of uncouth sinners, whose only brush with the aristocracy came with the rape of a duchess and the offer of some Woodbines to the Queen. Jake delves further into the misdeeds of the Thackrays on Grandad, another degenerate relative whose cast-iron constitution and dipsomaniacal habits lead Jake to suspect that the old man will fight off the clutches of death and escape from his grave as soon as the pubs open.

The song which best demonstrates the heights of Jake Thackray’s preposterous whimsy, is perhaps The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle. A wonderful tale of suburban devil worship, thanks to the deft subtle touches of Jake Thackray, it is easy to picture the scene as Elizabeth Jones and Lily O’Grady (and three or four more married ladies) practice their unspeakable pagan rites. These North Country witches have no need for fancy, expensive props and familiars, instead relying on their ‘Woolworth’s broomstick and a tabby cat’. I could wax at length about the joys and horrors to be found in the ‘upstairs aspidistra’d room that’s lit by candlelight’, but it’s perhaps best you listen and enjoy the antics of the Castleford Ladies yourself. Take it away Mr Thackray.

Frankie Howerd – Titters and triumphs

Frankie Howerd reinvented his act many times during his career, but his most important moment came during a bleak period in the early 1960s .

Frankie Howerd At The Establishment & At The BBC

Frankie Howerd – At The Establishment & At The BBC

Frankie Howerd,
At The Establishment & At The BBC,
Decca LK 4556,
1963

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Born in York in 1917, Francis Alick Howard was never the most comfortable or natural of performers, and yet from an early age that was really his only ever ambition. If ever anyone was unsuited to a showbiz lifestyle though it was the comedian soon to be known to a nation as Frankie Howerd. He lacked, in all honesty, almost everything that any competent performer usually needs to build and sustain a successful career.

A writhing, squealing mass of nervousness, anxiety and stammers, Frankie Howerd was never confident performing. Success eventually came when Howerd embraced his nerviness and fear, moulding all of his various tics and curious nervous quirks into a unique persona that became the essence of his act for almost fifty years. For every well scripted gag delivered in Frankie’s stage show, there would be a dozen more exasperated sighs punctuated only by raised eyebrows, groans, gasps and nagging admonishments to the audience.

Rejected by RADA and a failure in numerous amateur talent shows as a struggling youth, like many people of his generation, it took the advent of the Second World War and the need for troops to be entertained for Frankie Howerd to really make a mark. Frankie was conscripted in early 1940 and immediately applied for ENSA, the army’s entertainment organisation which did their best to amuse troops across all theatres of war. But, with an abundance of talented performers who had more than a string of failed auditions and amateur dramatics on their résumé, he faced yet more rejection as ENSA announced they would not require his services. For Frankie, rather than a showbiz tour of military hotspots he would have to settle for life in the Royal Artillery defending the coast of Essex from the Luftwaffe.

Not to be deterred by his posting, Shoeburyness Barracks soon saw Gunner Howard of B Battery organising and starring in weekly concert parties. It was in these Sunday night frivolities that he learned to make the most of his nervousness, honing it and taming it to form the basis of an act. Essex also witnessed the first appearance of a deaf apathetic pianist in Frankie’s act. The first time in Southend it was for real, for the next five decades it was usually a carefully rehearsed but always hilarious act.

When he left the army in 1946, Frankie brought his uniquely hesitant and incompetent delivery to the top BBC Radio show of the time, Variety Bandbox. Initially Frankie Howerd floundered in this new medium and his confidence ebbed with each passing week as his co-host Derek Roy garnered the praise of the audience and the admiration of BBC bigwigs. A chance meeting with a writer, the young and newly demobbed Eric Sykes, while in panto at the Sheffield Lyceum would rescue Frankie’s career and propel him to new heights.

Through many tortuous turns and failed forays into film and TV, by 1961 Frankie Howerd’s career in comedy was all but over yet again. Work was thin on the ground and his reputation as a ‘difficult’ cantankerous individual was making gigs ever harder to find. In his mid-forties, reasoning that he had enjoyed a long and fairly successful career and despairing at ever finding decent work or mass acclaim again, Frankie had determined privately to quit showbusiness for ever and invest what little money he had left in a London supper-club.

Committed to a summer season and a pantomime after that, Frankie resolved that once those dates were fulfilled, his career would be over. During the final days of his pantomime appearances in Southsea, an offer came in which Frankie found intriguing. 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.

Thankfully, due to some remarkable foresight, that monumental moment in the career of Frankie Howerd was preserved forever by Decca Records. Bolstered with a choice script fashioned by Johnny Speight along with Galton and Simpson at the height of their powers, the triumph of Frankie Howerd still sounds remarkable. Full of self-deprecating humour and camper than ever before, the ‘music hall comedian’ Frankie Howerd is as swift to put down and ridicule his own career chairing ‘Billy Fury tours’ as he is to criticise the shabbiness of the venue and the ambitions of the Beyond the Fringe players themselves, urging them all to consider the need to ‘turn professional’. It is a remarkably mature and swaggering performance by a comedian who has tasted fame and success as well as failure and ridicule. With nothing to prove and relieved of the desperate need to succeed, Frankie Howerd delivers the routine he always wanted to, a confident domineering performance that captivates and enthrals an audience.

The routine preserved on this record saw Frankie go on to further polish his satirical skills on That Was The Week That Was but he did not remain long with the hip young things of the satire boom. Frankie Howerd would have many further moments of doubt and uncertainty again over the years, but his major triumphs all lay ahead of him. He would succeed on stage in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, on TV with Up Pompeii! and at the cinema with appearances in two Carry On films and various adaptations of his TV work.

That comedy fans (me included I am pleased to say) were still able to see Frankie performing well into the 1990s is largely due to the wonderful fanciful reinvention contained in just one vintage LP recording. Here then is how it all began second time around for Francis Howerd, titter ye not:

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