Vivian Stanshall - Entertainer Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Vivian Stanshall - Entertainer

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I'm merely myself, as near as dammit. I'm whatever you like - just don't expect me to join in. You see, I'm not different for the sake of being different, only for the desperate sake of being myself.

Vivian Stanshall (1943 - 1995)

Vivian Stanshall used his cultured tones and extraordinary vocal range to illuminate his surreal comic writings, both with the '60s comedy revue band The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and later during his solo career.

Throughout his life, Viv continually refused to conform to other people's standards. He was often called 'eccentric' but he grew to despise the term. He was an irreplaceable individual of comic genius. As a vocalist, musician, writer and artist he was full of contradictions. His comic creations were a product of his fevered imagination which at times produced work which demanded comparisons with the writer James Joyce, and Spike Milligan of the Goons.

He had a wonderful voice which could have earned him a fortune doing voice-overs, and many people remember his contribution as the Master of Ceremonies on Mike Oldfield's album Tubular Bells. However, he seemed to suffer from a lack of self-confidence, from frustration and disappointment, which led to alcoholism, barbiturate addiction and to a reputation for unreliability. People often thought that he was just too hard to handle.

His solo albums are excellent Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (1974) and Teddy Boys Don't Knit (1981). The five Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band albums from the '60s contain some outstanding music and comedy, and stand alongside Monty Python for originality. However, it is in the episodic masterpiece Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, which appeared as a radio serial, stage play, record album, book and movie, that Viv Stanshall's troubled and surreally inventive love of the absurd can best be observed.

Quotes from Sir Henry at Rawlinson End

  • 'English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestling in green nowhere, armoured and effete, bold flag-bearer, lotus-fed Miss Havershambling, opsimath and eremite, feudal, still reactionary Rawlinson End.'

  • 'God's turban and Tutu do I need a dare of the hog.'

  • 'If I had all the money I'd spent on drink, I'd spend it on drink.'

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

  • 'Meet Old Scrotum the wrinkled retainer and Reg Smeeton the newsagent and self-styled walking encyclopaedia "...did you know there is no proper name for the back of the knees?"'

After Viv Stanshall's untimely death in a fire at his London home a friend wrote, 'It frustrated him that he couldn't be best at everything. He never wanted to be a rich star. He just wanted to be himself.'

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