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OH PLEASE YOURSELVES - FRANKIE HOWERD AT ITV
DVD region 2. Network.

Oh Please Yourselves - Frankie Howerd at ITVNetwork have once again dug into the vaults to unearth long lost rarities – this time, a fairly definitive collection of one-off specials starring Frankie Howerd that appeared on ITV and Channel 4 between 1973 and 1991.

The collection opens with the rather incongruous Frankie and Tommy, a documentary following Howerd as he plays a series of shows for the troops in Ulster. While chunks of his act are included, this is more a straight – and rather dry – documentary that has the look and feel of a ‘full supporting feature’ you might have seen in cinemas at the time.

Things become more traditional with Frankie Howerd in Concert from 1974, which is a rather awkward attempt to mix his stand-up routine with a variety show format – something that doesn’t always work. Guest stars include John Le Mesurier, Kenny Lynch (who is at the receiving end of some cringe-inducing racial humour) and Hammer starlet Julie Ege.

The same vague format is revived in 1980’s Frankie Howerd Reveals All, which has a Dave Allen style mix of stand-up and sketches featuring Kenneth Conner, Sheila Steafel and Henry McGee. These are a mixed bag, and Howerd’s routines seem ill suited to this sort of show, which feels rather like a series pilot, with the comedy all based around one theme – in this case, the class structure.

Things get much better with the 1987 live show Superfrank!, shown on Channel 4. Here, Howerd is free to do his full act in from of what was then his core audience, and his mix of improvised moments, comic asides and double entendres – which he then berates the audience for finding rude – is at its finest here, as is his rapport with the audience (in both the TV specials, there felt a rather awkward separation between Howerd and the studio audience).

Further Up PompeiiThe same could be said of Frankie Howerd on Campus, shot at Oxford University at the peak of Howerd’s unlikely resurrection as a student favourite. It’s fascinating to see how he manages to maintain his traditional humour while spicing it up with some modern touches and quite a bit of self-awareness – he runs through his famous shtick of “titter ye not”, “ooh her missus” and other catchphrases early on in what feels like a sly dig at the people who think that’s all he has.

Winding up the main content is the 1991 special Further Up Pompeii, a revival of his famed early Seventies TV series that was planned as a new series before Howerd’s death. It’s over-long, but on the whole captures the feel of the original shows, with Howerd as put-upon slave (or now, former slave) Lurcio.

Also on the disc are two full episodes of the Russell Harty chat show from 1974 and 1979. Fascinating time-capsules in themselves (other guests include Charlton Heston, Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth), Howerd is in fine form on both shows, mocking and insulting Harty – who gives almost as good as he gets.

If you are a fan of Frankie Howerd – and let’s be honest, most people are – this is a great collection of material. While the two TV specials are hit and miss affairs, the live shows more than make up for this, and just as his humour transcended generations at the time these were made, the comedy here still feels remarkably fresh. It’s fantastic to see these old shows revived..

DAVID FLINT

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