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Frankie Howerd At the Establishment and At the BBC

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Album Review

Recorded entirely live before two different audiences, this LP consisted of just two lengthy sketches, each lasting a little more than 20 minutes. The first, occupying all of side one, was done at the Establishment Club in London on September 26, 1962. The second, taking up all of side two, featured excerpts (co-written by fellow major British comedian Marty Feldman) from his appearances on the British satirical TV program That Was the Week That Was. All topical comedy runs the risk of being dated, but if you're not familiar with the milieu of early-'60s British comedy and culture, chances are you're going to have a hard time keeping your attention focused on much or all of this. Much of the routine at the Establishment Club is devoted to modestly self-deprecating jabs at the venue and his general befuddlement at finding himself working such a room. While the audience finds it pretty uproarious, it's on the mild side; perhaps it would be more of a kick with the visuals, but that's something you could say of many live comedy albums, and really, the monologues have to stand on their own to be worthy of enshrining on record. Howerd also works in some references to the European Common Market and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan that will leave listeners nonplussed unless they remember how things were in early-'60s Britain (or are very historically knowledgeable indeed about that period). That Was the Week That Was, as could be expected, is more topical, again featuring the Common Market as a hot issue, some of the gags being based around many European citizens indifference or ignorance regarding the topic. Also inserted is some extremely mild sexual innuendo that may well have been risqué by 1963 standards, but with the passage of decades seems pretty timid. Howerd has an urbane delivery, a likable fish-out-of-water persona, and a fine comic timing, but the record's a rather quaint relic of its time and place.

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