David Benson

By Jeremy Miles

DAVID Benson seems to have cornered the market in dead comedians.

First there was Think No Evil Of Us, his part-autobiographical one-man show based on the life of Carry On star Kenneth Williams. It was a huge hit at Edinburgh in 1996 and has been doing the rounds ever since - to greater and greater acclaim.

Now the talented actor has pulled off the same trick with Frankie Howerd (pictured above), finding parallels in his own life with that of the elusive entertainer famous for such catchphrases as "titter ye not" and "ooh er missus".

The new show is called To Be Frank and you can see it, along with Think No Evil Of Us, at the Tower Arts Centre, Winchester, this week.

Benson's approach is far from cynical or formulaic. In fact, the genesis of his Kenneth Williams "tribute" goes back to 1975, when Benson, an 11-year-old Birmingham schoolboy, won a Jackanory storywriting competition.

"Kenneth Williams read my story, The Rag and Bone Man, on TV. This was something I was deeply ashamed of. I wanted it to be read by Spike Milligan. It wasn't good for a Birmingham comprehensive schoolboy to be associated with the campest man alive.

"The other kids started coming up to me, saying 'ooh, ducky' and flapping their hands."

A decade or so later, Benson confronted this particular childhood trauma and turned it into theatrical gold.

"I first put the show together in 1996 when I was an unemployable actor living in Edinburgh. I thought, 'If I don't write myself the perfect part, nobody else is going to do it for me'."

A first-rate Kenneth Williams impersonator behind closed doors, Benson decided to go public and put his talent for mimicry to use in a stage show exploring one of show business's most complex characters.

"I discovered very quickly people were fascinated by Kenneth Williams." says Benson. "I always liked him on chat shows. But it's only when someone's gone you realise how much you love them. I realised I would never have a chance to say thank you to him for reading my story."

*To Be Frank plays Tower Arts Centre, Winchester, tonight at 7.30pm.

© Jeremy Miles 2022