In Which I Meet Galton & Simpson

Reading & Writing, The Arts

Last night I went to the National Film Theatre to see Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s missing Tony Hancock film ‘The Day Off’ performed live on stage, and found myself – as an incredible piece of luck would have it – sitting next to my comedy heroes, now in their eighties, who were interviewed after the ‘film’. I was able to chat to them for about twenty minutes, and they talked me through the genesis of the project, which you can read a full account of here. What I had wanted to say to them was ‘You inspired me to write comedy. I owe my career to you.’ What I said was ‘I was nicking your jokes for years.’

Galton and Simpson had given Hancock a huge hit with ‘The Rebel’, and he wanted a follow-up. They delivered the story of Hancock, now a bus driver, on his day off, arguing with his landlady and various people around Hammersmith, meeting a girl in the Palais, messing up the date and going home.

It’s virtually plotless, sad and very funny indeed. In it, Hancock meets up with another bus driver, and argues about the pointlessness of saving and withdrawing the same amount each week with his bank. He tries to bully a man on a park bench into admitting he feels insignificant, and fails. He loses an argument about wasps and bees. He meets Charlotte, a girl who works in a dress shop, and pretends he’s an architect building a cathedral, while she pretends she’s a model. He forces her to have a dessert she doesn’t want because she needs to stay model-thin. Hancock gets found out just before a touching goodnight kiss, and the romance turns sour. The film ends as it begins, with Hancock going home alone as the weather-girl announces tomorrow will be a sunny day – for those with a day off.

When asked how they still work together, Galton said about Simpson, ‘I help him upstairs and he tells me what day it is.’ They agree that the script’s downbeat ending is funnier because ‘failures are funny, successful people are not’. This reached a heartbreaking level in Steptoe and Son.

Hancock decided the film was not international enough, and instead made the far more parochial ‘The Punch & Judy Man’. Galton and Simpson put away the unloved script and made the pilot for ‘Steptoe And Son’ instead. It was Hancock’s loss, and the beginning of his end.

9 comments on “In Which I Meet Galton & Simpson”

  1. mikenicholson says:

    ‘I help him upstairs and he tells me what day it is.’

    Absolutely bloody hilarious.
    Stone me, the boys have still got it.

  2. Joe Kerrigan says:

    I was a few seats down from you… While it was undoubtedly very funny indeed, I couldn’t help think it was merely a H-H-Hancock’s Ninety Minutes.

  3. keith page says:

    What a great film that would have been.And I reckon Steptoe and Son still stands up as the best tv comedy series ever

  4. keith page says:

    What a great film that would have been.And I reckon Steptoe and Son still stands up as the best tv comedy series ever

  5. keith page says:

    That button again…

  6. Alan Morgan says:

    Couldn’t be much more jealous if they’d shared a big cheese and pickle sarnie with you.

    I grew up after all the great radio comedies, reading the script books and the few reel-to-reel tapes my Dad made. I saw my favourite, The Desperate Hours (Steptoe) over Christmas after only having heard it on Radio7 (now 4extra) over Christmas, but having read it many times – and there was for once a house rule of ‘everyone shut the fuck up’ for it. I’m with Keith that Steptoe is right up there. So much good stuff of the time (as well as all the dire, but I missed all that too so not all bad). My other favourite is the Likely Lads – not the farce, but the quiet bits, in the pub. I think it’s the dowdy pathos of them all, the quality of just two figures talking, so well written – theatre, on screen.

    Flawed characters, often not likeable, but about whom you care. And whose trousers rarely fell down just as the Bishop entered the room. Jim Eldridge lives not far from me and he started off with radio comedy, and he holds Galton and Simpson up as the very example of what can be done (but which of course no one else ever can). There is more recent comedy to my mind in the same vein, Black Books and Peep Show for example.

  7. admin says:

    I agree, Joe, that it was a Hancock’s 90 Minutes, but it was also an example of G&S’s ‘nothing happens’ taken to the extreme level, a kind of writers’ exercise. I can’t imagine any less going into a screenplay than this, can you?

  8. Anne Fernie says:

    After watching the Christmas ‘Steptoe’ episode I was stunned as I’d forgotten how superb the writing was for this series. Went and got the box set out the library and watched it first episode to last – amazing & highly recommended. Why on earth does the BBC not air this treasure again?

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