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Vivian and Bones, Shepperton towpath, England, 1980
|Birth name||Victor Anthony Stanshall|
|Also known as||Vivian Stanshall|
21 March 1943|
|Died||5 March 1995
|Genres||rock and roll, satire, comedy rock|
|Occupations||Musician, songwriter, singer, comic, broadcaster, painter, poet, writer|
|Instruments||Guitar, keyboards, percussion, vocals, flute, recorder, ukulele, mandolin, and others|
|Labels||Warner Bros. Records, Liberty Records, Charisma Records, Polydor Records|
|Associated acts||Bonzo Dog Band
Vivian Stanshall (born Victor Anthony Stanshall; 21 March 1943 – 5 March 1995) was an English singer-songwriter, painter, musician, author, poet and wit, best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, for his surreal exploration of the British upper classes in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, and for narrating Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells.
Early life 
Stanshall was born on 21 March 1943 at the Radcliffe Maternity Home in Shillingford, and christened Victor Anthony Stanshall. His mother Eileen lived with her young son while her husband, Victor (1909–1990) (a name he had adopted in preference to his own christened name of Vivian), served in the RAF. Stanshall described this period as the happiest time of his life.
When the war ended Vivian's father returned, and this proved to be a turning point in the young Vivian's life, bringing the happiness to an end. The family moved back to Walthamstow. Having found his life alone with his mother ideal, Stanshall's life took a serious downturn with the addition of his stern, pretentious father. This was followed by the further shock of the arrival of a new brother, Mark Stanshall, born in 1949. The brothers were six years apart, an age difference that apparently put an emotional distance in their relationship that was never resolved.
About this time, the Stanshall family moved to the Essex coastal town of Leigh-on-Sea. Stanshall managed to earn some money doing various odd jobs at the Kursaal fun fair in nearby Southend-on-Sea. These included working as a bingo caller and spending the winter painting the fairground attractions. To put aside enough money to get himself through art school (his father having refused to fund it), Stanshall spent a year in the merchant navy, where he made a very bad waiter, but a great teller of tall tales.
Stanshall eventually enrolled at the Central School of Art in London. Here, he joined several of his fellow students (including Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear and Neil Innes, who was studying art at Goldsmiths College) in forming a band. Innes said of their first meeting: "He was quite plump in those days. He had on Billy Bunter check trousers, a Victorian frock coat, violet pince-nez glasses, and carried a euphonium. He also wore large pink rubber ears." At around this time, Stanshall changed his first name to "Vivian"—the name his father had abandoned. It was not until 1977 that the documents came through that made his name change legal. Those who knew him from his student days continued to call him Vic.
Bonzo years 
The name of the band came from a word game which Stanshall played with art school peer and future Bonzo member Rodney Slater, involving cutting up sentences and juxtaposing the fragments to form new ones. One of the combinations that came out of this exercise was "Bonzo Dog/Dada". The band initially performed under this name, but soon grew tired of explaining what Dada meant. Thus they became the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band—later abbreviated to The Bonzo Dog Band, or just The Bonzos.
According to the band's manager Gerry Bron (brother of the actress Eleanor Bron), Vivian Stanshall was given several weeks to produce songs for the new professional Bonzo Dog Band. When people arrived at his studio they found he had not written a single thing, focusing instead on building a variety of rabbit hutches.
For a while the band existed as a semi-pro outfit playing the college circuit, but it wasn't long before they acquired a manager, went full-time, and found themselves booked on the working men's club circuit mainly in the north of England. The band dominated their lives, travelling to low-paying gigs in an old van crammed with any number of musical instruments, an assortment of props, and prop robots. In 1967, they appeared in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour television special playing Vivian's "Death Cab for Cutie" during the strip club scene, and this was followed by a slot as the house band on Do Not Adjust Your Set, a weekly TV revue show also notable for early appearances by most of the Monty Python troupe.
In 1968 the Bonzos scored a surprise top ten hit with a number called "I'm the Urban Spaceman" (produced by Apollo C. Vermouth aka Paul McCartney), after management wanted them to "play the game" as Innes put it, to try for a hit single.
The band toured incessantly and recorded several albums, which led to a tour of the United States. This was so successful that they were booked for another US tour soon after. Neil Innes remembers that the band were reportedly stopped by a local U.S. sheriff and asked if they were carrying any firearms or drugs. When they denied both, the officer asked how they were going to defend themselves. Vivian piped up from the back of the minibus, "With good manners!".
In 1970, the band broke up.
After Bonzo 
Stanshall went on to form various short-lived groups including The Sean Head Showband, Bonzo Dog Freaks (featuring the guitar talents of the rotund Bubs White) and BiG GrunT. By now, his life was dogged by alcoholism and panic attacks, which he tried to control with Valium; he would have these problems for the rest of his life. He had several spells in hospitals in attempts to stop or control his drinking, but they never worked. He was also still being prescribed larger and larger doses of Valium, which, he later reported, made things worse by adding another addiction. Even so, he continued to write music and tour. His longtime friend, Pete Moss (the original musical director of The Rocky Horror Show), toured with him, providing musical direction and support.
For all his problems, Stanshall never lost his sense of humour. In particular, his exploits with Keith Moon are legendary, perhaps the most notorious involving Stanshall going into an unsuspecting tailor's shop and admiring a pair of trousers; Moon then came in, posing as another customer, admired the same trousers and demanded to buy them. When Stanshall protested the two men fought over them, splitting them in two so they ended up with one leg each. The tailor was by now beside himself but right then a one-legged actor, who had been hired by Stanshall and Moon, came in, saw the trousers and proclaimed "Ah! Just what I was looking for."
Aside from such pranks, the two also worked together. For instance, when Stanshall took over the John Peel radio show for a while, Moon appeared as Lemmy in the saga of Colonel Knutt, idiot adventurer-detective. Moon also produced Stanshall's recorded maniacal version of Terry Stafford's "Suspicion".
In early 1974, Stanshall wrote, arranged, and recorded his first solo album, Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead. A complex, idiosyncratic affair, its lyrics were acutely personal insights laced with poetry, as well as overt references to his penis. The album has a jazz-rock flavour, rich with African percussion. Such artists as his friend Steve Winwood, Innes, Bubs White, Jim Capaldi, Ric Grech, Doris Troy, and Madeline Bell made guest appearances. Out of print for many years, the album was released on a limited edition CD in August 2010.
Rawlinson End 
Stanshall's next big success was Rawlinson End. (Much of the text can be found at "Vivarchive" and at "Rawlinson End Book") In the 1970s he recorded numerous sessions for BBC Radio 1's John Peel show which elaborated, with a mixture of eloquence and irreverence, on the weird and wonderful adventures of the inebriated and blimpish Sir Henry Rawlinson, his dotty wife Great Aunt Florrie, his "unusual" brother Hubert (who, for speed, stature and far-seeing, habitually goes on stilts), old Scrotum the wrinkled retainer, Mrs E, the rambling and unhygienic cook, and many other inhabitants of the crumbly Rawlinson End, plus its environs.
The Rawlinson family had been populating Stanshall's imagination for quite a while, their very first appearance (in name, at least) being on the Bonzos' 1967 number The Intro & The Outro: "Great to hear the Rawlinsons on trombone".
An LP, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, which reworked some of the material from the Peel sessions, appeared in 1978. A sepia-tinted black and white film version (recently released on DVD), starring Trevor Howard as Sir Henry, and Stanshall as Hubert, followed in 1980. It was also based on the Peel recordings, with many variations from the LP. Some of the film's music was provided by Stanshall's friend Steve Winwood. A book of the same title by Stanshall, illustrated with stills from the film, was published by Eel Pie Publishing in 1980. Nominally a film novelisation, it was distilled from all the various versions of the story, including a good deal of material that was not used in the film.
A projected second book, The Eating at Rawlinson End, never appeared. It was to have started:
- "In the blue wardrobe of heaven are many unused clothes, too tight-fitting yet too beautiful to throw away. And in that wardrobe we hang our likenesses, yellow diaries yellowed with yesterday, thumb smeared with tomorrow. But the now, the present, like the hollow screech of ancient flamingos in search of shrimps, is still vibrantly shocking pink."
A second Rawlinson album, Sir Henry at N'didi’s Kraal (1984), recounts Sir Henry's disastrous African expedition, but omits the rest of the Rawlinson clan. According to Ki Longfellow-Stanshall, his widow, he regarded this recording as sub-standard and it was released without his knowledge and against his wishes. He was ill when making it, and the record company issued it as quickly as possible. Stanshall was often drunk and/or depressed during production, which took place on The Searchlight, a house boat he bought from Moody Blues and Wings' Denny Laine and moored between Shepperton and Chertsey on the River Thames. He lived on it from 1977 to 1983. Converted from a First World War era submarine-chaser, it was forever taking on water and sank with all his possessions aboard. Almost all of them were retrieved, some the worse for water damage.
At Christmas 1996, BBC Radio 4 retrieved some of the Peel show recordings from the vault for a late-night repeat, but there seems to be little chance of a commercial release, though some have appeared on a bootleg CD together with some of Stanshall's collaborations with Keith Moon.
Sir Henry's final appearance was in a television commercial for Ruddles Real Ale (c. 1994), where he is portrayed by a cross-dressing Dawn French, presiding over a family banquet at a long table. Stanshall reprises the role of Hubert, reciting a poem loosely based on Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, at the end of which all the diners produce oars and row the table off-screen.
Another late appearance (c. early 1995) was as one of several "talking heads" on a 30-minute documentary produced by the pop group Pulp (to promote their single Do You Remember The First Time) talking about the experience of losing your virginity.
Later work 
Stanshall collaborated on numerous musical projects including Robert Calvert's 1974 concept album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, and Mike Oldfield's 1973 Tubular Bells where he played the Master of Ceremonies, breathily announcing the buildup of instruments in the finale of the first side of the album. Stanshall performed with Grimms and The Rutles, as well as occasionally working with The Alberts and The Temperance Seven.
While living on the Searchlight, Stanshall wrote and recorded Sir Henry at Rawlinson End and also the script for the film of the same name, later produced for Tony Stratton-Smith's Charisma Records company. Following this, he would write his third album Teddy Boys Don't Knit, contribute a lyric to Steve Winwood's Arc of a Diver and write some of the songs he later used for Stinkfoot, a Comic Opera (the musical comedy he wrote with his second wife Ki Longfellow).
After the Searchlight, the Stanshall family lived and worked on The Thekla, a Baltic Trader, which was sailed 732 nautical miles (1,356 km) from the east coast of England to be moored in the Bristol docks. Ki had bought the Thekla in Sunderland, and converted her into a floating theatre called The Old Profanity Showboat. Vivian joined her when the doors opened to the public for the first time in May 1983.
In December 1985, the ship saw the debut of their production, Stinkfoot, a Comic Opera. Stanshall wrote 27 original songs for the opera, sharing book and lyric writing with his wife. The show involved bizarre characters that they imagined living under a seaside pier as well as characters taken from Longfellow's early tale for children called Stinkfoot. It proved popular and was revived in London some years later with Peter Moss as musical director, and again in a reduced form in Bristol in 2010.
A 1975 film for the BBC, One Man's Week, looked at a week in Stanshall's life and includes footage of him at The Manor Studio recording studio playing music with Gaspar Lawal, Mongezi Feza, Anthony White and Derek Quinn. This film also shows him talking about his turtles and playing his 'Phonofiddle'.
He was married twice: in 1968 to fellow art student Monica Peiser (they had a son, Rupert, that year, and were divorced in 1975); and on 9 September 1980, to novelist Pamela "Ki" Longfellow. They had a daughter, Silky, born on 16 August 1979, named after a racehorse called Silky Sullivan, her mother's childhood favourite. (Stanshall was seriously considering Dorothy. "Just think," he was reported as saying by Ki, "We could call her Dot!") His marriage was celebrated in the song, Bewildebeeste, as was Silky's birth in The Tube, on his second solo album Teddy Boys Don't Knit (1981).
In 1982, Vivian provided a spoken word segment on Lovely Money, a single by The Damned.
In 1991, Stanshall made a 15-minute autobiographical piece called Vivian Stanshall: The Early Years, aka Crank, for BBC2's The Late Show, in which he confessed to having been terrified of his father, who had always disapproved of him.
A later programme for BBC Radio 4, Vivian Stanshall: Essex Teenager to Renaissance Man (1994) included an interview with his mother in which she insisted that his father had loved him, but Stanshall was mortified that his father had never shown it, not even on his deathbed.
Death and legacy 
In 2001 Chris Welch and Lucian Randall wrote a biography of Vivian called Ginger Geezer: The Life of Vivian Stanshall. In 2003 Ben Schot's Sea Urchin Editions published the script of Vivian Stanshall and Ki Stanshall-Longfellow's Stinkfoot: An English Comic Opera with an introduction by Ki. His widow, Ki, plans to publish The Last Showboat: an Illustrated Memoir of Vivian Stanshall, the Old Profanity Showboat, and Stinkfoot, a Comic Opera.
Also in 2001 Jeremy Pascall and Stephen Fry produced a documentary for BBC Radio 4 that charted the story of Stanshall from childhood until his death in 1995. Stephen Fry knew Stanshall quite well and, along with his personal thoughts, introduces a series of reminiscences. The show featured many clips from Stanshall's work including 'Colonel Knutt and Lemmy' in an episode called 'Breath From The Pit'. The recording also relates one of Stanshall's last poems (posted by Stanshall to a friend and received the day after his death), entitled 'With My Mouth Turned Down for the Night'.
In 2012, Poppydisc Records reissued a vinyl version of Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead. This is an official Stanshall family sanctioned release, remastered with new liner notes from his widow and daughter.
On 25 March 2013, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of his birth, the Bonzo Dog Band, along with Rick Wakeman, Danny Thompson and John Otway staged a performance of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
Solo discography 
- Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (1974)
- Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (remastered on vinyl, 2012)
- Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1978)
- Teddy Boys Don't Knit (1981)
- Sir Henry at N'didi’s Kraal (1984)
Further reading 
- Ginger Geezer – The Life of Vivian Stanshall, by L. Randall & C. Welch (2001) Fourth Estate, ISBN 1841156787
- 1991 BBC Two production" Vivian Stanshall, the early years, aka Crank.
- BBC Radio 4, Vivian Stanshall: Essex Teenager to Renaissance Man (1994)
- Stephen Fry's BBC Radio 4 tribute.
- Interview with Ki Longfellow-Stanshall in The Bristolian, a short-lived magazine, May 1988.
- Originals – Vivian Stanshall: The Canyons of His Mind, BBC/October Films, BBC4, 2004
- Cited in Brewer's Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics, William Donaldson, 2002.
- Lucian Randall; Chris Welch (10 June 2010). Ginger Geezer: The Life of Vivian Stanshall. HarperCollins UK. ISBN 978-0-00-738724-3. Retrieved 10 September 2012.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Vivian Stanshall|
- Ginger Geezer Official website
- BBC audio interviews
- David Christie's Doo Dah Diaries
- Grunt! Grunt! by Punchable Nun, a tribute to Vivian and the Bonzos
- Kettering no. 1 (PDF): this fanzine of "elderly British comedy" has an article on 'If It's Wednesday It Must Be...' with Stanshall and Kenny Everett
- Rawlinson End
- Share – The Vivian Stanshall Appreciation Society & Archive