Monday, 6 October 2014

TW, TW, and thrice TW

At last a chance to see Frankie Howerd's appearance on TW3 in full. If you have seen any of the documentaries about Howerd then, like me, you may have been tantalised by a few brief glimpses of the 1963 appearance on TW3 which famously gave him back his career after his first major dip. I thought the Arena programme on Howerd was a dreary affair which only really came alive with a clip of him seizing his moment on Ned Sherrin's show.

Other documentaries have chosen slightly different extracts from that 1963 show, and for a while I contemplated trying to edit the material I had together in order to get at least a sense of the whole, which I was too young to see at the time.

It seemed the only way I'd get to see it, even though I knew it survived in complete form. A few years ago I was chatting to David Benson after a performance of his show about Frankie Howerd, and he said he'd seen a tape of the routine, which went on for about thirteen minutes - slightly too long, he said, with Howerd reluctant to quit even though he'd peaked.

Well, now you can judge for yourself, as someone has uploaded the complete That Was the Week That Was episode which features Frankie at the end. His spot starts about 27.30 in. Don't know how long it will be up, so hurry, hurry, and thrice etc.[update: youtube have taken it down though it may be worth searching for another clip]

I think David Benson might be right: it certainly feels like the material at the very end is not of the best. Odd, too, as I thought the TW3 stuff included the gag about shouting through the letterbox at Checkers, but presumably I'm misremembering that from the audio recording of his act at the Establishment Club. That is commercially available, and indeed I reviewed it on a well-known shopping website six years ago - which rather confirms my long-felt want - as another comic would have put it.

Establishment gold, BBC silver

Don't buy this assuming that the BBC material includes Howerd's history TW3 appearance which catapulted him back to stardom. It doesn't - and the BBC material is of variable comedic quality and sounds like it's from three separate shows, despite being presented as one track. The Establishment recording is, however, pure gold, showing Howerd at his best, well able to deal with the braying of Kenneth Williams and others in the very appreciative audience.

Whether or not it was an issue with licensing it's possible to understand why the TV comeback was not included - substantial portions, based on the extracts in documentaries I have heard, are the same as his Establishment act - but given its importance it would be worth listening to in its entirety, just as we are accustomed to alternative takes by jazz musicians etc. According to David Benson, who has heard the whole TW3 act, it tails off at the end - Howerd slightly outstays his welcome and loses the audience- but it would still be fascinating to hear.

Part, at least, of the BBC material is by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, and if you are familiar with Took's Laughter in the Air book on radio comedy you will recognise the opening BBC segment which is reproduced in the book. But the CD is well worth getting for the twenty odd minutes of the Establishment act which show a Howerd well able to tailor his comedy to the satirical needs of the day without being anything other than, well, Frankie Howerd.

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