Tony HANCOCK (1924-1968) Hancock’s Half Hour – The Best of Tony Hancock
CD 1
The Wild Man of the Woods [29:29]
A Sunday Afternoon at Home [26:07]
The East Cheam Drama Festival [21:45]
CD 2
The Publicity Photograph [12:25]
The Secret Life of Tony Hancock [9:14]
The Blood Donor [28:18]
The Radio Ham [27:55]
Tony Hancock, with Sidney James; Hattie Jacques; Bill Kerr; Kenneth Williams; June Whitfield; Patrick Cargill; Hugh Lloyd; John Bluthal; Clive Dunn; Derek Guyler; Annie Leake; Frank Thornton
Written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton
Music by Wally Stott
No recording details given
FORUM FRC6202 [77:29 + 78:02]
There is no indication anywhere on these discs as to where the recordings come from. An excellent accompanying note by Gavin Dixon mentions the Pye label LPs that Hancock fans will remember. Some, perhaps all, of these recording may come from that source.
The aforementioned fans who don’t already have these episodes of the celebrated series “Hancock’s Half Hour” will jump at the chance to acquire them now. Two of them, “The Blood Donor” and “The Radio Ham”, have been available in several forms over the years. Potential purchasers should also be warned that, as can be seen from the timings, three of the episodes are not complete.
Hancock was a great comic, but the humour is certainly of its time, and its appreciation depends very much on the listener’s knowledge and understanding of what it was like to live in Britain in the late 1950s and the 1960s. I’m not sure that younger listeners, accustomed to contemporary comedy, would find much to laugh at here.
As the liner note tells us, “Hancock’s Half Hour” was a forerunner of situation comedy. Hancock himself was portrayed as a show business personality, none too successful, taciturn and unsatisfied. His housemates were the brainless Australian, Bill, played by Bill Kerr, and Miss Pugh, whose generous form was the subject of frequent Hancock asides: introducing her in “The East Cheam Drama Festival” he reminds the audience that she is “best known for her sterling performance in ‘Moby Dick’.” She was played by Hattie Jacques. The third member of the household was Sid, a cockney wide boy, played by Sidney James. They are all present in “A Sunday Afternoon at Home”, whose plot could hardly be simpler. It’s Sunday, there’s nothing to do, and everybody is bored. The neighbour calls – played by Kenneth Williams – and, after telling Hancock that his radio programmes are going downhill, does animal impressions until midnight. And that’s it. Of such slim and unpromising material virtuoso scriptwriters Ray Galton and Alan Simpson created a half hour of comedy. The famous Hancock persona, as well as the famous Hancock timing – the first three minutes or so are made up of little more than Hancock sighing and uttering such expressions as “Dear, oh dear!” – contributes to the mix, but the writers really understood the possibilities of their star performer. If you’ve never lived through a 1960s English Sunday, though, when you even had to wait longer than usual for the pubs to open, you might miss a lot of the basis on which the humour is constructed.
“The Publicity Photograph” begins with what now seem rather lame gags about turning the record over. Sid has decided that Hancock’s publicity handouts are looking dated, and so takes him to have some new photographs done. The photographer is very camp: called Hilary St Clair, he is played by Kenneth Williams. Only too conscious that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, he nonetheless sets to work photographing Hancock as a rugged, South Sea islander. Bare legs are required, so Sid tears Hancock’s trousers off. Hancock: “So much for me clerical grey drainpipes.” The photos turn out to be a revelation. “Wallaby Jim of the Islands!” exclaims Miss Pugh.
In “The Secret Life of Anthony Hancock” our hero is an ace test-pilot being briefed by his CO before a particularly dangerous maiden flight. “Once you’ve gone through the heat barrier metal can melt into jelly,” warns the Commander. Hancock’s reply is superbly timed. “What flavour, sir?” he drawls.
In “The Wild Man of the Woods” Hancock has decided to withdraw from the rat race and return to nature, living in the open with the birds and the beasts. You’ll need to listen to it if you want to learn just how he finds himself, and not for the first time, the victim of Sid’s entrepreneurial skills. A remarkable passage occurs when a Tarzan-like individual appears. “Good evening”, says Kenneth Williams. “The hedgehogs call me Jungle Jim … I was the sole survivor of a tandem crash.” The passage reminds us just how much camp humour there was to be had on BBC radio at this time. “Here, I like your loincloth,” says Williams, “very racy … I wish I was clever with me hands like that.” It was to reach remarkable levels of daring with Kenneth Horne, the innuendo very near the bone, as it were, and this at a time when male homosexuality was a crime.
“The Blood Donor” and “The Radio Ham” were both originally written for television, but were later adapted and issued on LP. Hancock is magnificently pretentious and pompous as a citizen doing his bit for his fellow man. The writing is just brilliant, and fits Hancock like a glove.
Like many very funny men, Tony Hancock was not an easy person. He was constantly seeking perfection in his work, though rarely satisfied, and searched fruitlessly for answers to wider personal and philosophical questions. In 1960 he was John Freeman’s guest on the television interview programme “Face to Face”. You can watch this on YouTube. Note how the viewer is treated as an intelligent member of the species. It is generally accepted that Hancock’s mental state began to degenerate from this time, and he became increasingly dependant on alcohol. He decided his work needed a change of direction, and so left the BBC. He parted company with his writers too, a fatal mistake. His career never recovered, and seven years later he was found dead in his Sydney flat surrounded by empty bottles and prescription drugs.
William Hedley
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