Thursday, November 13, 2014

'The Missing Hancocks' by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson

13 November 2014

I've always had a fascination with the work of Tony Hancock since discovering  that he died the day before I was born (my Mum remembers hearing the shocking news of Hancock's suicide while she was in the hospital maternity unit). I have listened to and watched many recordings of 'Hancock's Half Hour' and read several biographies of the man. For a time I even belonged to the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society (THAS). So I was particularly interested to hear that BBC Radio 4 was producing new versions of five of the episodes of 'Hancock's Half Hour' for which the original recordings were lost. 'The Missing Hancocks' have been produced by the actor Neil Pearson who discovered copies of the scripts by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson in his secondary career as an antiquarian book dealer. The new recordings are being broadcast on Friday mornings on Radio 4 to mark the 60th anniversary of 'Hancock's Half Hour'. Kevin McNally plays 'the lad himself', capturing Hancock's mannerisms perfectly but managing to create a properly comic performance, rather than a mere impersonation. These are early radio Half Hours (the first two dating from 1955 and 1956), which conjure up surreal situations with the full Hancock repertory company. The humour is not as sophisticated as the later pared-down classic TV episodes, but Galton and Simpson's writing is very polished – beautifully constructed 30 minute sitcom plots from an era when this format was relatively new. Some of the period references seem dated now but the characters are still great fun. Kevin Eldon plays the late lamented Bill Kerr (from a period before his character become a childlike simpleton) and Robin Sebastian is great as Kenneth Williams playing all the bit parts. I found Simon Greenall's Sid James a bit less successful but the show is a very faithful reproduction (complete with new recordings by the BBC Concert Orchestra of Wally Stott's original music) and fascinating to hear.

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