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The Lost Hancock Scripts

FOR those who grew up in the post-war years, the name of Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock evokes memories of sitting around the radio chuckling away on a Sunday afternoon as the lad from 23 Railway Cuttings,East Cheam, battled to get the better of a world that always seemed to have a down on him.
Hancock’s Half Hour on the radio and, later, the television series entitled, simply, Hancock were brilliantly performed by the comedian – but Tony would be the first to admit that without the wonderful scripts penned by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, he would never have been as popular as he was.

Here at Found It, several of our staff are baby boomers who grew up listening to the pearls of wisdom from Hancock and loving every moment of it. So it was a tremendous honour and a great pleasure when we were invited to go out for a meal with Galton and Simpson to celebrate the publication of a new book – The Lost Hancock Scripts – which faithfully reconstruct five of the radio shows and five television shows for which the original programmes have been lost.

It’s fantastic when you meet your heroes and they turn out to be just as nice as you hoped they would – and that was certainly the case when the editor and I spent a jovial evening with Ray and Alan – the men who invented situation comedy.
The duo, who now both live locally, (Alan in Hampton and Ray in Molesey) first met in the unlikeliest of places – Mitford Sanatorium in Surrey which specialised in treating patients suffering from tuberculosis.
Ray was admitted when he was just 16 while Alan was a 17-year-old when he came through the doors a year later. The pair were both very ill but they struck up a friendship which continues to this day and discovered a mutual talent for making people laugh.

They wrote one or two sketches for the sanatorium’s radio service but when they eventually came out of hospital their first ‘proper’ job was writing one-line gags for Derek Roy, the star of the radio show ‘Happy Go Lucky.’ Ray Galton remembers: "We used to get five bob (25p in modern money) for every one-liner - so if we wrote seven gags we’d earn 35 shillings between us – 87 and a half pence each. But we thought – ‘hey, we’re professionals. We’re getting paid for this.’ And we didn’t look back after that.” It was ‘Happy Go Lucky’ which introduced Galton and Simpson to Hancock for the firsttime. Alan Simpson explained: "Tony was already in the show and he came up to us after one recording and asked if we’d written a particular sketch. We said yes and he said: ‘it’s very good - would you write something for me?’ "He offered to pay us half of his fee – 50 guineas – more money than we’d dreamed of and suddenly we were in business.” The pair wrote sketches for Hancock as he appeared in other BBC shows until 1954 and then came up with the revolutionary idea of writing a full half-hour show specifically for the comedian.
"There was to be no music, no interludes – just the one story line,” says Ray Galton. "It was an untried idea but, fortunately, a BBC director called Dennis Main Wilson bought into it and we got the go ahead. It was Dennis who came up with the idea of calling it H-H-H-Hancock’s
Half-Hour.”

The BBC quickly recognised that it had a major hit on its hand and the world of situation comedy, as it came to be known – was born thanks for Ray and Alan. Galton and Simpson went on to write 101 episodes over seven series of  Hancock and many of them have become absolute comedy classics. The radio shows were mainly done using the supporting help of Sid James, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques among others. But when Hancock moved onto television, he was very much a one-man show.

Alan Simpson says: "If you ask anybody who loved Hancock to name their favourite show, there are some that feature time and time again – The Blood Donor, the Radio Ham, The Lift – but interestingly a lot of the favourites were the things he did on his own.
"Hancock was a wonderful performer – he made our stuff sound so good – it was his timing more than anything else. He was great at timing the lines.”

Galton and Simpson went on to write he scripts for two films for Hancock – The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man – but when the comedian decided to switch his allegiance to ITV from the BBC, the scriptwriters decided to stay with Auntie and create another famous
sitcom series – Steptoe and Son, starring Harry H. Corbett and Wilfred Brambell as a father and son running a rag and bone business. The duo also produced the Galton and Simpson Playhouse and a number of other fantastic shows for the BBC.

So how did the publication of ‘The Lost Hancock Scripts’ come about, we wondered?
Ray said: "Well the BBC didn’t used to keep the early shows. They were recorded on tape but the tape was expensive so once the show had been broadcast, the tape was wiped so that it could be used again – lots of programmes were lost that way. But Alan and I have got all the
original scripts so we thought ‘why not?’ Let’s recreate them for another generation can enjoy the laughs.”

We can thoroughly recommend The Lost Hancock Scripts as an excellent read. The book is published by JR Books priced at £16.99 (ISBN 978-1-906779-88-7)

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What's On...

Events, shows, concerts, sporting occassions - month by month in your area -
What's On
Dec 7-Jan 7
Alice in Winterland Rose Theatre, Kingston A dazzling production based on Lewis Carroll?s timeless books (www.rosetheatrekingston.org)
Dec 16
Carols by Candlelight Landmark Arts Centre, Ferry Road, Teddington Celebrate Christmas with a programme of seasonal music, words and song (www.landmarkartscentre.org)
Dec 16-23
Courtyard Carol Singing at Hampton Court Palace Hampton Court Selected dates (www.hrp.org.uk)
Dec 26-27
Horse Racing Kempton Park, Sunbury Including the King George VI Chase (www.kempton.co.uk)