Hancock’s Half Hour, its title announced in breathless, stammering fashion by ‘the lad himself, was one of Britain’s first major comedy series and remains in the eyes of many a true classic.
Beginning on radio in 1954, it quickly transferred to television and introduced to viewers the complex personality of Anthony Aloysius Hancock, inhabitant of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. The character was a moody, bumptious type, sporting a Homburg hat and a heavy overcoat, a man prone to constant questioning of the whys and wherefores of the world and a gloomy ponderer of his personal circumstances. Radio regulars Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams made occasional appearances during the early seasons but it was at it’ best with just Tony and Sid.
Life’s petty injustices and annoyances were guaranteed to generate a torrent of observations and criticisms. For instance, what could be worse than reading a thriller novel only to find the last page torn out? Similarly frustrating was the way in which his ambitious plans to improve his station always ended in failure and humiliation, as prophesied by his cynical roommate, played by Sid James. James, the man who pricked Hancock’s bubbles, left the series in 1960 to pursue his own starring roles, and the last season went out simply under the title of Hancock, the star having moved to a new address.
These episodes included such classics as The Radio Ham and The Blood Donor (with its oft-quoted exclamation: ‘A pint? That’s very nearly an armful!’). Hancock subsequently broke up his partnership with writers Galton and Simpson and moved to ITV, where he produced himself one (notably less successful) series of Hancock.
In 1996-7, Galton and Simpson revamped some of the classic scripts (including the above-mentioned) for the ITV series, Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson’s …, with the deadpan Have I Got News For You panellist filling the Hancock role. On 8 September 2016 the BBC, as part of their Sitcom Season, broadcast an all new episode of Hancock’s Half Hour with Kevin McNally as Hancock. The episode The New Neighbour was chosen because it was one of a number that are sadly no longer in existence.
Note that the above episode count includes the seventh series which went out as simply Hancock. Some guides list it as a separate show altogether but it’s exactly the same as Half Hour just renamed and minus Sid. There were six episodes in that final season.
UK / BBC / 62×30 minute episodes 1×43 minute episodes / Broadcast 6 July 1956 – 30 June 1961 seven seasons + 1 special black and white
Writers: Ray Galton, Alan Simpson / Music: Wally Stott / Producer: Duncan Wood
TONY HANCOCK as Hancock
SID JAMES as Sid