“Ladies and gentle-men, ye may titter. Titter ye may!…Oh, please yourselves”
Celebrating the centenary of Frankie Howerd’s birth comes Howerd’s End, Mark Farrelly’s compelling new play that explores the untold story of the comedy legend.
Today, March 6, marks the centenary of the birth of comic and actor, Frankie Howerd, who was “one of Britain’s best-loved comedians”.
Howerd was a radical, whose courage and innovation as a performer has sometimes been obscured by cosy nostalgia.
He was the first stand-up to dispense with conventional punchlines and slick patter, instead crafting stumbling, surreal streams of insecurity, based on his sense of inadequacy, disappointment and sheer unsuitability to the very job of being a comedian.
In his refusal to ‘do’ comedy like everyone else had done, he paved the way for other non-conformists like The Goons, Monty Python and Eddie Izzard.
Set in the living room of Wavering Down, the Somerset home of Howerd and Dennis Heymer, Howerd’s End, is a punchy, passionate, revealing two-handed drama.
It explores through a series of flashbacks the development of Howerd’s style of comedy – from his first appearance on the BBC radio programme Variety Bandbox, in 1947, to his final performances in the 1990s when he had been reinvented as a cult godfather of stand up.
The play also shines an unflinching spotlight on the clandestine union which made Frankie’s big dipper of a career possible: his extraordinary 35-year relationship with his lover, Heymer, a wine waiter Frankie met in 1958 at the Dorchester Hotel while dining with Sir John Mills.
Howerd was 40 and Heymer was 28. He went on to become Howerd’s manager and anchor but his existence was strictly guarded from the public at a time when acts between consenting males was illegal.
The couple feared blackmail if anyone beyond their immediate circle found out about their relationship.
Howerd’s End also shows the other cost of fame – Howerd’s neurosis, his unfaithfulness and use of LSD that pushed his career and relationship to the brink of destruction.
More than simply a tribute show about a comedian who outlasted them all (although we do get to relive some of Frankie’s classic routines), Howerd’s End is also a piercingly honest love story about a relationship that tried to defy the odds.
Howerd’s End is the third stage play by writer and actor Mark Farrelly, following The Silence of Snow and Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope.
Mixing stand-up, dialogue and monologue, the play is told from Dennis’ point of view and shows Farrelly’s characteristic disregard for the fourth wall.
It has been created with the support of the Frankie Howerd Trust. However, the play is no hagiography, and is decisive in portraying Frankie and Dennis as they really were: insecure, passionate, lost, funny and very, very human.
Howerd’s End premieres at London’s Greenwich Theatre on September 12 and runs for two weeks ahead of a short UK tour