Howerd faced a number of set-backs during his professional life which enabled him to move between styles of comedic performance and remain relevant throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. A star on both radio and TV by the mid 1950s, an acrimonious breakup with his agent was the catalyst for a decline in fortunes that very nearly brought an end to his career. A new phase as a satirical comedian, with successful appearances at Peter Cook’s ‘Establishment’ club and on ‘That Was the Week That Was’, led to a resurgence in fortunes and another boom in Howerd’s fortunes. In the later 1960s and early 1970s, Howerd was in demand for stage musicals (‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’); film (including ‘Carry On’ appearances) and new TV ventures, including ‘Up Pompeii’. At the end of his life in 1992, he was in another period of renewed popularity as an elder statesman of comedy, selling out performances at the Oxford Union and national theatre tours.
Howerd’s significance, then, comes in how he changed how we laugh. On his arrival on radio, comics were rapid-fire gag merchants. Howerd broke that mould, developing a performance style now familiar to us - bringing the audience in and making them, and their participation ostensibly a part of the show. On TV, he pioneered and perfected the art of breaking the fourth wall. To the viewer, Howerd was not just a performer, he was one of them; the outsider looking in, crystallising that very British sense of understatement, critique and levity. Comedy is often illustrated by the loss of, and attempts to retain, dignity. Howerd did that more than any other comic. Without Howerd (and his team of top-class writers), we would not have the comedy we have today.