Titter ye not

by Fiona Rae / 27 December, 2008
There was sadness in the life of a British comedy legend

It turns out that playing a very large man with a very small winkie isn't David Walliams' favourite part, after all. No. His dream role is donning a comb-over and an "oo-er missus!" expression for Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me (UKTV, New Year's Eve, 8.30pm). "Matt Lucas and I first bonded as struggling comedians over a shared love of Frankie Howerd impressions," Walliams told the BBC.

Howerd was famous for double entendres and the catchphrase "Titter ye not!" in British sitcoms, TV shows and films throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. He appeared in That Was the Week That Was, Up Pompeii!, two Carry On films and several self-titled TV variety shows. He enjoyed early success but, as Rather You Than Me illustrates, he had an unhappy personal life. The drama focuses on Howerd's lowest ebb, when a nervous breakdown nearly scuppered his career. Seen through the eyes of his partner, David Heymer (Rafe Spall), Howerd is wracked with self-loathing and unable to accept his sexuality. Not too many laughs, then, and Little Britain's Walliams brings "a palpable sadness" to the role, said the New Statesman. "With every double entendre and 'titter ye not', your sense grew that between Frankie and a burst dam of emotion, there was only his desperate finger plugging the hole."

Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me was one of four BBC dramas about the personal lives of British comedy legends; UKTV is screening two. In The Curse of Steptoe (UKTV, New Year's Day, 8.30pm), Phil Davis plays Steptoe and Son's Wilfrid Brambell

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