Frederick Leslie Fowell
9 January 1943
|Died||9 May 2019 (aged 76)|
|Medium||Stand up, television|
|Genres||Observational comedy, musical comedy, physical comedy, insult comedy|
Freddie Starr (born Frederick Leslie Fowell; 9 January 1943 – 9 May 2019) was an English stand up comedian, impressionist, singer and actor. Starr was the lead singer of Merseybeat rock and roll group the Midniters[nb 1] during the early 1960s, and came to prominence in the early 1970s after appearing on Opportunity Knocks and the Royal Variety Performance. In the 1990s, he starred in several television shows, including Freddie Starr (1993–1994), The Freddie Starr Show (1996–1998) and two episodes of An Audience with... in 1996 and 1997. In 1999, he presented the game show Beat the Crusher.
Starr was born in Huyton in the county of Lancashire, England. One of seven children, Starr was the son of a bricklayer, who was often unemployed. According to Starr, his mother Hilda (née Feihnen) was from Germany and was Jewish. A twin brother died at birth. When his father, who was also a bare-knuckled boxer, was drunk he repeatedly beat Starr up when he was a young child. In one incident, his father broke both of his son's legs. At the age of six, Starr stopped speaking, and was taken into care. As a result of these experiences, he was teetotal for life. In his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped, Starr gives speech problems as the reason he spent two years away from home as a child. He attended Sylvester's Primary, and later Huyton Secondary Modern. His father died when Starr was in his early teens.
Starr was encouraged by his mother to perform from the age of 12 working in clubs and pubs. For five years, he was a member of the Hilda Fallon Roadshow which toured community halls and hospitals.
Under his birth name, he appeared as a teenager in the film Violent Playground (1958). In the early 1960s, Starr was the lead singer of the Merseybeat pop group The Midniters (also spelt as Midnighters) which was managed by Brian Epstein. The group recorded three singles, each produced by Joe Meek. The singles all failed to enter the charts. During this period Starr's group performed in Hamburg's nightclubs, around the same time as the Beatles.
Still relatively unknown to television audiences, Starr was "discovered" through the talent show, Opportunity Knocks in 1967 where he appeared as part of comedy/beat act Freddie Starr and the Delmonts, winning the popular vote each time over six weeks. He appeared as the second act on the 1970 Royal Variety Performance during which he did comedy impersonations of Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, Norman Wisdom and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He was famous for impersonating Adolf Hitler in Wellington boots. During his career, he also impersonated Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. Starr had released a number of albums in his career, one of which yielded a UK Top 10 single, "It's You", in March 1974. Two of his albums charted: After the Laughter in 1989 and The Wanderer in 1990.
From 1972, he was one of the main performers in the television series Who Do You Do? and a regular on the TV panel show Jokers Wild. A first attempt at his own series, Ready Freddie Starr (1974), was reduced to a single special programme because Starr had disputes with the production team at London Weekend Television (LWT). He later starred in his own BBC series in 1976. His wit, wrote Mark Lawson, "relied on broad punchlines and silly slapstick". Stuart Jeffries in his Guardian obituary of Starr wrote that his act was "pre-cerebral, unrepentantly sexist, often racist comedy that was rendered overwhelmingly obsolete by the late 1980s".
For 20 years, from 1974, Starr developed an addiction to Valium. The chat show host Michael Parkinson wrote that it "addled his talent and confused his personality", eroding "a virtuosity equalled by only a very few entertainers".
"Freddie Starr ate my hamster"
Freddie Starr was the subject of one of the best known British tabloid newspaper headlines. On 13 March 1986 The Sun carried as its main headline: "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster". According to the text of the story, Starr had been staying at the home of his friend Vince McCaffrey and his 23-year-old girlfriend Lea La Salle in Birchwood, Cheshire, when the alleged incident took place. Starr was claimed to have returned home from a performance at a Manchester nightclub in the early hours of the morning and demanded that La Salle make him a sandwich. When she refused, he went into the kitchen and put her pet hamster Supersonic between two slices of bread and proceeded to eat it.
Starr gave his own account of the story in his 2001 autobiography Unwrapped, stating that the only time that he ever stayed at Vince McCaffrey's house was in 1979, and that the incident was a complete fabrication. Starr writes in the book: "I have never eaten or even nibbled a live hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, mouse, shrew, vole or any other small mammal".
Initially the story had no effect on Starr's career but soon proved beneficial. Tickets for a forthcoming tour had been selling slowly but, after the headline in The Sun, the publicity led to the addition of 12 dates to his itinerary and is believed to have boosted Starr's fee by one million. The man behind the hamster story was the British publicist, Max Clifford, at that time Starr's agent, who concocted the story as a practical joke. When asked in a television interview with Esther Rantzen some years later whether Starr really had eaten a hamster, his reply was "Of course not". Clifford was unapologetic, insisting that the story had given a huge boost to Starr's career.
Starr's frustration at being linked perpetually to the hamster story was expressed in a newspaper interview, when he commented: "I'm fed up of people shouting out 'Did you eat that hamster, Freddie?' Now I say, give me £1 and I'll tell you. Then if they give me £1, I say 'No' and walk away." Starr says that the story came about after he made an offhand joke about eating a hamster in a sandwich.
The Sun's front-page headline after Starr's death was "Freddie Starr Joins His Hamster".
Starr appeared in Freddie Starr (1993–94) and The Freddie Starr Show (1996–98) made by Central. At the beginning of his appearance on LWT's An Audience with Freddie Starr in 1996, he threw handfuls of live maggots at the audience. Nevertheless, Another Audience with Freddie Starr followed in 1997. This time he hit eggs with a golf club into the audience.
Starr was the owner of Miinnehoma, the winning horse in the 1994 Grand National race. He was not present on the day because of television commitments elsewhere, but gave an unusual post-race interview live on television to presenter Des Lynam via a mobile phone, with the television viewers able only to hear Lynam's responses to what Starr was saying.
In March 2009, Starr appeared in Living with the Dead, a reality television show about people being haunted by ghosts. Freddie claimed his 1930s house was being haunted by an evil entity which he called George. During the show it appeared that he was possessed by this entity. It was later revealed that the entity's name was Roger. During the episode, Freddie says that since he was a boy he was always spiritual and firmly believed in ghosts.
Starr was due to tour in 2010, but the tour was cancelled when he suffered a major heart attack in April 2010, resulting in quadruple heart bypass surgery. The tour dates were rescheduled for 2011 after he recovered.
Starr was a keen supporter of Everton F.C., and was a vegetarian from his teenage years onwards. At the height of his television celebrity, he appeared on ITV's coverage of the buildup to the 1984 FA Cup Final, in which Everton defeated Elton John's Watford 2–0. He appeared on the lawn outside the hotel where the Everton team were staying, on the morning of the game and gave an impromptu comedy performance to the players, who watched from the windows of their rooms.
In April 1994, Robin Coxhead, a gardener employed by Starr, was charged with alleged theft of £41,000 worth of jewellery from the comedian's home. When questioned by the police, Coxhead claimed the jewellery had been given to him as a reward because he had been giving oral sex to Starr over a period of five years. However, Coxhead was discredited in court when he was unable to state whether Starr's penis was circumcised or not. Coxhead was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison in 1995.[non-primary source needed]
In October 2012, Starr obtained an injunction to prevent a claim from being made about his personal life. The injunction was overturned as it was considered to be an issue involving potential defamation, which the media outlets concerned were not planning to publish. On 8 October 2012, Channel 4 News reported allegations relating to Starr's appearance on Jimmy Savile's BBC television show Clunk Click in 1974, which he denied through his lawyer and in media interviews.
On 1 November 2012, as part of Operation Yewtree, Starr was arrested by police at his Warwickshire home, in connection with the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal. He was arrested on three subsequent occasions, without any connections to Savile, the last being on 12 February 2014. Starr denied the claims made against him. On 6 May 2014, it was reported that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to bring charges against Starr in connection with the allegations, on the grounds of "insufficient evidence".
On 10 July 2015, the High Court dismissed a claim for slander and libel that Starr had brought against the woman who had made the allegations relating to his appearance on Clunk Click in 1974. The woman's claim was found to be true, but the case could not proceed because of the passage of time. He emigrated to Spain, but denied this was due to the legal bill estimated at £1 million, saying he had planned to move to Spain whatever the outcome of the court case.
Starr was found dead at his home in Mijas, on the Costa Del Sol, Spain, on 9 May 2019, aged 76. A post-mortem showed that he died from coronary artery disease. The director of Malaga province's Institute of Legal Medicine stated that Starr's death "was the result of a natural process, and specifically an ischemic heart disease."
At the time of his death, Starr was living in constrained financial circumstances, and his funeral costs were covered by an undertaker from Sheffield. The funeral was held at Prescot Parish Church on Merseyside on 13 June 2019, with his body being buried in a family-owned grave in a cemetery at Huyton.
- "Photographic image : Freddie Starr – Unwrapped" (JPG). I.imgur.com.
- "Freddie Starr Discography - UK - 45cat". 45cat.com. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- Not enough evidence to charge Liverpool-born comedian Freddie Starr after sex crime allegations Liverpool Echo, 5 May 2014.
- Jeffries, Stuart (10 May 2019). "Freddie Starr obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
- Starr, Freddie; Scott, Danny (25 May 2003). "Best of times, worst of times: Freddie Starr". The Times. London. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
Me mam was from Germany. She was Jewish. I think most of her family got killed off in the Holocaust.(subscription required)
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- Unwrapped, Chapter 8.
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- Video: Living With The Dead Archived 24 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- Heart surgery for Merseyside comedian Freddie Starr Liverpool Echo, 21 April 2010. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- Freddie Starr mourned by I'm a Celeb fans as he leaves the jungle for good Metro 16 November 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
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- Busk-Cowley, Mark (2014). I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!: The Inside Story. Bantam Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0593073483.
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- Unwrapped, Chapter 13
- Freddie Starr: media wins court battle to overturn injunction The Guardian. 4 October 2012.
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- Freddie Starr denies BBC dressing room grope claim BBC News, 9 October 2012.
- "Freddie Starr Rearrested Over Sex Abuse Claims". Sky News. 12 February 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
- Freddie Starr will not be prosecuted, CPS confirms BBC News, 6 May 2014.
- "Freddie Starr groped teenage girl on Savile show, judge finds". The Guardian. 10 July 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
- "Freddie Starr loses groping defamation case". BBC News. 10 July 2015. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
- Busby, Mattha (10 May 2019). "Freddie Starr: comedian found dead at home in Spain aged 76". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
- "Comedian Freddie Starr died of heart disease". Evening Standard. 10 May 2019.
- "Freddie Starr funeral: Red roses and Elvis tributes as fans say farewell". BBC News. 13 June 2019. Retrieved 9 June 2020.