Sometimes it’s best not to revisit favourite old books, films and TV shows, but my eidetic mind requires that I keep a catalogue of everything that has influenced me – then ideally alphabetise it in storage boxes. Let’s not go there.
One’s attitude to these favourite things can change over time. The comedian Tony Hancock, or rather the happy conjunction of the lugubrious comic and the work of his scriptwriters Galton & Simpson, had a powerful influence on me as a teenager, but that grip has loosened over time. I’ve read too many biographies of what went wrong, and most of the story has been covered thoroughly on this site.
But interest in him endures. Proof of this is the September release of Blu-Rays of both his films, plus the script of the film he should have made, and would probably not have died if he’d done so.
After the BBC wiped many of Hancock’s recordings copies of the shows were found all over the world, mostly made by listeners with portable recorders propped up against their radios. These were collected, cleaned and restored, then released to new audiences.
They’re certainly not all good – the early shows are slow and rather ridiculous, but a more realistic human style evolved that changed comedy scripting forever. It’s this evolution that continues to fascinate writers – you hear it very clearly in the later episodes that achieve a kind of zen state one can only call Pinteresque.
It will be interesting to see if his second film, ‘The Punch and Judy Man’, written without Hancock’s brilliant scriptwriters, has improved with time – it was ill-conceived and badly received, an embittered, unfunny tirade that upset his fans, yet as a non-comedy it probably plays very well. When compared and contrasted to ‘The Day Off’, which Hancock turned down, one realises that sometimes stars should be stopped from committing career (and eventually real) suicide.