On this day in history : 6th March 1917 – The birth of Francis Alick Howard – who was better known to us as comedian and comic actor Frankie Howerd….

The son of a soldier, Howerd was born in York – and was educated at Shooter’s Hill Grammar School, London…. His first stage appearance was at the age of 13…. However, after failing to get into RADA a career in serious acting was not to be…. It was whilst serving in the army during WWII that he began to entertain….and it was also at this time that he changed his name to Howerd – apparently ‘just to be different’….

He began his professional entertainment career in 1946, in the touring show ‘For the Fun of It’…. He made his radio debut in December of the same year and his first screen role was in the film ‘The Runaway Bus’ in 1954, in which he starred opposite Petula Clark….

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Portrait by Allan Warren 1978 – CC BY-SA 3.0

With a mixture of jokes, impressions, comical songs and monologues Howerd hosted his own series of TV shows in the 1950s…. Known for his risqué double entendres he came across as a larger than life figure – however, this couldn’t be further from the truth in reality….

Howerd suffered from acute stage fright – (his close friend Cilla Black once said of him – ‘that it made him physically ill’)…. He was a painfully shy man, lacking in self confidence and prone to severe depression…. He was also terrified of his sexuality becoming common knowledge…. At a time when homosexuality between men was illegal (until 1967 in England and Wales and 1981 in Scotland) it would have ruined his career….

He met his partner, Dennis Heymer – 12 years his junior – in 1958. Heymer also became his manager and helped him to revive his flagging career during the 1960s…. The couple were together for over 30 years – until Howerd’s death on the 19th of April 1992, after suffering heart failure due to a respiratory illness…. Always their relationship remained discreet outside of their immediate circle…. Howerd is buried at St. Gregory’s Church, Weare, Somerset – Heymer, who died in May 2009, is buried close by….

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Frankie Howerd Blue Plaque, York – Image credit: Peter Hughes via Flickr

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