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Hancock's Half Hour was a BBC radio comedy, and later television comedy, series of the 1950s. It starred Tony Hancock, with Sid James; the radio version also co-starring Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams. The final television series, renamed simply Hancock, starred Hancock alone.

The series was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and the radio version produced by Dennis Main Wilson for most of its run. After Main Wilson departed for his television career, his role was taken by Tom Ronald. The television series was produced by Duncan Wood. The distinctive tuba-based theme tune was composed by Wally Stott.

Comedian Tony Hancock starred in the show, playing an exaggerated and much poorer version of his own character and lifestyle, as a down-at-heel comedian living at the dilapidated 23 Railway Cuttings in East Cheammarker.

Radio series

The comedy actor Sid James played a criminally-inclined confidant of Hancock, who usually succeeded in conning him each week; Bill Kerr appeared as Hancock's Australian lodger, a character who became noticeably dim-witted in the later shows. A young Kenneth Williams, taking his first job in comedy, provided the funny voices for all the minor characters in the show each week. Moira Lister appeared in the first series, before being replaced by Andrée Melly for the next two; both women played love interest for Hancock's character, in essentially 'straight' roles. In the fourth and fifth series a comedienne, Hattie Jacques, provided comedy in the female role as the harridan Grizelda Pugh, who was Hancock's secretary and Sid's occasional girlfriend. By this time, Hancock's difficulties with women had become part of the characterisation.

The series broke with the variety tradition which was then dominant in British radio comedy, highlighting a new genre: the sitcom or situation comedy. Instead of the traditional variety mix of sketches, guest stars and musical interludes, the show's humour derived from characters and situations developed in a half-hour storyline. This then relatively novel format, of what was in effect a single sketch each week lasting the entire half-hour (though in the radio version James and the others sometimes played different roles), was reflected in the show's title, which aptly described the series as Hancock's "half-hour". Roger Wilmut, whose 1978 biography of Tony Hancock as a performer, credits two British radio comedy shows, already running in 1954, with establishing an uninterrupted 30 minute sitcom format: A Life of Bliss written by Godfrey Harrison and Life with the Lyons, a programme heavily based on the US tradition of sitcoms; he therefore dismisses the notion that Galton and Simpson invented the genre.

The comedy gradually shifted to observation, with a less strong emphasis on a narrative. The playlet "Look Back in Hunger" (spoofing John Osborne's Look Back in Anger) in the episode "The East Cheam Drama Festival" from the fifth series, showed that writers Galton and Simpson were in touch with developments in the British theatre, in the use of sighs and silent pauses (something Osborne's style had in common with the plays of Harold Pinter), whose work began to emerge towards the end of the series' run. In addition, the measured pacing of the episodes was unusual in an era of fast-talking radio comedians, such as Ted Ray, who typically used a machine-gun style of delivery to fill every single second of airtime.

Commissioning of series in the UK were then closer to the American practice with extensive runs not unknown, but in this case, with only two writers. Continuity in the idiom was yet to develop, and details changed to suit each episode. The domestic situation varied, but Hancock usually portrayed a 'resting' or hopeless down-at-heel actor and/or comedian (though some episodes showed him having runs of success, while some episodes depict him pursuing professional careers as fantasies), James was always on-the-fiddle in some way, Kerr gradually became dim and virtually unemployable (although he had started out as a fast-talking American-style Australian), and Hancock's 'secretary', Miss Pugh, had such a loose job description that in one celebrated episode she had cooked the Sunday lunch. At times the scripts would reflect topical realities of British life, such as rationing (during the Suez Crisis) and a specific railway strike. With the notable exception of Drop the Dead Donkey decades later, sitcoms rarely contained such topical references.

Hancock's character had various addresses, but by the third radio series he had arrived at 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. Sometimes this was portrayed as a council house, but occasionally there was a private landlord. In a few early episodes Hancock owned the house, and later this became the norm. The house changed to accommodate the cast: in some episodes it appeared to be a two-bedroom terraced house, with Kerr as Hancock's lodger; but in series four and five it had at least three bedrooms, as Miss Pugh was also resident in some episodes. In others she 'came round' each day, presumably from her own domicile. Railway Cuttings and East Cheam were fictitious, but Cheam is a real town in Surrey, located to the west of Suttonmarker. The whole area is smart and expensive, and by creating 'Railway Cuttings, East Cheam' Galton and Simpson created an address for a snob who wanted to live in a 'posh' area, but could only afford the 'cheap end' (which in reality does not exist). In those days recordings of the radio shows were not commercially available, so the audience had to rely entirely on memory for details of who lived where or who did what in the show.

Episodes of the radio series were included in 20 underground radio stations of the BBC's Wartime Broadcasting Service (WTBS), designed to provide information and morale-boosting broadcasts for 100 days after a nuclear attack.

Television version

The television version appeared in 1956 under the same name and with the same writers, produced for the BBC by Duncan Wood. The television and radio versions alternated until 1959, when the final radio series and the fifth television series were both broadcast during the autumn season. Only Sid James transferred from the radio series, although Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques each made a couple of appearances. The television version drew on a stock company of actors, who played different supporting characters in each episode. Semi-regulars included Liz Fraser, John Le Mesurier, Hugh Lloyd, Arthur Mullard and John Vyvyan.

The final television series, broadcast in 1961, was retitled Hancock, as it was shortened from a half-hour to 25 minutes. For this final series Sid James was dropped from the cast, as Hancock feared they were coming to be seen as a double-act. Some of the most celebrated episodes of the TV series were produced in this final series, including "The Blood Donor", "The Radio Ham", "The Bedsitter" and "The Bowmans". Hancock relocated to Earl's Courtmarker for the last series.

Some episodes of the radio series were wiped, and telerecordings of some episodes from the third and fourth television series were destroyed. No episodes survive from the first season of the TV series. The surviving radio episodes, which sometimes exist only in edited versions that have been cut for overseas sale to commercial radio stations, were released as CD box sets between 2000 and 2003 (see below).

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Hancock's Half Hour was placed 24th. In 1962, the show became the first imported programme to win a Jacob's Award following its transmission on Telefís Éireann, the Republic of Irelandmarker's national TV station.

In 1956 and 1957 Hancock starred in two series of a sketch show made by Associated-Rediffusion for ITV television, which were broadcast either side of his first television series on the BBC.

In 1972 a Norwegian tv-show called Fleksnes Fataliteter aired for the first time. It was based on scripts from Hancock's Half Hour. The show became trilingual, as it usually starred both Swedish and Danish actors, and was broadcast in Sweden and Denmark as well as Norway.

Radio series episodes

Most of the radio episodes were recorded between one day and three weeks in advance of broadcast, except for Series 6 which was mostly recorded during a three-week period in June 1959 in order to avoid clashing with the recording of Series 5 of the television show.

All the regular cast played "themselves" (that's to say, the characters were called by the actor's real name), except Kenneth Williams (who played a series of unnamed characters referred to in the scripts — but not on air — as "Snide", as well as various other characters), Alan Simpson (who played an unnamed man who listened patiently to Hancock's long-winded stories in early episodes), and Hattie Jacques (who played Griselda Pugh, Hancock's secretary).

Two wiped episodes of the radio series — "The Blackboard Jungle" (series 3) and "The New Secretary" (series 4) — were recovered in 2002 from off-air home recordings made by a listener.

Series 1

  • 16 episodes, 2 November 1954–15 February 1955
  • Regular cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Moira Lister, Sid James, Alan Simpson

Episodes 2, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 15 no longer exist.

Episodes 5 and 15 feature the only Hancock guest appearances by Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers respectively.

Three of Hancock's co-stars in the first series were born in South Africa.

Series 2

  • 12 episodes, 17 April–2 July 1955
  • Regular cast: Harry Secombe (Episodes 1–4), Tony Hancock (Episodes 4–12), Bill Kerr, Sid James, Andrée Melly, Kenneth Williams, Alan Simpson

Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10 and 12 (more than half the series, including all four of Harry Secombe's guest appearances) no longer exist.

Shortly before the series was due to be recorded Hancock walked out on a theatre performance suffering from "nervous exhaustion" and flew to Rome. Harry Secombe was brought in at short notice to replace Hancock and starred in the first three episodes, and made a guest appearance in the fourth. Hancock himself returned for the fourth episode and completed the series as scheduled.

Series 3

  • 20 episodes, 10 October 1955–29 February 1956
  • Regular cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Andrée Melly, Alan Simpson

Episodes 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15 and 17 no longer exist. Only a short extract from episode 12 survives; this plus episodes 8 and 16 only survive in poor sound quality.

Series 4

  • 20 episodes, 14 October 1956–24 February 1957
  • Regular cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques (debut in Episode 5)

All episodes still exist.

Series 5

  • 20 episodes, 1 January–3 June 1958
  • Regular cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques

All episodes still exist.

Christmas Special

"Bill and Father Christmas"
  • Cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Warren Mitchell

This episode still exists.

Special remake series for BBC Transcription Services

  • 4 episodes, recorded 23 November–30 November 1958
  • Regular cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques

These episodes are remakes for overseas sales, rewritten to remove any topical or UK-specific references.

All episodes still exist.

Series 6

  • 14 episodes, 29 September–29 December 1959
  • Regular cast: Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr, Sid James

All episodes still exist.

Television series episodes

Tony Hancock was a regular in all series.
Sid James was a regular in series 1–6.
Kenneth Williams appeared in every episode of series 2, playing a variety of characters.
Patricia Hayes appeared very occasionally in series 4–6 as Mrs Cravatte, Hancock's landlady.

Series 1

  • 6 episodes, broadcast live, every 2 weeks, 7 July–14 September 1956

No recordings exist.

Series 2

  • 6 episodes, broadcast live, every 2 weeks, 1 April–10 June 1957

Episode 1 exists on a telerecording.

Series 3

  • 12 regular episodes, broadcast live, 9 September–23 December 1957

Episodes 1, 5, 9, 10, 11 and 12 exist on telerecordings.

Series 4

  • 13 episodes; episodes 1–4 pre-recorded on telerecordings, 5–13 live, broadcast 26 December 1958–27 March 1959 (skipping 27 February)

  • Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 exist on telerecordings.
  • Episodes 2 and 10 also exist on audio recordings.
  • Episodes 2 and 8 also do exist on audio recordings but in poorer quality.
  • Episodes 7 and 13 still remain missing.

Series 5

  • 10 episodes, pre-recorded on videotape, broadcast 25 September–27 November 1959

The entire series exists on telerecordings.

Series 6

  • 10 episodes, pre-recorded on videotape, broadcast 19 February–6 May 1960

The entire series exists.

Series 7

  • Shortened to 25 minutes per episode and retitled Hancock.
  • 6 episodes, pre-recorded on videotape, broadcast 26 May–30 June 1961

The entire series exists on telerecordings.

Chronological listing of Hancock's radio and television broadcasts, 1954–1961

  • Hancock's Half Hour, radio Series 1: 2 November 1954–15 February 1955
  • Hancock's Half Hour, radio Series 2: 17 April–2 July 1955
  • Hancock's Half Hour, radio Series 3: 10 October 1955–29 February 1956
  • The Tony Hancock Show, Series 1 (Associated-Rediffusion for ITV): 4 April–1 June 1956
  • Hancock's Half Hour, television Series 1: 7 July–14 September 1956
  • Hancock's Half Hour, radio Series 4: 14 October 1956–24 February 1957
  • The Tony Hancock Show, Series 2: 16 November 1956- 25 January 1957
  • Hancock's Half Hour, television Series 2: 1 April–10 June 1957
  • Hancock's Half Hour, television Series 3: 9 September–23 December 1957
  • Hancock's Half Hour, radio Series 5: 1 January–3 June 1958
  • Hancock's Half Hour, television Series 4: 26 December 1958–27 March 1959
  • Hancock's Half Hour, television Series 5: 25 September–27 November 1959
  • Hancock's Half Hour, radio Series 6: 29 September–29 December 1959
  • Hancock's Half Hour, television Series 6: 19 February–6 May 1960
  • Hancock, television Series 7: 26 May–30 June 1961

Information on series dates taken from the book Tony Hancock: Artiste (1978) by Roger Wilmut, Eyre Methuen ISBN 0-413-38680-5 (subsequent reprints in 1983 and 1986 contain additional details) Information on wiped radio episodes taken from the CD box sets (BBC Worldwide, 2000–2003).

Commercial releases

Regular commercial releases of the radio series mainly date from the end of the 1970s onwards. Four episodes of the TV series were re-recorded and released on LP format by Pye ("The Blood Donor" and "The Radio Ham" in 1961) and Decca Records.

The radio series of Hancock's Half Hour was first released on cassette by the Random label in 1999, though because only 10 volumes were made with 4 episodes each, a release of the radio series was never completed on cassette. A year later the remainder of Series 1 of the radio series was released as a boxset on CD. Series 2–6 followed throughout the next three years. The series has also been given three compilation CDs.

The television series of Hancock's Half Hour was first released on VHS in 1984 under BBC Enterprises (now Worldwide) in an imcomplete form. Six videos were released each containing three episodes, and were mainly drawn from the last three series,. The next video was not to be for another nine years, and that was a compilation. Three years later, a video was released containing the first three remaining episodes. Two later videos were released in 1997 and another featuring "The Train Journey" was released in 1999.

The first DVD to be released was in 2001, which was a re-release of The Best of video, which was Series 7 without the final episode, "The Succession: Son and Heir". The next DVD was to be released in 2004, containing the first five episodes and the rarely seen "Hancock's Forty-Three Minutes". However, 2entertain released a boxset in 2007 called The Tony Hancock Collection, containing every existing episode and new bonus features, including Hancock interview from the Face to Face in 1960.

In June and August 2009, six long-lost TV episodes from series 4 of the TV version where found after several years, However 2 of them are currently in poorer quality.

As of 2009, the surviving radio episodes are repeated weekly on the digital network BBC Radio 7, chronologically sequenced.

BBC DVD will re-release all of the surviving tv episodes and possibly the "recently found 6 tv episodes of the fourth tv series" in another DVD Boxset called The Hancock's Half Hour TV Collection" "containing all 45 sole surviving tv episodes whose will include the 6 found tv series 4 episodes in a decending chronological order" this will be released about 2011.


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