Titter ye not! Legendary comedian’s York origins finally recognised

Please yourself! Comedy icon Frankie Howerd. Photograph: UK Gold
25 Jul 2016 @ 6.36 pm
| News

For someone born here, Frankie Howerd didn’t have much of a Yorkshire accent.

To be fair the celebrated comic, and star of numerous TV shows and films, didn’t spend much of his life in York.

However he was born here, in the City Hospital, and spent his first two-and-a-half years in the city.

While there is a plaque to him at the Grand Opera House, and another on his London house, his first home, 53 Hartoft Street, off Fishergate, bears no trace of the legend who once lived here. But that is finally to change.

A campaign was launched to erect a plaque to him. Public subscriptions to The Frankie Howerd Memorial Plaque Fund were supplemented by takings from a special film screening a year ago at the inaugural The Great Yorkshire Fringe.

Well-loved figure

The plaque ready for installation. Photograph: York Civic Trust
The plaque ready for installation. Photograph: York Civic Trust

On Tuesday (July 26) York cultural ambassador, actor, and star of many a comedy TV show and film himself, Mark Addy, will unveil the plaque.

David Fraser, chief executive of plaque bestowers York Civic Trust, said:

For generations to come, people will see this plaque and know that the son of a soldier and chocolate worker from the city went on to become a familiar and well-loved national figure in British popular culture, spreading joy and happiness with his unique comedy for decades.

Councillor Dave Taylor, Lord Mayor of York, said he was delighted that the founder of the Great Yorkshire Fringe Martin Witts supported the idea of erecting a plaque to Frankie at his first home.

“Now with Martin’s and the York Civic Trust’s generous help, we’re finally making the idea a reality.”

Life of Frankie

In Up Pompeii. Photograph: BBC
In Up Pompeii. Photograph: BBC

Frankie Howerd was born Francis Alick Howard in York on March 6 1917.

His father, Francis Alfred William Howard, was a regular soldier and his mother, Edith, nee Morrison, worked at the Rowntree chocolate factory.

Frankie lived his first two and a half years in a terraced house, 53 Hartoft Street, in what he described as “a poorish area of the city near the River Ouse”.

He later said he had only one memory of living in York and that was of falling down the stairs, an experience which left him with a life-long dread of heights!

With relatives in York, however, he did return again and again for family holidays and later in life spoke of his fondness for the city.

His father was posted to Woolwich and the family settled in Eltham, where a brother, Sidney, and sister Bettina (known as Betty) were born.

At the age of 11 Frankie won one of two London County Council scholarships to the newly opened Shooters Hill Grammar School, where his best subject was mathematics.

Always nervous and shy, and with a stutter he fought hard to overcome, he plucked up courage to take part in school plays and eventually decided he would audition for RADA. Overcome with nerves, he failed the audition miserably, but realised that his future might lie in comedy.

He was in the Royal Artillery during the war, and played in concert parties where he was spotted by a many who would go on to be a leading theatrical agent.

He auditioned for the BBC radio comedy and music show Variety Bandbox, making his first broadcast on the show on 3 December 1946. Frankie was an instant success and quickly became one of the most popular entertainers in the country, broadcasting regularly and touring the music-halls.

With a seeming rambling delivery, and with patter punctuated by many an “oo-er”, “titter ye not” and “please yourself” his comic persona was unique and hugely popular.

Frankie’s screen hits including Up Pompeii on TV and movie Carry On Doctor. Although his career later fell into the doldrums, he later became a cult hit on the student circuit.

He collapsed and died of heart failure on April 19 1992, aged 75