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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 08:39 GMT
Frankie Howerd's forbidden love
By David Sillito
Arts correspondent, BBC News

Frankie Howerd
Frankie Howerd was tormented by being gay

Dennis Heymer, the lover, partner and manager of the late comedian Frankie Howerd, talks exclusively about their secret life together in an age when homosexuality was taboo.

"He hated being gay," says Mr Heymer of the much-loved British comedian Frankie Howerd, who died in 1992 aged 75.

"At the beginning I was hidden away when anyone of note came here. I was hidden away from his sister, and his mother for a time."

Mr Heymer was there to look after the troubled Howerd, star of the BBC comedy series Up Pompeii! and the Carry On films.

But, in an age in which homosexuality was illegal, Howerd knew the risk of blackmail so Mr Heymer had to be out of view.

"I was a handsome young man and he would hide me away," says Mr Heymer.

Mr Heymer was a waiter when he met Howerd in 1955. He invited him to his birthday party and it was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until Howerd's death.

Dennis Heymer
Dennis Heymer still misses his partner Frankie Howerd

Mr Heymer's role was to look after and support a man who was insecure and tormented about being gay.

"Something he said to Cilla Black years ago was 'I wish to God I wasn't gay'."

But despite this, Howerd was dangerously promiscuous, says Mr Heymer.

"It [being gay and promiscuous] was dangerous and heartbreaking for me, I must be honest.

"His mother said to me, she said 'you stay with him the whole time and don't let him out of your sight'. She knew there was something dodgy about him."

And that's what Mr Heymer did, accompanying the comedian almost everywhere he went.

But when Howerd wasn't pursuing attractive young men, he was often deeply depressed.

"He was under a psychiatrist the whole time. I think he wanted to have been normal and have kids," says Mr Heymer.

Showbusines mementoes

One of Dennis's jobs was to drive Howerd on a Friday to see his psychiatrist who would ply him with LSD over the weekend. On a Monday he would pick him back up.

"It didn't do him any good. I wouldn't recommend it at all," says Mr Heymer.

Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray
Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray introduded the couple to the Queen Mother

Mr Heymer was involved in every part of Howerd's life. On the road he was responsible for lighting and sound.

"He was a very fussy man and furious if things went wrong."

But the cooking, cleaning, driving and moral support had their recompense. Mr Heymer was part of showbusiness, the mementoes of which can be seen throughout his house in Somerset, which he opened to the public last year.

The teapot was bought by Bette Davis who said it could be used to gently steam Howerd's toupees to give them a little lift.

There are photos of Mr Heymer and the Queen Mother. At one event, hosted by the acting couple Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray, he and Howerd were introduced to the Queen Mother.

Keen to thank Dulcie Gray, Mr Heymer ran to buy a huge box of chocolates but as he returned to the house he again found himself face-to-face with the Queen Mother who graciously took his chocolates from him.

Thankfully she left them behind when she left but Dulcie Gray never even got a whiff. Before they knew it a car had been sent back to the house to recover the missing chocolates for the Royal household.

In Jersey, the Beatles came to see Howerd's stage show and were invited to the party afterwards. But this was just before they hit the big time.

"The Beatles were on their own in a corner, no one knew them, it was embarrassing. I said to Frankie, for God's sake get them talking," says Mr Heymer.

The "good looking waiter" was on first name terms with Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton but at home it was very different.

"Thank God he [Howerd] wasn't the sort of person to tell jokes or be funny all the time. He was quite serious, interested in politics," says Mr Heymer.

But without him, life in the house they shared - now like a pretty little Frankie Howerd mausoleum - is a little bleak.

Friends pop by and Chris Byrne, Mr Heymer's adopted son and carer, looks after him but this will be the last summer they open the house to the public.

Mr Byrne is the man who holds it all together and the man to whom Mr Heymer is most thankful.

He will also inherit everything including 38 years of diaries. But today, with Mr Heymer surrounded by the photos, the toupee, even the old hernia belt Howerd had to wear, it is almost as if the comedian has only just popped out.

"It is something I still can't get over, the fact that he's not here."

Frankie Howerd's partner on their life together

Comedian's home opens to public
14 Apr 06 |  Somerset
Howerd memorabilia auctioned off
13 Dec 05 |  Bristol/Somerset
Howerd's OBE raffled for charity
06 Apr 05 |  Somerset


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