Frankie Howerd

1917 - 1992 -

Carry On Films: 2 (Plus Carry On Christmas 1969)

Frankie Howerd was born Francis Alex Howard in York. He grew up in the Woolwich and Eltham area of South East London, where his father was a sergeant major in the Army. Howerd's father died when he was three, and his mother was forced to take cleaning jobs to pay for her three children's upkeep.

Howerd's trademark stammering and hesitation was, at that age, natural; in later years he exploited these afflictions to great comic effect; they became the comedian's trademark and, far from natural by this time, each and every one was included in his scripts.

He joined a church dramatic society at the age of 13 and made his stage debut in Tilly of Bloomsbury. Five years later, he auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, but was turned down; his next ambition was comedy. Nevertheless, he performed badly at talent contests and ended up as a junior insurance clerk in London. He pursued his dreams of comedy, but continued unsuccessfully. When in the Army during the Second World War, he failed the auditions for both ENSA and Stars in Battledress. Undaunted, he practiced his routines in the canteen and the barracks, overcoming his stammer and perfecting the bumbling humility for which he later became so famous.

After the war, Howerd was spotted at the Stage Door Canteen in London, and signed to appear in the For the Fun of It roadshow. It was during his time here (at the bottom of the bill) that he changed the spelling of his surname from Howard to Howerd. The logic behind this minor change; there were so many funny Howards around and he wanted to distinguish himself.

Many minor stage roles followed, but as with so many of today's great comedians, it was the advent of radio variety that launched him to fame. He became a regular in the hugely popular Variety Bandbox, with Eric Sykes acting as his scriptwriter. He remained with the show for 5 years, during which time he topped the bills at theatres around the UK, culminating in his first Royal Variety Performance in 1950.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, music hall waned in popularity and Howerd's own career followed suit. Following an acclaimed performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and several not so well received shows, he began appearing at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in London; a showcase for the most topical and up-and-coming comedians. His performance, scripted by Till Death Us do Part's Johnny Speight, led to an appearance on That was the Week that Was and a starring role in the stage version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His fortunes were on the up.

This string of success was followed by the comedy with which Howerd has become synonymous; the classic Up Pompeii, in which he played the downtrodden slave Lurcio. Three spin-off films followed (Up Pompeii, Up the Chastity Belt and Up the Front).

Howerd was awarded an OBE in 1977 and was the winner of two Variety Club of Great Britain awards. Howerd was a much celebrated comedian, who enjoyed perhaps his greatest success in his later years; it was while riding on the crest of this wave when he was asked to appear in Carry On Columbus. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack and died shortly before filming.

Further Reading

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- The Plank (1979) .... Photographer
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978).... Mr. Mustard
- Crazy House (1975)
- The House in Nightmare Park (1973) .... Foster
- Up the Front (1972) .... Lurk
- Up Pompeii (1971).... Lurcio
- Up the Chastity Belt (1971).... Lurkalot/Richard the Lionheart
- Carry On Up the Jungle (1970) .... Prof. Inigo Tinkle
- Carry On Doctor (1967).... Francis Bigger
- Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery, The (1966)
- The Fast Lady (1962)
- A Touch of the Sun (1956)
- Jumping for Joy (1955)
- The Ladykillers (1955).... Barrow Boy
- The Runaway Bus (1954)