H-H-H-He’s Back


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.

20 comments on “H-H-H-He’s Back”

  1. Wild Edric says:

    There’s a really good interview with Paul Merton in the Grauniad about misconceptions re: Hancock and it mentions the feature films and his relationship with Galton & Simpson. I’m not a big fan of Paul Merton, feel he’s going through the motions on HIGNFY but he comes across well in the piece.

  2. Ian Luck says:

    I love ‘The Rebel’, and I’m very fond of a still from it, showing the office in which Hancock’s character works. It’s almosts fetishistically tidy, the desks in rows, and each desk’s adding machine millimetre perfect upon it. It’s rather startling, actually, composed like a painting.
    ‘The Rebel’ also carries the rather troubling phrase, which Tony Hancock would take literally a few years later:
    “Why kill time when you can kill yourself?”
    This was later used as the title of a song by Sheffield electronic band, Cabaret Voltaire. Annoyingly, for such a dark tune, it’s damned catchy.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Just heard the news that Thomas Cook has gone bankrupt with thousands of travelers stranded and employees out of work. Apparently the government is going to bring the travelers home – the largest repatriation since WWII. Could this feature in the next – or be the event that takes John and Arthur somewhere that reminds them of “the Barcelona Incident”?

  4. John Howard says:

    I can still remember the radio episode when he spent a Sunday afternoon in the house. Just thinking about has made me want to go and listen to it again. (Cant remember the title though but I suspect Google will come to the rescue.)

    PS: A bit off topic but I love Helens’ idea of John & Arthur in Barcelona… Please.

  5. Roger says:

    THE London Institute of ‘Pataphysics recreated and exhibited all of the paintings from “The Rebel” some years ago.

  6. Andrew Holme says:

    ‘Sunday Afternoon at Home’ ranks as not just the best piece of sitcom writing, but one of the best pieces of writing full stop. I heard it first in the early Seventies on one of my Dad’s vinyl long playing record. Favourite line? Hancock keeps asking the time every 10 seconds and Bill Kerr goes ” Well the little hands on the …” When Hancock asks for the final time, Kerr opens his mouth to speak and Hancock goes, ” Not you!”
    You’re right about later episodes being comparable to Pinter, an area G&S explored later in ‘Steptoe and Son’. What do people think, are G&S top of the heap? They were/are in my book.

  7. Bob Low says:

    We have a DVD copy of ‘The Rebel’, and ‘The Punch and Judy Man’, and while we regularly watch the former – the last time just a few months ago – we’ve only watched ‘The Punch and Judy Man’ once. It’s a seriously odd film, with some very funny moments, but a lot of parts that don’t work at all. Sadly, most of the latter are the slapstick scenes which demonstrate that Hancock while a great comic actor, was not a natural clown, and desperately needed a well crafted script. From what I remember, the scenes between Hancock and Sylvia Syms are very effective, and quite touching. The over-all impression left by the film was of sadness – it’s a lovingly made portrait of a lost era, and impossible to watch without being reminded of Hancock’s tragic end. Maybe it’s time to give it another go.

  8. admin says:

    My brother and I still do the whole of ‘A Sunday Afternoon at Home’. ‘I thought my mother was a bad cook but at least her gravy moved about.’
    B&M in Barcelona? They certainly get around in the upcoming ‘England’s Finest’, out next month (plug).

  9. Ian Luck says:

    “Tapas, John?”
    “Yes, Arthur. Tapas.”
    “I know what they are, but I refuse to partake in food that’s based on the idea of a little plate that stops bluebottles stealing your drink.”
    “Think of it like a pickled egg, back home.”
    “I think not. A pickled egg is a noble thing. Food of the gods. I mean, what in all that’s holy is that black slurry on your plate?”
    “It’s squid in it’s ink, Arthur – it’s delicious.”
    “John, squid isn’t food. It’s bait to catch real fish with. Besides, food shouldn’t have dangly bits on it.”
    “That’s a bit rich, coming from someone who eats whitebait – heads, bones, everything.”
    “Yes, John, but they look like fish – not like something from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft, that has then been tarted up for the table by the corpse of Fanny Cradock.”

  10. Helen Martin says:

    You see, Chris, we can all imagine it.

  11. John Howard says:

    Yes Chris, we all can. We just can’t write it like you can. (Sorry Ian, that was a very good go though).

  12. Ian Luck says:

    John – I didn’t even try. It’s the sort of conversation that my parents would have had when on holiday abroad – Dad in place of Arthur, and Mum in place of John. If they went abroad they would always eat the local food. Dad would whinge a bit to wind up mum. They were always annoyed by British tourists who would only eat stuff like egg & chips, and complain bitterly about the far superior local fare.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    And you can’t get a good Red Barrel, either.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – As told to Travel Agent, Mr Smokestoomuch, by Eric Idle’s character who can’t (initially, at least) say the letter ‘C’, and when Mr Smokestoomuch suggests he use the letter ‘K’, which he can say, he thanks Mr Smokestoomuch, and then says: “I am a silly bunt.” Then he gets on with his list of things he hates about British tourists, including the classic “Coach party from Rhyl, who keep singing ‘Torremolinos! Torremolinos!’ ” And yes, there’s no bloody Watney’s Red Barrel, thank goodness – it was utterly foul. Metallic, fizzy piss. And I’m being kind. It’s beer for people who have no idea of what beer should taste like. The current equivalent would be Carling lager, which I would have in the house, if I had to have it, to extinguish minor conflagrations. Since being shocked to find that here in the UK, the Co-Op sell their own lager – which is brewed, for them, in Chechia, by Staropramen: it’s lovely stuff, it’s pretty much the only beer I’ve drunk this summer.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, one of my favourite routines. Carling is brewing in Britain? It’s low alcohol and fine if you’re drinking in quantity on a very hot summer day but otherwise I don’t care for it. It has been a basic beer here for generations.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    Yes, it’s still about. Beloved of football fans, so I’m led to believe. It’s not very good, and isn’t very nice even if used to make one of the most refreshing drinks on a hot day, ‘Un Panache’ (or, if you prefer, Shandy).

  17. Helen Martin says:

    Reading English books has led me to try shandy and I have to agree that it is very refreshing indeed.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – For a long time, Shandy was looked down on if ordered in a pub, and yet, in France, it’s a normal order. Nowadays, it’s okay to order it, and it’s started to get popular as people have found out just what a great thirst-slaker it is. So long as it doesn’t become ‘Trendy’, and the hipster element does not take it over. That would be a tragedy. ; )

  19. Helen Martin says:

    I had some grapefruit flavoured lager the other day and imagine it would be very refreshing as well.

  20. Wayne Mook says:

    On my honeymoon in Prague I stayed just round the corner from the Staropramen brewery. I enjoyed it there.

    As for shandy I remember Panda Pops Shandy made with Badger Beer. Sad fact Hall & Woodhouse sold Panda Pops to Nicholls who make Vimto, why must I always link things to Manchester. At least in my last post I didn’t mention the Tory conference is being held in Manchester. Hope they like the rain.


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