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John Peel's tribute to Vivian Stanshall

John Peel writes:

Ken Garner's In Session Tonight lists 19 sessions involving Viv Stanshall (obituary March 8) recorded for Radio 1 programmes I introduced, seven with Viv and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and 12 under his own name recorded between 1970 and 1991. Numbers included such arcana as The Craig Torso Show, an early assault on DJ culture, and The Bride Stripped Bare By The Bachelors.

With the sessions under his own name, usually supervised by John Walters, one of too few people strong enough to bring Viv's wayward abilities under necessary control. In them Stanshall introduced listeners to the grotesques who inhabited the mythical Rawlinson End, in a sequence of sketches under such titles as Giant Whelks At Rawlinson End, Gooseflesh Steps and Cackling Gas to The Eating At Rawlinson End. In these complex, magical fantasies, Viv was assisted by musicians such as Andy Roberts, Zoot Money, Barry Dransfield, John Kirkpatrick, Dave Swarbrick and Danny Thompson.

The months spent in preparation for the recording sessions, the last-minute delays and the increasingly bizarre excuses offered by Viv for non-completion would have driven most producers to abuse, recrimination and cancellation. It is a tribute to Walters, not a man celebrated for his patience, that he persevered and to Viv that this perseverance was worthwhile.

The resultant pieces swung wildly from nonsense songs, through dense poesy to deliciously cruel flights of fancy.

I admired Viv's wit, imagination and lunatic sang-froid so much there were times when I would have wished to be him. It has been for 25 years a cause for regret that Viv's wayward and self-destructive behaviour meant that so little of what he had to offer took tangible form. He was, on his day, the funniest man in Britain.

Our paths crossed rarely - I was rather alarmed by the fully unfettered Stanshall - but I have an enduring memory of the Bonzos playing at Hatfield Polytechnic. Viv stood centre stage in what looked like pyjamas and swinging about his head a length of flexible tubing that had been adapted as a form of trumpet. About him musicians flailed, cavorted, laughed and pranced, before him students laughed, danced or stood in bewilderment. Amid the chaos and uproar, Viv stood cool and relaxed, his air that of a foreign office mandarin charged with bringing the latest news of Imperial folly to a particularly brutish outpost.

He was a great man and it has been our good fortune to catch some of the echoes of this greatness. I think Viv would have enjoyed knowing that 100 years to the day before his own terrible death, the death was recorded of Assyriologist. soldier, consul, discoverer of the Persian cuneiform vowel system and more, much more, Sir Henry Rawlinson. To the day, mind you.