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Up Pompeii! (BBC One Sitcom, Frankie Howerd)

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Up Pompeii

Frankie Howerd (né Francis Alick Howard) was an almost constant presence on British television from the 1950s until his death in 1992. His career was a series of ups and down as there were periods when his leering, risqué, oooh er style of humor was out of favor. Yet he worked consistently as a stand-up comic and as a television, film and theater performer. One of his roles was in the London production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and this paved the way for Up Pompeii!

Howerd plays Lurcio, the slave of Roman senator Ludicrus Sextus (Max Adrian) and his well-endowed wife Ammonia (Elizabeth Larner). The plot, setting and characterisation are secondary, though. They’re just background noise allowing Howerd to do what he does best – breaking that fourth wall to step out of character and speak directly to the audience. In other hands, this could easily disintegrate into a cutesy gimmick, but Howerd was blessed with a marvellous ability to create a rapport with the audience. His constant asides about the implausibility of the plot, other cast members and the standard of writing are priceless, as are his exasperated expressions and rolls of the eyes.

The scripts are full of the same broad, innuendo laden humor that is the hallmark of most David Croft sitcoms. Sharp-eyed viewers will also be able to catch early glimpses of Nicholas Smith, Wendy Richard and other members of the Croft family. You’ll even see a younger, thinner, less slovenly Geoffrey Hughes, who would go on to play Onslow on Keeping Up Appearances.

Two series and several specials of Up Pompeii! were made. Like most popular sitcoms of the era, three feature films were also produced that took Howerd’s character out of Rome and into different time periods à la Blackadder.

Cast: FRANKIE HOWERD as Lurcio; MAX ADRIAN as Ludicrus Sextus (1); WALLAS EATON as Ludicrus Sextus (2); GEORGINA MOON as Erotica; ELIZABETH LARNER as Ammonia; LYNDA BARON as Ambrosia; JOHN JUNKIN as Odius; WALTER HORSBRUGH as Plautus (Pilot); WILLIE RUSHTON as Plautus (season 1)

Creator: Talbot Rothwell / Writers: Sid Colin, Talbot Rothwell

UK | BBC One | 13×35/30 minutes | Pilot was broadcast on 17 September 1969 Series broadcast 30 March 1970 – 26 October 1970