Articles

TREVOR HOWARD'S SIR HENRY

extract from A Gentleman And A Player, the authorised biography of Trevor Howard by Vivienne Knight.

'I don't know what I want but I want it now!' yells Trevor Howard as Sir Henry in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. Whatever it was, he got it and plenty more from Vivian Stanshall, the eccentric genius who was behind - and in - the film. Sir Henry was first born of Vivian Stanshall on John Peel's radio show in I977. a permanently pissed feudal jingoist whose motto is Omnes Blotto, who plays war games with German prisoners of war kept as pets on his estate, and who protects himself from his wife's advances with a barrier of barbed wire around his bed. As a kind of musical event, this loveable character became a popular album, a book and, as a film, the most anarchical British comedy ever. No Lares or Peanales remain intact, no shibboleth rests unturned, no joke is too old to be revamped, and if some of the new ones cause Aunt Hettie to wrinkle her nose, they equally give Uncle Bert a bellylaugh. The line 'If I had all the money I've spent on drink, I'd spend it on drink,' finds its way straight to the hearts of the faithful.

As the outrageously eccentric aristocrat with his id firmly mired in the past Empire glories -'Never met a man I didn't mutilate' Trevor Howard was in a brand-new comedic element, visually and vocally. Vivien Stanshall, who shared the scriptwriting credit with the director, Steve Roberts, thought of Sir Henry as sur-Ealing comedy. Many critics thought of Monty Python or the Goons with overtones of James Joyce and Dylan Thomas; they also saw a film that might become a cult. Since it was shot in black and white in three weeks and cost less than half a million dollars, it certainly deserves a place in any film history of its time.

Vivian Stanshall's first reaction to Trevor Howard as Sir Henry was that Trevor was ' too upper-crust and wouldn't do at all. It is a measure of Stanshall's integrity that he didn't seize upon such a famed actor, right or wrong. When the film was finished he found that Trevor was more like Sir Henry than his own creation.

By rote, eyebrows were raised at the very idea of Straight-bat Howard appearing in such an esoteric jape and he knew it:
'Why on earth is he doing that film?" they'll say, and the answer is, because I want to do it. I might never get the offer to do such a thing again.'
And he didn't, because there never was quite such a thing again. Trevor thought the film highly comic and a film to see more than once, 'People want to see it again and again because you can't grasp it all at once. It's wild.'

Dilys Powell appreciated Patrick Magee as the Reverend Slodden and J. G. DevIin as Old Scrotum, the butler: 'But on the whole this is a jest to be heard, not seen, except for Trevor Howard as the shoot-the-lot reactionary. Mr Howard offers a caricature. But it is jolly caricature, enjoyable. He enjoys himself.' And so he did.

Tom Buckley, in the New York Times, makes mention of a 'comically inflated narration that suggests at various times Fielding at his most orotund, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliott add them to some British critics' choice of James Joyce and Dylan Thomas, stir well and there's a very heady mixture in the punch-bowl.