Sunday, 2 November 2014

H-H-Happy Birthday Hancock's Half Hour

Today marks 60 years since the first ever episode of my very favourite comedy show, Hancock's Half Hour, was broadcast.  I first heard Hancock on a tape belonging to my parents and became hooked once BBC 7, now BBC Radio 4 Extra, started.  Hancock even featured on the opening night of BBC 7 and I remember sitting beside my Dad's new digital radio laughing and laughing.

Tony Hancock
The show starred Tony Hancock, playing a version of himself, living first in a shared flat and then later at "23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam", with a group of friends who over the years included Bill Kerr, Sid James, Andre Melly and Hattie Jacques.  Kenneth Williams was also a regular, playing a wide range of characters and making full use of his vocal talents.  Hancock is a character whose ideas of himself do not always live up to reality and who shares traits with Mr Pooter and Captain Mainwaring; although he is less pompous he is still full of pretensions.

Despite all the radio episodes being recorded in the 1950s the show remains fresh and funny; the only clues to its age being some of the topical references and prices.  The clearest demonstration of this freshness is that in the re-recorded lost episodes that Radio 4 have just made they only had to change half a line in five episodes.  Writers Alan Galton and Ray Simpson picked up on trends in the contemporary theatre, producing an episode in which Hancock is starring in a play called Look Back in Hunger, a reference to John Osbourne's Look Back in Anger and the famous Sunday Afternoon episode makes reference to Beckett's Waiting for Godot.  The only thing that spoilt the show was Hancock's increasing jealousy of his co-stars, which meant that by the time the last television episodes were made none of his original co-stars were left in the show, a true loss.  The early episodes where his co-stars are allowed more laughs are much funnier for it.

L-R Kenneth Williams, Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr and Sid James
I have listened to an episode of Hancock every week for years and have missed it lately while it has been off the air on Radio 4 Extra.  However, to mark the anniversary (and help with my withdrawal symptoms!) the BBC have, as I mentioned earlier, re-recorded five lost episodes, the first of which went out on Friday - you can hear them here.  It was truly brilliant and they "got" most of the voices perfectly.  Then in addition three hours of Hancock related programming went out on Radio 4 Extra yesterday - which you can hear here.

Get listening, you won't regret it!  Anyone else into vintage radio comedy out there?

P.S. For vintage comedy geeks there is an amazing episode of The Men From The Ministry available here, in which the cast of Much Binding in the Marsh, the show in which Richard Murdoch, the co-star, really made his name in the 1940s, appear.  It's truly delightful, very funny and according to my Dad (a retired civil servant) an accurate picture of civil service life.

P.P.S. There's a six part series on the history of radio comedy 1975-2005 on Radio 4 started on Saturday.  It's entertaining but I do wish they had started earlier.

No comments:

Post a Comment