Discovering Tony Hancock

Last month, I started listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra’s repeats of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ – with episodes dating back to 1954. 102 episodes were made – and BBC Radio 4 Extra repeat these chronologically, and when they’ve finished the run of repeats – they start all over again… this is how popular the episodes still are.

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When you see the monochrome pictures of Hancock posing on set for Hancock’s Half Hour, you forget he was just 30 years of age when the show started. Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were both young writers too – make no mistake, this was groundbreaking comedy.  And Hancock had a great cast working with him on his series – Sidney James, Kenneth Williams, and later in the series Hattie Jacques joined too.

I’m really enjoying the episodes I’ve heard so far – but out of the 102 episodes, 20 no longer exist in the BBC archives. Thankfully, there’s a recent BBC Radio 4 series which may just solve that problem.  ‘The Missing Hancocks’ started in 2014, and in its first run, five episodes were re-created, using the original Galton and Simpson scripts.  For this blog review, I’ve been kindly sent over The Missing Hancocks – Series 2, which is available right here to buy – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Missing-Hancocks-recordings-classic-scripts/dp/178529251X

There are five episodes on ‘The Missing Hancocks – Series 2’ – How Hancock Won the War, The Red Planet, The Marriage Bureau, A Visit to Russia and The Trial of Father Christmas. Also included is a bonus Director’s Commentary for the Series 1 episode The Matador, in which Andy Hamilton talks to Kevin McNally and co-producer Neil Pearson about the challenges, and joys, of recreating a 1950s sitcom. All in all, just under three hours of entertainment on 3 CD’s – perfect for keeping in the car.  ‘The Marriage Bureau’ is perhaps my favourite episode off the release, but ‘How Hancock Won The War’ is also good – even if the storyline is perhaps predictable, you still enjoy it.  For me, the weakest was ‘The Trial of Father Christmas’ – but the series did try different things during the festival period throughout its run – and this was just one of them.

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Kevin McNally steps into the role made famous by Tony Hancock and does a brilliant job – you can genuinely close your eyes and picture Hancock in the scenes; McNally has taken his performance of Hancock to the Edinburgh Festival and also appeared in a televised ‘lost’ episode for BBC4 recently which was also very well made. Among the supporting cast are Simon Greenall, Kevin Eldon and Robin Sebastian.  So, 10 ‘lost’ episodes have now been made in ‘The Missing Hancocks’, and the BBC have said a third series will be made during late 2017/early 2018 which is superb news, I will have to keep an eye out for tickets to see if I can attend a recording of one of the shows!

Whilst typing up this blog – I found bits of old Hancock scripts online and filmed me and my son Eric trying to re-enact them, me and Hancock and Eric as Sid James! I’m no Olivier, my son clearly stole the show – but all good fun!  Despite being just 4, Eric was pretty good at remembering lines!

As well as the radio series, there are 37 surviving episodes of Hancock’s BBC Television series, these are available to buy on DVD… but none of Hancock’s following ITV work has been commercially released. Hancock’s final BBC series was simply titled ‘Hancock’ (Tony no longer wanted to work with Sid James and their collboration ended).

BBC4 screened three episodes of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ as part of Keith Richards’s Lost Weekend during September…  ‘Twelve Angry Men’, ‘The Knighthood’ and ‘Big Night Out’ – the last repeat on TV before that was in 2012, with ‘The Lift’ repeated.  I’ve never understood why channels such as GOLD won’t repeat the series – it seems monochrome series are neglected these days, instead they will repeat ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘The Royle Family’ endlessly.  ‘Talking Pictures TV’ would be a great channel for Hancock – it’s a brilliant channel already, and the Lad himself would fit in perfectly to their line up.

Catch the repeats of Hancock every Thursday on BBC Radio 4 Extra – they’re up to Series 3 at the moment.

You can also become a member of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society – to find out more visit http://www.tonyhancock.org.uk/ which has extensive information on episodes, news updates and much more.

And if you fancy a night out, James Hurn has recreated Hancock on the road, with his one-man tour.  James’s tour dates are here – http://www.tonyhancock.org.uk/news/127/74/New-James-Hurn-Shows

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