VIV STANSHALL - A Very Funny Man

In the course of an exchange of e-mails with Mark Ellen last week about his book Rock Stars Stole My Life we happened on the subject of Viv Stanshall, who gets a mention in Rock Stars… as towards the end of his life he and Mark spoke on the phone and sent one another several postcards, but never met in person.
         Viv, of course, was one of the truly great English eccentrics, always strange to behold and rarely on the same wavelength as the rest of the planet. He has often been described as picaresque, which is a lovely adjective, and it’s pretty accurate as Wikipedia defines as it as “a popular subgenre of prose fiction which might sometimes be satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society”. Well, Viv certainly wasn’t from a low social class but he was definitely a rogue and he lived by his wits, and he no doubt thought society was corrupt in that it didn’t fully appreciate his extraordinary gifts. Best known as the frontman of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, oddballs all, he had a wonderful speaking voice, deep and commanding, and can be heard introducing the cast on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells album. Hopelessly addicted to alcohol and painkillers, Viv died in 1995, in a fire at his flat in north London that was evidently caused by faulty wiring.
I told Mark that in’71 or ’72 I interviewed Viv over lunch in a Greek restaurant in Charlotte Street that served these really mega hot chili peppers that Viv loved and before we left he asked the waiter if he could have a bag of them, buy them, which he did, loads of them. Then we went for a pint in the Ship on Wardour Street. There was a big transparent plastic box on the bar with sandwiches in it, so Viv lifted up the lid and stuffed a few of these peppers into some of the sandwiches. Of course we never actually saw one being bought and chomped on but you can imagine…

The last time I saw him, early-90s, was at a race meeting at Kempton Park where the Charisma Stakes was being run. He looked very odd, feathers and badges everywhere, strange octagonal blue glasses, gold jacket, long straggly hair. I chatted a bit with him but he didn’t make much sense. My daughter Olivia, then two, was with me and I introduced her, lifting her up so she could shake his hand and see his face. Afterwards she said to me: “Daddy, that was a very funny man.” Out of the mouths of babes…


  1. As a youngster, Viv lived just up the road to where l live, in Walthamstow. l often think l should approach the council about mounting a commemorative plaque to his house though l doubt if anyone there knows of or appreciates him. lt might be fun to try though.
    l'm very pleased to have caught one of his last shows at The Bloomsbury. The only time l saw him, it was standing room only when we arrived without pre-booking but the show was a rare treat.