Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Misconceptions about Tony Hancock

Tony Hancock has been chosen as one of the new Elizabethans - one of the notable figures in the reign of Elizabeth II.

The first misconception is that Hancock got rid of his co-stars from the radio series.  Although it is true that Hancock was unhappy about the 'snide' character played by Kenneth Williams, it was Williams himself who left the series a couple of episodes into the 6th radio series.  He was unhappy about the number and quality of the lines he was getting - but perhaps it was more Kenneths ego here than Tonys which caused the problem.

Another myth is that only Sid James from the radio series made the move to TV with Hancock  - actually both Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams appeared in the television version, although as supporting characters rather than as the same character each week .  Writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson say it was they who made the decision to cut down the regular supporting cast as Television is a much slower medium than radio.  Hancock can hardly be said to have blocked the appearance of Hattie and Kenneth in the TV Series.   Hattie in fact appeared with the Hancock film the Punch and Judy Man, which shows they were still friends after the TV series.

True Hancock blocked Sid James being in his films, but James made dozens of films without Hancock, and no one complains about that.

In fact Hancock had often gone out of his way to get parts for his friends as Dick Emery, Graham Stark, Hugh Lloyd, Mario Fabrizi and others attest. Hancock felt most comfortable working with people he knew.

Another myth is that Hancock fired writers Galton and Simpson, in truth they did fall out over a Film script which Hancock rejected without even reading, but, Hancock never intended the split to be final and on several occasions  approached Galton and Simpson to ask if they could provide scripts. For example before his series for ATV, but Galton and Simpson were too busy with other projects like Steptoe and Son.  They almost worked together again on a musical "Noah" but this never got off the ground - perhaps thankfully in view of Hancock aversion to long stage shows.

Another myth is that Tony died in a hotel room in Australia, this is probably due to the play Hancock's last half hour, in fact he was staying in a basement apartment linked to the house of the director of the TV series he was working on at the time.

Perhaps the strangest myth is that Hancock was never as funny solo as when he was with Sid James - Galton and Simpson rebut this - they say look at the Radio Ham, The Blood Donor, the Lift - the shows indelibly associated with Hancock and for a time British Comedy and the British Way of life - Sid James wasn't in any of them, neither was Kenneth, Hattie or Bill Kerr.

Tony strove to make his comedy 'realistic' that is if a policeman called at the door, he wanted the audience to beleive it was a real policeman, not Kenneth Williams doing a  funny voice. I think Tony was right, that is why so much of his comedy stands the test of time, even though the context has dated some of it. 

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