Radio: Hancock's Half Hour

Hancock's Half Hour was a BBC radio and later television comedy series of the 1950s. It was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who also created Steptoe And Son. The main character, a pompous self-important fool, was played by Tony Hancock. His boorish offsider, whose chief task it is to bring Tony back to reality, was played by Sidney James. Bill Kerr also featured as Hancock's dim Australian boarder. (Hancock, James and Kerr's characters all used variations on their real names.) Moira Lister and then Andrée Melly played Tony's girlfriends. Later, Hattie Jacques played Hancock's secretary, the rather prim Miss Pugh. Kenneth Williams featured as a number of characters, most notably one nicknamed 'Snide'. In the TV version the regular cast was pared down to Hancock and James, although Williams and Jacques made a couple of guest appearances in early episodes.

Both versions were smash hits. Previously, comedy had centred around music hall-style slapstick, rather than situation comedy, and Hancock's Half Hour could be said to be the first British situation comedy. The BBC received a string of complaint letters from pub owners because so many of their patrons went home to watch or listen to the show. In any voting contest of great British comedies, Hancock always comes in with a high ranking, even though many of its fans were not even born when it was made.

Not to be confused with Hancock (although the title was abbreviated to this for the final TV series).

This show demonstrates examples of:

  • AB Negative: Tony is found to be AB in 'The Blood Donor'. He is quite pleased about it, considering himself "one of nature's aristocrats".
  • Author Existence Failure: "The Missing Page" features an in-universe example. After spending the episode frantically trying to track down the missing last page of Darcy Sarto's murder mystery Lady Don't Fall Backwards, Tony and Sid obtain a copyright edition and discover that the manuscript ends literally one word before the murderer is identified, as Sarto died while writing the book and his publishers decided fans of his detective, Johnny Oxford, would like to read the book anyway.
  • Backup Twin: Parodied in 'The Bowmans'.
  • Bags of Letters: In the episode 'The Bowmans' Hancock finds himself bombarded by mail the day after his radio Soap Opera character is killed off.
  • Blatant Lies: Tony's inflated sense of pride means he often tells face-saving lies to people who witnessed the event or conversation that prompted the lie. For example, in "The Espresso Bar", he calls his agent and, after spending an inordinately long time jogging his memory as to who he actually is, is reduced to begging for whatever work is available, even the back half of a pantomime horse. When he hangs up, he claims to Bill that his agent had a long list of offers, but he didn't find them interesting enough. (Bill, who has been listening to the entire conversation, isn't fooled for a second.)
  • Bottle Episode: 'The Bedsitter'
  • Brick Joke: In 'The Blood Donor', Tony decides to give blood and discovers that he's got the rare blood type AB Negative. When he finds out that he has to give a whole pint ("That's very nearly an armful") he tries to back out, but in the end he gives in. At home afterwards, he feels hungry and decides to make a sandwich. He cuts himself on the breadknife and is taken back to the same hospital where, as luck would have it, they have a single pint of AB Negative blood. Which could be seen as All for Nothing, except that (as he points out) if he hadn't given blood in the first place he'd be in real trouble.
  • Brit Com: Arguably the first one.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • Tony's preferred expression of frustration at the world around him was 'Stone me, what a life!'
    • Kenneth Williams' Snide character had two phrases trotted out with some regularity: 'No, don't be like that!' if someone (usually Tony) was losing their temper with him, and 'Stop messing about!' if someone was, well, messing about and wasting time. The latter was used in the '70s as the title of a Kenneth Williams comedy series on BBC Radio 4.
  • Corpsing - Happened from time to time and left in since either the shows were live or (later) done without retakes.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Lampshaded in one episode, where Sid realises it's easier to go to the bank for an overdraft rather than come up with one of his usual over-complicated schemes.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Played for laughs In-Universe in "The Bowmans". After Hancock's character has been unceremoniously killed off from a radio soap opera, popular pressure forces the producers to bring him back. Tony Hancock insists that if he comes back, he be allowed to write his own scripts. The next episode features the rest of the cast walking across a field before falling down an abandoned mineshaft.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Tony's middle names are Aloysius St John.note 
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Andrée Melly put on a French accent, because Tony Hancock was a Francophile in real life.
  • The Fifties: Being a British show, though, it's quite realistic rather than a Stepford suburban nightmare.
  • Flanderization:
    • Averted with Sid James, who goes from being an Honest John in the radio series to a Deadpan Snarker on TV.
    • The plots themselves became less flanderized as the series progressed; changing from the complicated schemes of the radio series to simple character studies in the TV series (Sid & Tony take a train, Sid & Tony take bus ride, Tony goes to give blood).
    • Played straight in the radio series with Bill Kerr, who became more simple-minded and childlike with each series.
  • Funny Foreigner: Bill Kerr "lately of Wagga Wagga", and the (fake) French girl Andrée Melly.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • Tony sees one - or, rather, two - advantages to the height difference between himself and Jane Russell:
      Tony: This could be the only chance I'll ever have to dance with Jane Russell!
      Bill: A little shrimp like you? She'd be head and shoulders above you.
      Tony: I know.
    • In 'The Blood Donor'.
      The Nurse Have you had any of these diseases?
      Tony: (Reads the list and looks insulted.) No, I have not and especially not that one!
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In 'A Sunday Afternoon At Home', Tony compares the excitement of a Sunday afternoon 'on the Continent' with a boring old English Sunday afternoon, where everything's shut. Naturally, this leads him to describe continental Europe in the most positive terms, where 'everything's gay! Not over here [Britain].'
  • Honest John's Dealership: Sid James in the radio version.
  • In-Series Nickname: Bill calls Tony 'Tub', though no-one else does.
  • Iron Butt Monkey: Bill is on the receiving end of all sorts of slapstick abuse in the radio series, and yet is always back for more with an innocent smile on his face in the next episode.
  • Killed Off for Real: 'The Bowmans' again.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Tony loves the sound of his own voice and often speaks with great authority on almost any subject you'd care to name... and, in so doing, displays an almost complete lack of knowledge of said subject.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    Gangster: One false move and the girl's dead!
    Moira: Might as well be, I've had nothing to say for the last few minutes.
  • Lethal Chef: Miss Pugh, at least according to Tony:
    Tony: I thought my mother was a bad cook, but at least 'er gravy moved about a bit!
  • Locked in a Room: 'The Lift' - of course, it's all Tony's fault as usual.
  • Lost In Transmission: 'The Radio Ham'.
  • Negative Continuity: Several radio episodes ended with Tony (and sometimes Sid and / or Bill) being killed or sentenced to a long stint in prison, or with Tony's house razed to the ground. By the next episode, everything was back to "normal".
  • New Job as the Plot Demands:
    • Although the various characters for whom Kenneth Williams used the "Snide" voice in the radio series were never explicitly said to be the same person, Tony tended to react as though he had had unpleasant previous encounters with them in other jobs.
    • Sid is a more straightforward example, overlapping with Honest John's Dealership. In most episodes, his job is whatever allows him to "help" Tony's latest Zany Scheme by conning him out of the contents of his bank account or duping him into helping his other shady enterprises.
    • Tony as well, playing a defense lawyer in an episode of the third series.
  • Odd Couple: Lord knows why Tony puts up with Sid. Lord knows why Sid puts up with Tony. Probably only because sharing the rent is cheaper and nobody else would put up with either of them.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In 'The Reunion', all of Hancock's World War II army chums all have forties-style nicknames ('Chalky' White etc.).
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In the radio version of "The Emigrant", Tony shows up at Australia House to ask about emigrating, and introduces himself to the desk clerk with a speech packed with Aussie slang and cultural references (most of which he misuses for comic effect). He tries to affect an accent to match, but he ends up sounding far more Brummy than Aussie, and eventually breaks character and laughs, "Straight from Birmingham!"
  • Overly Long Gag: The first radio episode opens with very slow typing sounds, followed by:
    Tony: Might help if you took the gloves off...
    Bill: My hands are cold. Anyway, what's wrong with typing in gloves? I like typing in gloves. Lots of people type in gloves.
    Hancock: Not in boxing gloves.
  • Pressure Sensitive Interface: 'The Lift'.
  • Quirky Household
  • Rogue Juror: Thanks to Sid finding out that they'll get paid by the day and Tony thinking the accused has a nice face. The episode is even called "12 Angry Men".
  • Running Gag: A number of episodes featured scripts with running gags built into them. For example, in the radio version of "The Emigrant", Tony presents himself at each embassy he visits with a speech packed with slang terms from and references to the country to which he hopes to emigrate, delivered in an attempt at the appropriate accent - to desk clerks who invariably turn out to be British. His conversations with them, which go from investigating his "references" (Bill's family, who are all wanted criminals) to just saying his name to not even getting as far as his name, always end with the desk clerks asking "Have you tried [other country]?" until they name a country he hasn't tried.
  • Running Time in the Title: It was indeed half an hour. There was also a TV special called "Hancock's Forty-Three Minutes". The last season was reduced to 25 minutes and renamed Hancock (as we said, not to be confused with...).
  • Sampling: Jet Set Radio, of all things. The "Will you stop playing with that radio of yours? I'm trying to get to sleep!" in Let Mom Sleep is from Hancock's Half Hour. It was in a George Michael song, too.
  • Sitcom Character Archetypes: Tony is The Dork and Sid is The Wisecracker.
  • Something That Begins with "Boring": 'The Train Journey'. Tony and Sid's fellow passengers are not amused...
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation: The radio show started in 1954, and the TV series in 1956. From 1956 to 1959 the two versions ran simultaneously. Also screen to sound, since four of the TV episodes were adapted for LP records and recorded in front of audiences, just like the radio episodes except without the BBC's involvement.
  • Studio Audience
  • Vinyl Shatters: After his ultimately unsuccessful search for the last page of Lady Don't Fall Backwards in "The Missing Page", Tony forsakes books and decides to listen to a nice gramophone record instead, sending Sid out in search of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Sid returns to say he couldn't find it, and instead picked up a copy of Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. The unamused Tony says "I know how this one's going to end!" and smashes the record over Sid's head.
  • With Friends Like These...:
    • In the radio series and some of the early television series, Sid would frequently exploit or manipulate Tony for personal gain, such as by tricking him into stealing valuable goods, selling him (and Bill) into the French Foreign Legion, or conspiring to have his house knocked down to build a used car lot on the land.
    • For his part, Tony was often comically cruel to Bill, making him do such dangerous tasks as lying in the road to prevent his car from being towed or acting as a human shield in case an unexploded bomb should go off. Nevertheless, Bill still considered "Tub" a friend.
  • You Say Tomato:
    • In one episode where Tony was planning to emigrate, he was continually mispronouncing Canada (he said it as if it rhymed with Grenada) despite everyone's attempts to correct him.
    • In another episode when Hancock is complaining to a policeman (Williams) about kids vandalising his car, the following exchance occurs:
      Policeman Why don't you put it in a garage? (GA-rij)
      Hancock I have not got... a garage. (guh-RAHJ)
    • In fact Hancock is constantly affecting a higher-class accent and associated pronunciations than his native one, then dropping back into the vernacular, as his pomposity ebbs and flows. Often evident when asked to spell his name - "Haytch-hay-hen, cee-ho, cee-kay".
  • Zany Scheme

Alternative Title(s):

Hancocks Half Hour