Frankie Howerd Archive

Item author: Frankie Howerd (1917-1992)
Item date: 1947-1992
Grant Value: £20,000
Item cost: £95,000
Item date acquired: 2021
Item institution: York University, The Borthwick Institute for Archives
Town/City: York
County: Yorkshire

Gary Brannan, Keeper of Archives and Special Collections, writes: The Borthwick Institute for Archives is very grateful to FNL for its support in our purchase of the Frankie Howerd Archive. 

The collection comprises 36 boxes of scripts and files of agency contracts and correspondence which document Howerd’s career between the late 1940s and his death in 1992. Previously unseen, the archive tells the story not only of the career of one of our best-loved performers and cultural touchstones; but also an archive that charts the craft and development of modern stand-up comedy as we know it - the journey from 1940s gag-tellers to observational storytelling.

It was often assumed that no archival records relating to Howerd survived, thus it was a surprise to us when the archive was offered for sale in early 2021. The Samuel Storey Writing and Performance Collection held at the Borthwick contains the archives of Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Barry Took, Marks and Gran amongst others, and we had long been aware that Howerd was an invisible joining point between collections. Howerd’s York roots gave an extra dimension to the acquisition, giving us the opportunity to work with our local community in saving the archive of a local legend, as well as acquiring an archive of exceptional quality and depth.

Moreover, the archive showcases the work of some of the best craftspeople of 20th century British comedy. Howerd was a prolific patron of new, up and coming writers throughout his whole career. This patronage means the archive features works by Spike Milligan, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Clive Anderson, Jimmy Mulville, and Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. Chiefly, the archive includes hundreds of scripts crafted by Eric Sykes, the writer credited with bringing the stage persona of ‘Frankie Howerd’ into existence.

The scripts document the many highs and lows of Howerd’s career. We have some of the earliest work attributed to Howerd from his breakthrough on ‘Variety Bandbox’ in 1946; highlights from his career resurgence in the late 1960s in scripts for ‘Carry On’ productions and ‘Up Pompeii’; right to his later career blossoming as the elder statesman of comedy.

Agency contracts and correspondence give a unique view of how Howerd’s career was managed and developed, illustrating his waxing and waning fortunes via his commercial appeal and earning capacity. The correspondence and contracts span the period 1959-1992 and document the proliferation of Howerd’s career from radio and live performance into TV, film, records and personal appearances. 

The archive is already enabling research and new insights into Howerd’s career - for instance, we have already learned more about his international career in the USA, Canada and Australia. The archive has garnered much positive local and national press attention, and an outline box-list is available via  We have created a bespoke website for the collection at, and has run public events to promote the archive via talks and exhibitions.

Item Provenance
Bought from Neil Pearson Rare Books