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Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60)
6 series of 25 min episodes (black and white)
ProducerDuncan Wood
Written byRay Galton
 Alan Simpson

Cast: Tony Hancock (Anthony Aloysius Hancock); Sidney James (Sidney Balmoral James); John Le Mesurier (Lord Chief Justice William/Dr Francis Worthington); Patricia Hayes (Mrs Cravatte)

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The underachieving existence of Anthony Aloysius St. John Hancock, perpetually frustrated resident of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.

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Hancock's Half Hour (BBC, 1956-61) was British TV's first modern situation comedy and remains one of the most influential BBC programmes of all time. Its use of a narrative structure, rather than sketch-based routines, and its abandoning of the classic double act model of comic interplay helped free TV comedy from its musical hall roots. But the lives of the fictional Tony Aloysius Hancock, of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam and his namesake actor, the comic Anthony John Hancock, followed slightly erratic paths.

The launch of ITV in 1955 not only crushed the BBC's TV monopoly, it also shook its confidence. The upstart broadcaster quickly established itself as the channel of choice in homes capable of receiving both services, launching the UK's first ratings war. As part of its fight back the BBC enlisted Tony Hancock, transferring his wireless hit, Hancock's Half Hour, to TV.

The move was relatively straightforward - the writing team of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson initially adapted some of their radio scripts for TV. The show also used many of the radio cast and characters, including Hancock's wily sidekick Sid, played by Sid James. The resulting TV series about the daily life of social failure Tony Aloysius Hancock had already been refined on radio, giving the show an immediate look of effortless professionalism. This helped establish Hancock - both the actor and his on-screen persona - as the most prominent comedy character of his day.

But the success of Hancock's TV misadventures also caused problems for the star of the show. Tony Hancock was never fully at ease with his success and found it increasingly difficult to handle. Worried that his achievements were being held back by others, he first told Galton and Simpson to ditch Sid James. The season that followed, its title shortened simply to Hancock, saw the 'lad himself' facing the world alone. Its six episodes are remarkable achivements - 'The Radio Ham' (tx. 09/06/61) and 'The Blood Donor' (tx. 23/06/61) remain classic TV moments.

Hancock, however, remained unhappy and next sacked his writers. He also decided to swap sides and work for ITV. The resulting series, once again called Hancock (ITV, 1963), was relatively well received but clearly not up to the standard of his BBC work. Increasingly troubled about his abilities as a comic, Hancock started to drink heavily, a crisis that ended with the actor's suicide in 1968.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. Decorum (2:17)
2. Duty (1:30)
3. A passionate plea (1:58)
Complete episode: 'Twelve Angry Men' (28:53)
Production stills
Emery, Dick (1917-83)
Galton, Ray (1930-) and Simpson, Alan (1929-)
Hancock, Tony (1924-1968)
Jacques, Hattie (1922-1980)
James, Sidney (1913-1976)
MacNaughton, Ian (1925-2002)
Mitchell, Warren (1926-)
Whitfield, June (1925-)
Williams, Kenneth (1926-1988)
Wood, Duncan (1925-1997)