Goodbye G&S

The Arts

The writer Ray Galton has died at 88, following his writing partner Alan Simpson by just a year, and their passing marks the end of one of the great comedy partnerships.

The writing team regularly voted the funniest in sitcom history created ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Steptoe & Son’. The success of the Hancock show, which ran first on radio and later on television from 1954 to 1961, saw the duo regularly hailed as the creators of situation comedy.

‘Steptoe and Son’, starring Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell, was in many ways even better than Hancock (Hancock’s TV shows suffered from his habit of reading cue cards). The rag and bone men comedy ran for eight series until 1972. At its peak, it commanded an audience of 28 million viewers.

When he received the entertainment industry’s most prestigious award, a Bafta fellowship, in 2016, Ray Galton referred  several of their greatest scriptwriting triumphs, including the most famous episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, The Radio Ham and The Blood Donor. The pair worked together for more than 60 years, after meeting while they were being treated for tuberculosis at the same Surrey sanatorium in 1949. He and Simpson wrote to Frank Muir and Denis Norden, the leading comedy writers of the day, and were invited to the BBC’s Broadcasting House for a chat.

Hancock became the most famous performer in Britain, gaining 20 million listeners. His alter ego, Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock, resident of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, was a version of himself, but dressed like a dandy and filled with delusions of grandeur. Regular performers included Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams.

Speaking in 1997, Galton said: ‘Finding the plots used to be lot easier for me than the writing. Nowadays, I find the ideas much more difficult. Practically everything has been done.’

They wrote a number of films, including:

Commentary for Peter Sellers

THE REBEL (1960)
Original screenplay starring Tony Hancock

Original screenplay starring Harry H.Corbett

Screenplay starring Peter Sellers & Lionel Jeffries

Screenplay starring Laurence Harvey & Lionel Jeffries


LOOT (1970)
Adaptation from Joe Orton’s stageplay starring Lee Remick, Richard Attenborough, & Hywell Bennett

Original screenplay starring Harry H. Corbett & Wilfrid Brambell

Original screenplay starring Harry H. Corbett & Wilfrid Brambell

Original screenplay starring Leonard Rossiter

THE DAY OFF - Unproduced screenplay for Tony Hancock

To say they were an influence on me is a gross understatement. Through ‘the other G&S’ I learned how to structure comedy, why specific constructions of words are funny, how to balance absurdity with tragedy. Ray Galton told me; ‘Tragedy is funny’, meaning that if you get the tone right, you can see the uplifting absurdity in sadness.

The ending of ‘The Day Off’, the film which Hancock refused to make, but the one which would have been his crowning glory (see articles passim), was brilliantly tragicomic – the script deserves to be published.

6 comments on “Goodbye G&S”

  1. Martin Tolley says:

    “I thought my mother was a bad cook but at least her gravy used to move about.”

  2. David Ronaldson says:

    A great shame. The early Hancocks sometimes suffered from the Goon Show influence – you can take a radio show anywhere without blowing the budget, so sometimes they were just silly. Steptoe and the later Hancocks improved through being more grounded, and certainly rooted in tragedy at times; “Dead Gorky, we are”

  3. admin says:

    I agree. I always liked the chatty bits before the plots got started, which is why ‘A Sunday Afternoon At Home’ is such a classic, more of a Beckett play than a sitcom.

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    Hadn’t realised LE PETOMANE (1977) was that old, me daughter would love it, she finds anything to do trumping hilarious, though they do make a follow though tragic as well as funny

    Some wonderful lines, a sad loss for sure.


  5. Helen Martin says:

    It was Governor LePetomane in Blazing Saddles. Were they stealing from across the Pond?
    My husband can almost recite The Ham Radio Operator and I wanted to kill someone during Sunday Afternoon at Home. Those two and the Blood Donor will last forever.
    “Everything’s been done.” I think that’s when a writer should stop writing. People have been saying it for hundreds of years and still there is more coming along.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    Le Petomaine, which I believe, translates as ‘The Farter’, was a real entertainer in Victorian times, who, and it’s difficult not to be indelicate here, would perform tricks and mimic animals… With his arse. He could pass wind at will, and play musical instruments with it. A big star for a while. Yes. Those easily shocked Victorians, eh?
    MAN: It was a wonderful entertainment, Millicent. And do you know how he closed proceedigs, hmm?
    MILLICENT: Pray tell, Lupin, dearest.
    LUPIN: He bent over, and farted ‘Le Marseilleise’. For three minutes!
    MILLICENT falls over in a horrified swoon.

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