January 22nd, 2008


Vivian Stanshall

I've decided to start an occasional series of entries explaining some of the interests I've chosen on my profile page. Every now and then, probably when, like now, I don't have any photos to share with you, I will select one of my interests and tell you all a bit about it. I'm going to start by going through the people in my list, because after all, I'm a people person.

So, the first person I want to write about is Vivian Stanshall. The difficult thing is knowing quite where to start. Vivian was the archetypal, and some might say ultimate, classic English eccentric. He was an incredibly inventive singer, comedian, writer, performer, songwriter, painter, actor, voice-over artist, musician, broadcaster, practical joker, raconteur and much more than all of those things.

To begin at the beginning and then skip a bit, he was a precocious child, highly intelligent and stranger than those around him. In fact he lived a kind of double life, posh, polite and well-spoken at home and rough, tough and dangerous to know when he was on the street with his friends.

The period of his life that most people, at least those in Britain, the USA and Australia will know him best for was the late 'sixties and early 'seventies when he was a leading light in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. They had success with such songs as 'I'm the Urban Spaceman', 'Canyons of Your Mind', 'The Intro and Outro' and (in the Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour) a song called 'Death Cab For Cutie'. (Now where have I heard that since?) The Bonzos toured widely and produced a lot of albums. Vivian was the frontman and their shows were incredibly unpredictable and, well, mad.

After the Bonzos he came up with a series of radio monologues which later formed the basis for the incredibly funny, inventive and totally beguiling album 'Sir Henry at Rawlinson End'. At this time he dressed and looked strange, to say the least, with a knot in his long beard and shabby Tweeds that looked like something out of a country house farce. 'Sir Henry' became a film and a book and it seemed that he had found the success he deserved.

At this time he was living on a houseboat called The Searchlight on the Thames. He also ran a floating theatre in Bristol harbour called The Old Profanity Showboat, which put on comic operas and strange plays.

Vivian Stanshall died in 1995. By now he was living in a flat in north London. There were some faulty electrics which caused a fire. There is no good way to die, but that must be among the most horrible and he really didn't deserve that. His legacy is his music, film, books, spoken word albums and quotes like these.

"If I had all the money I've spent on drink — I'd spend it on drink."

"You got a light, mac? No...but I've got a dark brown overcoat."

"That was inedible muck, and there wasn't enough of it."

"Like the shock of fondling a raw sausage, blindfold, at a gay party ..."

"Mercifully, he hit him with the soft end of the pistol."

"Frankly, once I've eaten a thing, I don't expect to see it again."

"Five years ago I was a four-stone apology — today I am two separate gorillas."

"I don't know what I want, but I want it NOW!"

I have heard 'Sir Henry' literally hundreds of times and it still makes me laugh. The clever use and misuse of language are exactly what make my head work. Many of the Bonzos songs still sound fresh and original. And who can dislike anyone who went out of their way to look like this?

Vivian Stanshall 1943 to 1995
Great English eccentric genius

If I have whetted your appetite, you may be interested in this website, run by Vivian's daughter.