HALF HOUR: THE ‘LOST’ EPISODES
2 x CD Set
Reviewed by Ceri Laing
Written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton
Produced by Dennis Main
Starring: Tony Hancock, Sid James, Bill Kerr,
Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques
BBC Radio’s Hancock’s Half Hour ran
for six series from November 1954; becoming one of the most important and
successful comedy series of the decade and springboarding the careers of
not only its star Tony Hancock, but also Sid James, Kenneth Williams and
writers Alan Simpson and Ray Galton.
BBC Audiobooks have already released six
superb series CD box sets of the existing episodes of radio show over the
past few years featuring all the episodes restored to a high
standard. As is the case with the BBC’s television archives, many of the
radio episodes are missing from the BBC’s archive collections. A
successful Treasure Hunt campaign was run by the BBC during the release of
the six box sets and several off-air recordings of the some of the missing
episodes were returned, and then included in the later released box sets.
The ‘lost’ episodes included in this new
release are two further off-air recordings of missing episodes – The
Blackboard Jungle and The New Secretary - recently found by the
Tony Hancock Appreciation Society.
The Blackboard Jungle comes from the
third series (in 1955) and is a pastiche of the film of the same name,
featuring Hancock in the teacher role and Bill Kerr as the teenage
antagonist, West. At this stage the show was beginning to find its feet
(after a turbulent second series), but before the writers really started
to explore the Hancock character and where they could push the boundaries
of comedy. So they were still using pastiche, like many other writers,
every now and then – nick a plot from somewhere else and use it to hang
their jokes on – as a result the episode, whilst still being very funny,
isn’t as effective as episodes in later series. However, it is still head
and shoulders above similar pastiches done by other comedy shows at the time.
The New Secretary is from the fourth
series (in 1956) and features the first appearance of the delightful
Hattie Jacques as Hancock’s secretary, Grizelda Pugh. Jacques’ joining of
the cast was a turning point for the series, previously Hancock had a
girlfriend which didn’t quite ring true for the character and was fairly
limiting for the comedy. With the creation of Grizelda (or Grizzly for
short), as Hancock’s idle and indomitable secretary, the humour could rise
to new levels. Throughout his relationship with Galton and Simpson, Tony
Hancock continued to push them creatively to take the series in a unique
direction and so not tread the same tired path of other comedy series
(such as using pastiche) and this episode saw what they were trying to
achieve coming together. The episode was remade in 1958 for the BBC
Transcription Service with a revised script, with various changes made
to make the episode more understandable to an international audience, and
that version was retained by the BBC and released as part of the CD box
sets. A poor quality recording of this original version has been known to
exist for many years, but it wasn’t included in the CD box set of the
fourth series as the quality wasn’t high enough.
Following their discovery these recordings
were broadcast on BBC 7 (the BBC’s digital station which broadcasts
primarily archive comedy and drama programmes) at the start of 2006. Each
episode was preceded by an introduction from the Tony Hancock Appreciation
Society’s Malcolm Chapman who explained about how the episodes were found.
This a two-disc release, with the two
restored episodes on the first disc and two bonus radio programmes on the
second disc. The episodes have been restored by Jeffrey Hammonds (who may
have done the restoration in preparation for the BBC 7 broadcasts as the
episodes sound identical) and not Ted Kendall who did the restoration work
on the episodes for the CD box sets.
Considering the episodes are presented from
off-air recordings which are around 50 years old there not bad at all -
the restoration work performed on them has enhanced them a lot. There is a
touch of dropout at little way into The Blackboard Jungle and there
is quite a bit of digital artefacting in the background of The New
Secretary as the restoration tools struggle with the hiss. In addition
the end credits have been replaced on The New Secretary, presumably
as prior to the beginning of the replaced section there is some building
distortion which may have continued to get worse and the replacement was
used to cover this. Unfortunately, though, the replaced section is taken
from a programme with a different announcer to the one appearing on The
New Secretary so it doesn’t quite match up. However, these issues are
very small, though it would’ve been interesting to hear what Ted Kendall
could’ve achieved if he had done the restoration.
Those familiar with the episode will be
pleased to know the frequent use of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock
used throughout The Blackboard Jungle is intact in the release.
The two bonus programmes on the second disc
are the Galton and Simpson instalment of In Conversation With…and
Six Characters in Search of an Answer on Tony Hancock.
In Conversation With… was originally
broadcast in 2001 and sees the writers interviewed by TV executive Paul
Jackson. This entertaining interview, peppered with clips, coves the two
writers’ careers, with specific emphasis on Hancock’s Half Hour and
Steptoe and Son. It has been previously released as part of the
Steptoe and Son Collection on audio cassette, but this is its first
release on CD.
Six Characters in Search of an Answer
was presented Barry Cryer and originally broadcast in 2003. The series
explored various radio characters in detail, and its look at the Hancock
character is an interesting one illustrated with numerous clips. These
clips include archive interviews featuring the writers and Dennis Main
Wilson and a brief except from Happy-Go-Lucky, the show that
led to the creation of Hancock’s Half Hour and the Hancock
character (albeit at the wrong speed!), together with clips from Tony
Hancock’s Face to Face interview. It’s a well put together, fairly
in-depth analysis. However, Cryer’s delivery is a little stilted and a
half-hour broadcast slot for a programme of this nature is inherently
limiting. As a result it doesn’t outstay its welcome. This marks its first
release in any format.
In recent times Hancock’s Half Hour
releases from BBC Audiobooks have included inlay notes from Alan Simpson
and Ray Galton and this release is no exception. They provide great
overviews of both episodes in their own inimitable style. However, there
are contradictory broadcast dates for The Blackboard Jungle in the
various listings in the inlay, where one listing is right and the other
isn’t, but again this is on a minor issue.
One minor disappointment is the lack of
inclusion of Malcolm Chapman’s introductions from the BBC 7 broadcasts. As
he was involved in the find it was nice to hear him discuss this in the
introductions and it would’ve been equally nice to have them included in
Having been a fan of the show for over
twenty years its brilliant to hear new episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour
and these are two funny examples which highlight where the show was at
the respective times of its evolution. This is a great release and it’s
great that BBC Audiobooks have released these newly found episodes so
quickly and in this particular way.
Most fans of Hancock’s Half Hour
will have already purchased the six CD box sets of the entire series and
if these episodes had been released as part of reissues of the Series 3
and Series 4 box sets then it wouldn’t have been entirely fair to have to
re-purchase the sets as they are quite expensive. Hancock’s Half Hour
seems to be a strong seller for BBC Audiobooks so it’s great they
chose to release the episodes as a individual release, and not only that
you get bonus features as well (one never having been released before and
another never released on CD).
Fans who have already got the series box
sets will no doubt purchase this release to continue their collections,
but this is also a good release for non-fans interested in the series to
purchase as these are two very fine examples of the series and the two
bonus features act as a good introduction to the background of the series
as a whole and to the fabulous writing partnership of Alan Simpson and Ray Galton.
Most online retailers have the release at
under £9 so it isn’t going to break the bank either!