Wednesday, March 8, 1995
, by Neil Innes
I first met Vivian Stanshall in a pub in New Cross, not far from Goldsmith's College. He was overweight, wearing a black frock coat, Billy Bunter trousers and carrying a euphonium under his arm. His broad face dwarfed the miniature, oval-shaped, violet tinted Victorian spectacles perched on his nose and, on either side of his head, he sported very large false ears made of unpleasant pink rubber!
It occured to me immediately, that here was an interesting man, even for an art student and this was only 1963 - or was it 1964? You know what they say about the Sixties. He was accompanied by Rodney Slater and I was being introduced to them by Vernon Dudley Bohay Nowell. I was most attracted by the name they (Viv and Rodney) had come up with - The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. ("Doo-Dah" was initially "Dada"... but who has ever had the time to explain neatly a fin-de-siecle anti-art movement - even back in the '60s and you know what they say about the Sixties.) Like those horrible false ears, everything about Vivian was larger than life - and mostly funny. He was never dull - tedious and infuriating sometimes - but never dull.
He could do things that others could never get away with. Once on a pavement in Manchester (after a good lunch), he suddenly got down on one knee and sang with great gusto "One Alone" from "The Desert Song" to a sweet little old lady with a stick and shopping basket on wheels. Instead of being alarmed and clouting him, she stood enraptured from start to climactic finish - whereupon she thanked him generously and went off chuckling, much to the rest of the band's amusement.
Can any of us say anything appropriate about such a man at a time like this? I cannot. I am sad and angry that he did not take care of himself - but I prefer to think of his brilliance. We shall all deeply miss him but his comic genius and the stories will live on - and, unlike the '60s, even if we can't remember all that happened, Vivian Stanshall was really there.