Review for Frankie Howerd - The Lost TV Pilots

6 / 10

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For me, despite physical media sales falling, we are living in a truly magical age. It’s an age where even the slightest of material can get released in limited form and find its niche audience. ‘Frankie Howerd – The Lost Pilots’ is such a release and I am undoubtedly one of the few oddballs who make up its niche.

Released by Kaleidoscope, the fine folk dedicated to preserving otherwise ‘lost’ television archives, it collects together several ‘lost’ or unaired pilots featuring Frankie Howerd, spread across two discs. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but of ot sounds like yours, make sure you pick a copy up by way of support. That way, they’ll feel encouraged to work on releasing more of their hidden gems.

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Frankie Howerd, whatever your opinions on him might be, was a complete one off. His humour and style of delivery had direct lineage to music hall, and comedians like Max Millar in particular, who relied on double entendres and catch-phrases for laughs. He also had a fairly unique way, in television in any case, of breaking the fourth wall, frequently talking directly to the viewing audience, even whilst in the throes of drama.

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His catch phrase were used endlessly (‘Oh no missus’, ‘Oh please yourselves…’ ‘Titter ye not’ etc) and his approach looked wildly under-rehearsed and spontaneous. But the reality was that they simply weren’t. Apparently, they were fastidiously practised.

Having been incredibly successful in Britain, in common with other post-card, end-of-pier humour, he never really enjoyed much success overseas. This was probably in large part down to the fact that his humour was curiously British. It seems that we alone love nothing better than a snigger at even the remotest sexual innuendo, perhaps after years of relative sexual repression. But who cares? If it makes you laugh, it makes you laugh.

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This set gathers together a number of pilots from the 1970s when he and his agent were determined to break him into the US, Canadian and Australian markets. That said, nothing was done to alter his style of humour. Make no mistake, this is smutty innuendo from start to finish and, viewed in the sensible cold-light of the 21st Century seem pretty risible now.

I was sent just the first of the two discs for this review so I can only comment on that.

First up is a single one hour (minus ad breaks) pilot capitalising on the success of ‘Up Pompeii’ with ‘Up the Convicts’ produced by 7 Network in Australia in 1976. It ran for just four episodes and, on the basis of this one (episode 3), that’s hardly a surprise. There can’t have been a double entendre left standing. Filmed in front of a live audience, it has the atmosphere of a saucy pantomime with Howerd, playing the part of Jeremiah Shirk, sentenced to a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia, going full pelt in totally predictable style. If you’re a fan of that, you’ll love it. Set in 1820’s Sydney, Shirk is an ex-con who now works as a servant for Sir Montague and Lady Fitzgibbon. This episode has Sir Montague trying to persuade Jeremiah to marry a rather portly looking woman who does little else but eat. The lecherous Shirk has other plans.

It’s all a bit ramshackle and very seventies. The same could be said of the two episodes of ‘The Frankie Howerd Show’, made for Canadian TV the same year as the Australian excursion in 1976. Two episodes are included – the pilot and episode 1.

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Howerd is a British immigrant who has moved to a rooming house in Toronto. Having decided to move there, he now has to find a job. Absurdly, in the pilot he applies for, and gets a job as a rivet carrier though is completely unaware that this involves traversing scaffolding at the highest reaches of a skyscraper. Cue lots of Howerd looks to camera as well as some pretty rank keying (a feature of TV at the time) which looks entirely convincing. Which actually doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch.

In the second episode, he becomes ‘Francis Howerd Esq. from the London school of decorating and sticking it up’, despite knowing little or nothing about decorating.

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It’s all pretty tame humour, and limps along in the same vein as many sitcoms of the period, whilst failing to ignite or rise above the norm.

Disc two apparently contains an attempt to recreate the popularity of ‘The Gong Show’, a 30-minute talent contest where acts are judged by three celebrities (sound familiar?). Howerd is the compere and in this Southern TV one-off from 1977, which never aired, with Diana Dors, Russel Harty and Madeline Smith as the celebs. I’d love to see it so may have to pick it up at some future point. I’ll update this review if I do.

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Next up are a series of interviews from 1977 in the US, promoting the film ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in which he played Mr. Mustard.

Also included is an appearance on the Merv Griffin Show, and another short interview for ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ which is a lower key, 27 minute black and white interview presented here in its entirety.

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The disc is a mixed bag, both in terms of its humour and delivery and the technical , quality of the material but for Frankie Howerd fans will be no less enjoyable for that. Whilst the content is very variable and a bit hit and miss, it will still raise the odd guffaw and for my money, is worth picking up just for that.

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