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Vivian Stanshall

Vivian Stanshall (March 21 1943 - May 3 1995) was an English musician, writer, wit, and raconteur and is probably best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. He is also well known for his weird take on British society, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

Rawlinson End was first mentioned in the Bonzo Dog Band song of the same name. In the 1970s Stanshall recorded numerous sessions for BBC Radio 1's John Peel show which elaborated, with a fine mixture of eloquence and irreverence, on the weird and wonderful adventures of the inebriate and politically-incorrect Sir Henry Rawlinson ("If I had all the money I'd spent on drink...I'd spend it on drink."), his dotty wife Great Aunt Florrie, his "unusual" brother Hubert (who, for speed, stature and far-seeing habitually goes on stilts), old Scrotum the wrinkled retainer, Mrs. E, the rambling and unhygienic cook, and other inhabitants of the crumbling stately home Rawlinson End and its environs. BBC Radio 4 fished some of these recordings out of the vault for a very late-night repeat at Christmas 1996, but sadly there seems to be little chance of a commercial release.

An LP, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, which reworked some of the material from the Peel sessions, appeared in 1978..

A sepia-tinted black and white film version, starring Trevor Howard as Sir Henry and Stanshall himself as Hubert, followed in 1980. It was also based on the Peel recordings, with many variations from the LP.

A book of the same name by Stanshall, illustrated with stills from the film, was released in ?1980. It was nominally a film novelization, but was actually distilled from all the various versions of the story, including a good deal of material that was not used in the film. A projected second book, The Eating at Rawlinson End, sadly never appeared.

A second album, Sir Henry at Ndidi's Kraal 1983 recounts Sir Henry's disastrous African expedition, but disappointingly omits the rest of the Rawlinson clan.

Sir Henry's final appearance was in a TV commercial for Ruddle's Real Ale (?1994), where he is played by a cross-dressing Dawn French, presiding over a family banquet at a long table. Stanshall reprises the role of Hubert, reciting a weird poem loosely based on Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, at the end of which all the diners produce oars and row the table offstage.

Stanshall's refined voice won him a great deal of work for commercial voice-overs, including a Cadbury's Creme Eggs campaign that included a reworking of the Bonzos' song "Mister Slater's Parrot", under the title of "Mister Cadbury's Parrot".

He collaborated on numerous projects including Robert Calvert's Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, appeared with GRIMMS and The Rutles, as well as working with The Alberts and The Temperance Seven on an occasional basis. He also wrote the lyrics for two of the songs on Steve Winwood's hit album Arc of a Diver.

His life was dogged by depression and drink problems. At one time he owned a houseboat on the Thames, which sank with all his possessions aboard. He was later arrested for assaulting his step daughter. In 1991 he made a 15-minute autobiographical piece called Vivian Stanshall: The Early Years, aka Crank, for BBC TV's Late show, in which he confessed to having been terrified of his late father, who had always disapproved of him. A later programme for BBC Radio 4, Vivian Stanshall: From Essex Teenager to Renaissance Man (1994) included an interview with his mother in which she insisted that his father had loved him, but Stanshall was mortified that he had never shown it.

Stanshall was eventually found dead after a fire at his London flat. He was cremated, and his widow carried his ashes from the crematorium in a plastic shopping bag.


Ginger Geezer: The Life of Vivian Stanshall by Lucian Randall and Chris Welch (2001)

Paperback edition is ISBN 1-84115-679-5

External Link

Official website