Vivian Stanshall was an accomplished showman, mime artist, mystic, painter, potter, sculptor, musician (vocals, tuba, trumpet, baconium, banjo, mandolele, jew's harp, ...), song writer and comedian. As a surreal humourist he has been rated alongside Peter Cook. He was "the court jester of the underground rock scene in the Sixties" (John Peel).
He probably had the potential to become as successful as John Cleese, if he had not succumbed to personal problems such as drinking, drugs and depression.
He had a love of the absurd, as in the classic musical spoof The Intro And The Outro and the cult Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.
One thing he wasn't: an eccentric. Journalists seem to love labelling him thus but he was just being himself.
One of his most loyal friends and assistants was Glen Colson, who was the Bonzo's drummer on their last tour dates. He remembers Vivian as having two sides: a very personal and friendly guy and the unpredictable public side. He remembers him as the Ginger Geezer on Teddy Boys Don't Knit.
Once his father returned from Army service at the end of the War, the family moved to Walthamstowe in East London and then to Southend-on-Sea in Essex. His father became a City accountant and he roller-skated to work.
His mother taught him to knit and crochet.
At home his father required him to speak in a genteel, posh, "BBC" accent but once outside his house he reverted to the local Teddy Boy dialect and clothes - he had to hide the clothes in the garden.
Picture: Vivian as a Teddy Boy in Southend, from Teddy Boys Don't Knit.
He left school without any qualifications (no `O'-Levels) - almost being expelled. His mother wanted him to go to the local art college but his father refused to fund him, so instead Vivian served for a while in the Merchant Navy. He then went to Walthamstowe Art School, where he was taught by Peter Blake. When he was 18 he went to the Central School of Art in London, where he met `Legs' Larry Smith and shared digs with Rodney Slater.
Over the period 1962-1965 he formed the The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
He delighted in confusing and amusing by adopting different personae, such as a Wilde-like effete hedonist (as in Narcissus and I'm Bored on Gorilla) or an irascible peer (as in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End) or a drunken down-and-out.
After the Bonzos final gig in March 1970,
many expected him to go on to a successful solo career
(as Neil Innes did).
He formed a number of short-lived bands
but he experienced a nervous breakdown and a series of frustrations and
disappointments, mixed with some notable successes.
Like so many rock musicians of the Sixties, he became a heavy drinker and drug user and went on many binges with Keith Moon in the Seventies, the most infamous being when they dressed as Nazi officers and toured around the East End, causing shock and dismay.
After a spell playing euphonium with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, he had a cameo as a rock'n'roll has-been in the film That'll Be The Day and was the subject of an episode of BBC2's One Man's Week.
Vivian's deep throat (and Keith Moon's
drumming) featured on the 1971 BBC-commissioned
Do The Albert
by The Scaffold and he joined them in
He played percussion on John Entwistle's 1971 solo album Smash Your Head Against The Wall.
In 1973 he was the Master of Ceremonies on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and he played tuba on Pete Brown's album Not Foggotten Association [sic] (they were to work together again in 1991).
The following year he featured on Robert Calvert's Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters and released the solo album Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (featuring Steve Winwood and other members of Traffic).
He found new audiences via Jack de Manio's BBC Radio 4 chat show Jack de Manio Precisely as a house eccentric and on BBC Radio 1's John Peel Show performing under the title of Radio Flashes (with occasional Rawlinson End items), as Keith Moon did performing Life With The Moons items. They both took over the Kenny Everett Radio Show for a while. John Peel's producer, John Walters, was one of the few people who could get Vivian to work reliably. Vivian called the BBC's Broadcasting House Brainwashing House.
The saga of the Rawlinsons and Maynards and the other denizens of Rawlinson End runs throughout Vivian's work.
Vivian and Steve Winwood continued their collaboration with a soundtrack for a film of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast but couldn't find any financial backing. Elements found their way into Rawlinson End though.
In the late Seventies and early Eighties he lived with his second wife Ki (Pamela) Longfellow-Stanshall on a boat moored on the Thames, where he wrote Rawlinson End and the partly autobiographical Teddy Boys Don't Knit. After the boat sank, they lived on a ship moored in Bristol. There they worked on a stage project called Stinkfoot He continued his partnership with Steve Winwood, writing lyrics for albums such as Arc of a Diver (1980).
He had a cameo on The Damned's single Lovely Money in 1982.
Since his second marriage ended in the mid-80s, he lived alone in Muswell Hill, London.
The BBC2 Late Show recorded a short autobiographical playlet by Vivian in 1991.
Vivian contributed to Glen Colson's 1993 Famous Charisma Box, a tribute to Charisma Records and its founder Tony Stratton-Smith.
In 1993/4 he made a series of television commercials for Ruddles Beer and had been working on the Sir Henry II album for Warner Bros. He had also been working on the feature film Loch Ness, doing the voice-overs.
In 1994 he appeared in Pulp's film Do You Remember The First Time? and a further autobiographical piece for Radio 4.
Vivian died in a fire on the morning of Sunday 5th March 1995. The fire broke out at his third-floor flat in Hillfield Park, Muswell Hill, where he was found by firemen.
He has a number of songs recorded but without vocals and there may be a book of poetry coming out.
Around the time of his death it was said that Charisma Films were negotiating for a Channel 4 TV animated series based on Sir Henry.
Vivian leaves a son and a daughter (they feature on Teddy Boys Don't Knit).
Around the time he was on Jack de Manio Precisely, he made a half-hour film for BBC2's One Pair of Eyes series, a sort of video-diary. [This may actually be the same as the One Man's Week he made, cited in the Record Collector 189 article.]
The following week, she faxed a note saying "So sorry". The second page of the fax was a newspaper clipping reporting Viv's death. One of life's cruelest tricks to date. All I could think of was, "I've been looking for that particular son-of-a-bitch for nearly 20 years, man! I coulda been a doctor or an architect."
[...The Moons have just returned from an open-air festival and are talking about it...]
Still, it was lucky we saw Viv Stanshall, he could have laid there for weeks. Jolly decent of him to map-read for us on the way back...