Here I am at the Kensington home where comedian Frankie Howerd lived and died. He may have exhaled his final breath in an ambulance speeding to Charing Cross Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He collapsed and lost consciousness here though. The house occupies a quiet spot surrounding Edwardes Square, an oasis of greenery in such a dense city.
Frankie shared this home with this lover Dennis Heyer who he’d met while dining at The Dorchester hotel in 1958 (Dennis was the wine waiter.) They lived here as a couple but secretly as Frankie never wanted his mum or the public to know he was homosexual (he was also scared of being blackmailed.) In April 1992 a 75-year-old Frankie was here when he suffered breathing problems. He was taken to a Harley Street clinic where he remained in a grim and often-unconscious state for over week (he’d picked up a virus from a cruise on the Amazon River the previous Christmas.) Whether he’d had a heart attack is unknown but I’d guess so as doctors allowed to return home to die in familiar surroundings.
On the Easter Sunday morning he was chatting on the telephone to his producer about new ideas for his next show. Perhaps he thought he’d bounce back (as he’d done many times over his six decade career) but a damaged heart was against him. Two hours after the conversation he collapsed and died of heart failure. His last words of the conversation were, ‘Well, I’m just going to have a little lie down before I do the journey in the car to Somerset.’ Ultimately he did make the journey to Somerset but in a hearse or private ambulance and he’s buried there near his country home.
I stood outside the house and took a few photos. I can still remember Frankie’s death on the television news as my favourite comedian Benny Hill died the same weekend. I looked at the windows and wondered which room Frankie died in - probably the main lounge on the first floor. The man I'd listened to lots of times died there, I thought - blimey. When I'm out walking in the hills I often listen to Frankie’s radio shows and he’s still funny. He seems to be able to contort those weird facial expressions down the microphone. There’s a brill radio play called Frankie Takes A Trip. It’s about Frankie being driven by Dennis from this house to a psychiatrist every Friday so he could get doped up on LSD for the weekend.
I looked across Edwardes Square and didn’t see a soul among the mature trees - not a human one anyway. The house is on a handsome row and I doubt you can put a window box on a sill without a reprimand. This house is a serious bit of property - the house next door sold for £4.9 million in 2016. Gulp. Oddly Frankie preferred his less-grand home in Dorset. More oddly he and his partner Dennis adopted a son who Dennis later married in a civil partnership (is that legal?) Ahead of me I had a long walk back to the hotel in Hampstead so did a salute and left.
The view onto Edwardes Square...