2 x CD Set
Reviewed by Ceri Laing

Written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton

Produced by Dennis Main Wilson

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 this release.


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!









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