Frankie Takes a Trip by Martyn Hesford

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Frankie Takes a Trip by Martyn Hesford. Dir. Gary Brown. Perf. David Benson, Tim Downie, Emily Pithon. BBC Radio 4, 27 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer

Following on from Peter Harness's television drama "Rather You than Me" (2008) starring David Walliams, Frankie Takes a Trip concentrates on the private life of legendary comic Frankie Howerd. We learn a lot about his chronic insecurity, especially before a performance, and his troubled upbringing with an over-protective mother (Emily Pithon) and a cruel alcoholic father (Conrad Nelson). The young Frankie (Sam Hattersley) was something of a delicate child, who did not really know what he wanted to do with his life until he joined the army and discovered a talent for making people laugh.

The adult Frankie (David Benson, in a remarkable vocal impersonation) is experiencing one of his career troughs, following the failure of his latest BBC series and the resultant cancellation of his contract. The only way he can find to deal with his mental problems is to enter a psychiatric hospital and willingly accept a small dose of LSD from a radical doctor (Hugh Simon), providing him with sufficient relaxation to allow him to focus on his childhood, which is where much of his basic insecurities originated.

We also learn something about Frankie's torturous private life with long-term partner Dennis (Tim Downie). Obliged by the law of the early Sixties to keep his homosexual relationship secret, he finds the whole concept of contact between consenting males rather dirty, something that in a way demeans him. On the other hand he cannot help but admit that the experience of being gay somehow releases his personality from social and psychological confinement. Torn between these two extremes, of guilt and the desire for release, Frankie cannot really do much except try to lurch from day to day with as little mental strain as possible. The task sometimes becomes too great for him, which explains his decision (with Dennis's gentle prompting) to enter a psychiatric hospital.

"Frankie Takes a Trip" describes the life of a fundamentally sad person, who only really came alive while in front of an audience, for all his insecurities. A great star for decades in public, he seldom found contentment in private.