Dubbed "the court jester of the underground rock scene in the 1960s" by influential DJ John Peel, Vivian Stanshall earned his greatest notoriety as the original tenor in the absurdist Bonzo Dog Band, although he was also a noted artist and comedian. Stanshall was born on March 21, 1943, in East London, England, before World War II forced him and his mother to evacuate to Oxfordshire. While attending art school under the well-known pop artist Peter Blake (the designer of the Beatles' famed Sgt. Pepper's album cover), Stanshall formed the Bonzo Dog Dada Band with flatmate Rodney Slater and fellow student Larry Smith in 1962.
Later shortened to simply the Bonzo Dog Band, the satirical group became highly successful before creative differences triggered its breakup in 1970. Stanshall quickly resurfaced with a series of short-lived and diverse projects: the first, the Sean Head Showband, issued the single "Labio Dental Fricative," while his second solo release, under the guise of Vivian Stanshall & His Gargantuan Chums, was a parody cover of Terry Stafford's "Suspicion." "Blind Date" was recorded as biG GRunt, a group also comprised of Bonzo Dog Band auxiliary members Roger Ruskin Spear, Dennis Cowan, and "Borneo" Fred Munt; while the group did play a handful of live gigs, it met its premature demise when Stanshall, a heavy drinker and drug user, suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.
In 1974, Stanshall emerged with his debut solo LP, Men Opening Umbrellas, recorded with Steve Winwood; Stanshall later returned the favor, collaborating with Winwood on his own self-titled debut and contributing significant lyrical ideas to 1980's Arc of a Diver. After narrating Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, Stanshall was tapped to guest host the BBC Radio 4 program Start the Week, where he developed his monologue "Rawlinson End," which later inspired his own 1978 release, Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, as well as a film of the same title starring Trevor Howard.
In 1981, Stanshall issued the autobiographical Teddy Boys Don't Knit, followed three years later by the spoken word project Henry at Ndidis Kraal. The Rawlinson saga continued with Rawlinson Dogends, a 1991 play staged at London's Bloomsbury Theatre complete with musical backing from Rodney Slater and Roger Ruskin Spear. Another autobiographical radio play, Essex Teenager to Renaissance Man, followed in 1994, along with film and voice-over work. Vivian Stanshall died in a house fire on the morning of March 5, 1995. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi