“Oooh, no missus … No, no, liss-un … Titter ye not … Oh, please yourself, then.” Who has not heard these trademark phrases of one of our greatest comic legends who was born Francis Alick Howard on the 6th March 1917 in York.
After failing an audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) he started his career by entertaining the troops during World War II and made his radio debut in 1946 on the BBC’s “Variety Bandbox”. He began to flourish with material written by Eric Sykes, Galton and Simpson and Johnny Speight.
His first film was “The Runaway Bus” in 1954 with Petula Clark and in the next couple of decades was in great demand on TV and radio as well as in film where he became part of the “Carry On …” cast, appearing in “Carry On Doctor” and “Carry On up The Jungle”. He even had a part with “The Beatles” in the 1978 film “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, a year after he was awarded an OBE.
One of his greatest TV characters must be Lurcio in “Up Pompeii!” in which he mastered his techniques of speaking directly to the camera and pretending innocence while delivering a blatantly obvious ‘double entendre’ and then telling the audience off for laughing at it.
Frankie performed with nearly all the celebrities of the day, including with Peter Cook at the “Establishment Club” and being part of “That Was The Week That Was” (1963) and on stage in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1963-65.) Not many people will know that in 1971 he even performed a comic take-off of the erotic song “Je t’aime” (originally with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin) with the late Dame June Whitfield called “Up je t’aime” which can be heard on YouTube. (June was always a great supporter of the Trust and was our President until her death in December 2018.)
In his private life, however, he had to be careful in case his homosexuality became public knowledge. In 1958 he met Dennis Heymer and they lived together for more than 30 years until Frankie’s death in 1992. Dennis was his manager and “do-all” and they lived together for the last 20 years of Frankie’s life in “Wavering Down” house, in Cross, Somerset. (Members of “The Frankie Howerd OBE Trust” who live in Cross or nearby knew Frankie and Dennis extremely well and were always welcome in their house.)
Their relationship was covered in a BBC Four biography “Rather You Than Me” with David Walliams as Frank, and Rafe Spall as Dennis. When these two actors came to the house, they were invited to be (and became) Patrons of the Trust. For another insight into the lives of Frank and Dennis, have a look for performances of “Howerd’s End”, written by Mark Farrelly.
It was through our connection with Frankie and Dennis (and Dennis’s carer and partner, Chris Byrne) that “The Frankie Howerd OBE Trust” came into being. With our Open Days around the house and garden, and large, charity events, we were able to raise around £100,000 to deserving, local causes.
Since Dennis’ death in 2009 and the sale of the house, the Trust is embarking on another project: the construction of The Frankie Howerd OBE Community Hub in Loxton.