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27 November 2014

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Up Pompeii!

Up Pompeii!

You never quite know what's going on in the heads of those godlike beings who commission comedy.

Sometimes it's obvious: you commission another series of Little Britain because otherwise, well, you'd be hanged by a mob. But Up Pompeii... now it seems odd. At the time, it was seen as gold.

The aim was to fuse the might of the Carry On franchise with the stories of Ancient Rome and the then-huge Frankie Howerd.

Frankie Howerd as Lurcio

Playing Lurcio, a slave in the house of Ludicrous Sextus and his variously sexed-up, or naïve family, Howerd would mock his masters and busy himself trying to get them, or himself, out of trouble.

The hands of creator Talbot Rothwell were all over the characters and dialogue, with it mostly being about cramming in as many puns and double-entendres as could be fitted in before exploding.

The greatness that it achieved was mostly because of the charm of Howerd, whose character would win the audience over in the first few seconds with a completely irrelevant monologue, and talk to them throughout (a Howerd trademark, as well as a Carry On motif).

Like Carry Ons, as well, there were plenty of anachronistic gags.

Frankie Howerd as Lurcio

The joy of Up Pompeii is in the fun the actors are having, the relish with which they spoke often dreadful lines, and the glee with which Howerd departed from script.

The series itself, however, has dated extremely badly, feeling like a not very good Carry On in most respects.

For a series of questionable comedy, though, Up Pompeii was a reasonable success at the time - intimate, stagey, it pulled audiences in. It spawned like a frog, with the series itself continuing in fits and starts until 1991 and only finally halting with Howerd's death.

It gave rise to the films Up The Chastity Belt, and Up the Front, which prefigured Blackadder, and the series Whoops Baghdad and Then Churchill Said To Me saw Howerd in virtually identical roles.

And that's what it was really about: Frankie Howerd, at his inimitable best, eating up the screen, upstaging everyone, and bringing the audience in with him.

Cast

Frankie Howerd
Lurcio
Max Adrian
Ludicrus Sextus
Wallas Eaton
Ludicrus Sextus
Elizabeth Larner
Ammonia
Kerry Gardner
Nausius
Jeanne Mockford
Senna
Georgina Moon
Erotica
Walter Horsbrugh
Plautus
William Rushton
Plautus

Crew

Talbot Rothwell
writer
Sid Colin
writer
Michael Mills
producer
David Croft
producer
Sydney Lotterby
producer

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