Dawsons are delighted to announce the upcoming sale of selected personal items from the collection of Vivian Stanshall, the singer and founding member of the highly influential British art rock group, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Consigned by Vivian’s son, Rupert Stanshall, the items provide a unique link to the life and work of ‘Viv’, once described by his Bonzo bandmate, Neil Innes, as ‘a national treasure’.
Vivian Stanshall is best known as the eccentric genius behind the influential Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and the later creator of the much-loved ‘Rawlinson End’. Meeting fellow bandmates in the 1960s, while studying at the London Central School of Art and Design, the group quickly gained cult status on the college circuit. Using the Dadaist cut-up technique to generate the initial name, ‘Bonzo Dog Dada Band’, they set the tone for performances of trad jazz and later rock, described as bizarre, surreal, and comedic. During the latter half of the 1960s the Bonzos earned national fame after featuring in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film in 1967, playing “Death Cab for Cutie”, written by Stanshall.
This success led to a recurring spot on the children’s ITV show Do Not Adjust Your Set in 1968 alongside future Monty Python members Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam. Fans have long since recognized the influence of Stanshall’s comedy within the work of Monty Python. That same year the band reached number five in the U.K. charts with their song, “I’m the Urban Space Man”, produced by Paul McCartney and Gus Dudgeon, under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth. Eager to ‘break America’ the group went on tour with The Who in 1969. It was during this that Stanshall formed a close friendship with The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon. McCartney described the pair as “being a sort of double act…they did have their crazy side…but whenever I saw them together, they were perfect gentlemen.” Stanshall and Moon would continue to work together after the tour, but it was their shared love of chaos and mayhem that truly bonded them, performing elaborate pranks and enjoying London nightlife to the full. The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band formally announced their split in 1970 due to arguments between management and the group during their second American tour.
After the band’s dissolution, Stanshall worked sporadically on several projects such as ‘Freaks’ and later, ‘Grimm’. However, his various addictions, used to quell his debilitating anxiety, sometimes stood in the way of his commitment to his creative career. Longstanding supporter John Peel, who dubbed Stanshall “the court jester of the underground rock scene,” offered an opportunity to cover his Radio One slot whilst he was on holiday. This marked the start of a fruitful partnership between Stanshall and the BBC. Building on earlier spoken word performances, Stanshall went on to create “Rawlinson’s End”, a comedic monologue detailing the life of fictional aristocrat Sir Henry Rawlinson. The radio serial was a great success leading to an album of reworked material from the Peel sessions, and later a film, with music (‘Arc of a Diver’) produced in collaboration with Stanshall’s close friend Steve Winwood.
Other professional highlights of Stanshall’s include his role on Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album Tubular Bells, as the Master of Ceremonies. He later turned to theatre, writing “Stinkfoot”, a comedic opera, of which Stephen Fry was a fan. Stanshall passed away suddenly in 1995 after the outbreak of fire in his top-floor flat in North London, yet his legacy continues. A 2001 documentary was made by Jeremy Pascall and Stephen Fry, celebrating his work and sharing anecdotes. Then in 2023, the albums “Dog Howl in Tune” and “Rawlinson’s End” were released in July after the discovery of archival material Stanshall was working on before his death. Fan-led meetings and gigs continue to keep the spirit of the Viv and the Bonzos alive today.
The lots coming up for sale at Dawsons on the 25th January, include a number of Viv’s brass and percussion instruments, stage props, clothing and further musical equipment. Auctioneer & Valuer Peter Mason says, “It has been a pleasure to meet Rupert and learn more about not just his father, but also the influence that Vivian had on both the music, and comedy, scenes in British life. The eccentricity and humour of his world comes through strongly in the items consigned for sale, and we are very much looking forward to seeing them through the next part of their journey.”
For further information, please feel free to contact Peter Mason on email@example.com