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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When 'Hancock's Half-Hour' ended in 1960, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
expressed interest in writing for a comedian they had long admired -
Frankie Howerd. But Tom Sloan, the B.B.C.'s head of comedy, told them
to forget the idea as he was no longer popular. To prove his point, he
produced graphs showing the low ratings for Howerd's last series. The
writers went on to create 'Comedy Playhouse', one of which - 'The
Offer' - was the launching pad for 'Steptoe & Son'.
Howerd then surprised everyone in the entertainment industry by staging a remarkable come back; firstly, he was booked by Peter Cook to appear at 'The Establishment' night club, and secondly, landed a spot on the B.B.C.'s top-rated Saturday night satire show 'That Was The Week That Was' in which he commented on the recent Budget. It may seem strange that a comic of Howerd's calibre should have jumped on the satire band wagon, but to his credit, did not fall off again.
In 1964, Galton and Simpson got to write a series for him - produced by Duncan Wood - and unsurprisingly it bore a remarkable similarity to 'Hancock's Half-Hour'. Howerd played 'Francis Howerd', an exaggerated version of himself, a humble comedian with aspirations to becoming an international star. Each edition began with Frankie addressing the audience directly, before relating a personal experience which would be told in flashback.
In one episode, he went to the House of Commons to research political humour, and got mistaken for an M.P. In another, he tried to get 'with it' by hanging out with the 'mods' of Carnaby Street. In another, he appeared in a television play and caused a strike by admitting to not being a member of Equity.
Howerd's talking to the audience enabled him to get in a few crafty insults at the expense of those he encountered. He constantly referred to Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene as 'Thingy'. When he met some long-haired young men - members of a pop group - he instantly mistook them for girls. "We're not birds, we're blokes.", said one of their number: "We're 'The Question Marks'". Glancing at the camera, Frankie quipped: "I don't doubt it!". Encountering Arthur Mullard, he said: "Robert Morley, I presume?".
The guest stars included Warren Mitchell ( as Frankie's agent ), June Whitfield, Patrick Cargill, Peter Butterworth, Beryl Reid, Arthur Mullard, Hugh Paddick, and John Le Mesurier. Many of whom had been on the Hancock show. Michael Robbins - 'Arthur' from 'On The Buses' - appeared fleetingly one week.
Two seasons were made, comprising twelve episodes. Having viewed a few recently, I would say that it is like 'Dawsons Weekly' and 'Casanova 73' in that it is enjoyable but not among Galton and Simpsons' best.
After it ended, Frankie appeared on various variety shows and a movie - 'Carry On Doctor' - before landing the series for which he is best remembered - 'Up Pompeii'.
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