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Friday, 9 September 2016

Web Page  No 2296

12th September 2016

Top Picture: Typical picture of ‘The Lad Himself’

Second Picture: The Famous Record Cover

Third Picture: Poster for The Rebel
 Forth Picture: Sid James

The Lad Himself

I do not know how I have managed to write every week without mentioning ‘The Lad Himself’.

Anthony John "Tony" Hancock was born on 12th May 1924 and died on 25th June 1968.

The period of his major success was during the 1950s and early 1960s his BBC series Hancock's Half Hour, first on radio from 1954, then on television from 1956, in which he soon formed a strong professional and personal bond with Sid James. Although Hancock's decision to cease working with Sid when it became known in early 1960 disappointed many at the time, his last BBC series in 1961 contains some of his best remembered work ie "The Blood Donor". After breaking with scriptwriters Ray Galton and Alan Simpson later that year, his career took a downward course because of his continued alcoholism.

He was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire but from the age of three was brought up in Bournemouth where his father, John Hancock, ran the Railway Hotel in Holdenhurst Road and  worked as a part time comedian and entertainer.

After his father's death in 1934, Hancock and his brothers lived with their mother and stepfather Robert Gordon Walker in a small hotel called Durlston Court in Bournemouth. He attended Durlston Court Preparatory School, a boarding school at Durlston in Swanage (which name his parents adopted for their hotel) and Bradfield College in Reading but left school at the age of fifteen.

In 1942, during the Second World War, he joined the RAF Regiment. Following a failed audition for ENSA, he ended up on the Ralph Reader Gang Show. After the war, he returned to the stage and eventually worked as resident comedian at the Windmill Theatre and took part in radio shows such as Workers' Playtime and Variety Bandbox.

Over 1951–52, for just one series, he was a cast member of Educating Archie in which he played the tutor. His appearance in this show brought him national recognition, and a catchphrase he used frequently in the show, "Flippin' kids!", became popular. The same year, he made regular appearances on BBC Television's light entertainment show Kaleidoscope, and almost starred in his own series to be written by Larry Stephens who had been his best man at his first wedding. In 1954, he was given his own BBC radio show, Hancock's Half Hour.

Working with scripts from Galton and Simpson, Hancock's Half Hour lasted for seven years and over a hundred episodes in its radio form, and from 1956 ran concurrently with the BBC television series with the same name. The show starred Hancock as Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock living in 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. Most episodes portrayed his everyday life as a struggling comedian with aspirations toward straight acting. Some episodes, however, changed this to show him as being a successful actor and/or comedian, or occasionally as having a different career completely such as a struggling, incompetent barrister.

Sid James featured heavily in both the radio and TV versions, while the radio version also included the regulars Bill Kerr, Kenneth Williams and over the years Moira Lister, Andrée Melly and Hattie Jacques. The series highlighted the situation comedy, with the humour coming from the characters and the circumstances in which they found themselves. Owing to a contractual wrangle with producer Jack Hylton, Hancock had an ITV series, The Tony Hancock Show, during this period, which ran in 1956 and 1957 either side of the first BBC television series.

During the run of his BBC radio and television series, Hancock became an enormous star in Britain.
As an actor with considerable experience in film, Sid became more important to the show when the television version began. The regular cast was reduced to just the two men. Sid's character was the realist of the two, puncturing Hancock's dreams. He was dishonest and exploited Hancock's gullibility during the radio series, but in the television version there appeared to be a more genuine friendship.

Hancock's highly strung personality made the demands of live broadcasts a worry, with the result that, starting from the autumn 1959 series, all episodes of the series were recorded before transmission. Up until then British television comedy shows had been performed live owing to the limitations of the time. He was also the first performer to receive a £1,000 fee for a half-hour show.

He became anxious that his work with Sid was turning them into a double act, and he told close associates in 1959, just after the fifth television series had been recorded, that he would end his association with Sid after a final series. Strangely he left others to tell Sid. His last BBC series in 1961, retitled Hancock, was without James. Two episodes are among his best-remembered. "The Blood Donor" and "The Radio Ham”. Both were re-recorded later for an LP.

Returning home with his wife from recording "The Bowmans", an episode based around The Archers, Hancock was involved in a car accident and was thrown through the windscreen. He was not badly hurt, but suffered concussion and was unable to learn his lines for "The Blood Donor", the next show due to be recorded. The result was that Hancock had to perform by reading his lines and could be seen looking away when speaking. From this time onwards, he came to rely on idiot boards instead of learning scripts whenever he had career difficulties.

In early 1960, Hancock appeared on the BBC's Face to Face, interview programme with John Freeman who asked him many searching questions about his life and work. Hancock often appeared uncomfortable with the questions, but answered them frankly and honestly. According to Roger, his brother, "It was the biggest mistake he ever made. I think it all started from that really. ...Self-analysis - that was his killer."

The usual argument is that Hancock’s mixture of egotism and self-doubt led to a spiral of self-destructiveness. His reasoning was that, to refine his craft, he had to ditch catch-phrases and become realistic. He argued that whenever an ad-hoc character was needed it would be played by someone like Kenneth Williams and he believed the comedy suffered because people did not believe in the policeman, knowing it was just Kenneth Williams doing a funny voice.

He starred in the 1960 film The Rebel, where he plays an office worker-turned-artist who finds himself successful after a move to Paris, but only as the result of mistaken identity. Although a success in Britain, the film was not well received in the US.

His break with Galton and Simpson took place at a meeting in October 1961, where he also broke with his long-term agent Beryl Vertue. During the previous six months, the writers had three scripts for Hancock's second film. Worried that the projects were wrong for him, the first two had been abandoned incomplete; the third was written at the writers' insistence, only for Hancock to reject it unread. The result was that they developed a Comedy Playhouse series for the BBC, one of which, "The Offer", emerged as the pilot for Steptoe and Son. But there was another film, “The Punch and Judy Man” and Hancock hired Philip Oakes, who moved in with him to co-write the screenplay. In the 1962 film, Hancock plays a struggling seaside entertainer who dreams of a better life and owes much to his memories of his childhood in Bournemouth.

He moved to ATV in 1962 with different writers, though Philip Oakes was retained as an advisor but they disagreed over script ideas and they severed their professional (but not personal) relationship. The transmission clashed with the second series of Steptoe and Son.

In 1965 he made a series of 11 TV adverts for the Egg Marketing Board with Patricia Hayes as Mrs Cravatte in an attempt to revive the Galton and Simpson style of scripts. Slightly earlier, in 1963, he featured in a spoof Hancock Report – hired by Lord Beeching to promote his railway plan in advertisements. Hancock reportedly wanted to be paid what Beeching was paid annually – £34,000; he was offered half that amount.

He continued to make regular appearances on television until 1967, but by then alcoholism had affected his performances. After hosting two unsuccessful variety series for ABC Television, He was contracted to make a 13-part series called Hancock Down Under for the Seven Network of Australian television. This was to be his first and only television series filmed in colour; however, after arriving in Australia in March 1968 he only completed three programmes, which remained unaired for several years.

Hancock committed suicide, by taking an overdose, in Sydney, on 25th June 1968. He was found dead in his Bellevue Hill flat with an empty vodka bottle and a scattering of tablets. In one of his suicide notes he wrote: "Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times". His ashes were brought back to the UK by Willie Rushton and were buried in St. Dunstan's Church in Cranford, West London.

There is a sculpture by Bruce Williams  in his honour in Old Square, Corporation Street, Birmingham, a plaque on the house where he was born in Hall Green, Birmingham, and a plaque on the wall of the hotel in Bournemouth where he spent some of his early life. There is also a plaque, placed by the Dead Comics Society, at 10 Grey Close, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, where he lived in 1947 and 1948. In 2014 a Blue Plaque was placed to commemorate Hancock at 20 Queen's Gate Place in South Kensington, London, where he lived between 1952 and 1958.

In a 2002 BBC radio listeners voted Hancock their favourite British comedian. In a 2005 poll to find the Comedians' Comedian Hancock was voted the twelfth greatest comedian by fellow comics and 'comedy insiders'.
The BBC has issued CDs of the surviving seventy-four radio episodes in six box sets, with the sixth box containing several out-of-series specials. There have also been VHS video releases of the BBC TV series.

Some of the lost episodes were unavailable until they surfaced in 2007.
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On this day 12th September 1960-1965
On 12/09/1960 the number one single was Apache - The Shadows and the number one album was Down Drury Lane to Memory Lane - A Hundred and One Strings. The top rated TV show was No Hiding Place (AR) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 12/09/1961 the number one single was Johnny Remember Me - John Leyton and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was First Mothercare shop opens in Surrey.

On 12/09/1962 the number one single was She's Not You - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Pot Luck - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 12/09/1963 the number one single was She Loves You - The Beatles and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 12/09/1964 the number one single was You Really Got Me - Kinks and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 12/09/1965 the number one single was (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Rolling Stones and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

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