R.I.P. Alan Simpson, one of the greats

Hancock's Half Hour - Twelve Angry Men

that wrote two of the greats.

Sad news that writer Alan Simpson has died, aged 87, who along with Ray Galton wrote two of the greatest comedies of all time, “Hancock’s Half Hour” and “Steptoe and Son”.

Spike Milligan is one godfather of British comedy, of the surreal, out of this world comedy. Galton & Simpson were the godfathers of the real world comedy. The sitcom.

Comedy shows in the good old days of rickets and rationing and TB sanitariums, on radio of course, all followed the same pattern that of a variety show. The star of the show would come on doing a bit of a turn with his straight man while saying who else would be on. There’s be a song from some twee group, a bit of patter – gags – and a sketch or two.

A couple of shows had already gone with the now standard sitcom formula but it’s “Hancock’s Half Hour” that’s really remembered.

The everyday happenings of Anthony Aloysius St. John Hancock of 23 the Railway Cuttings in East Cheam, were listened to by millions.

With his first girlfriend Moira Lister, their first meeting him a waiter, she a customer with an older man companion, Hancock speaks French, she replies fluently with a long speech, Hancock replies “and the same for the gentleman?”. Lister would make way for Andrée Melly in the second, sadly most of which is lost, series. Bill Kerr, starting out as the intelligent sidekick to the dim Hancock, later turning to a real buffoon.

And Sid James, who pretty much played the same character throughout. Now they may not have invented the sitcom but did they invent Sid James. Yes he’d played some rough and tumble characters before but the Hancock Sid James, always on the fiddle, became the real Sid James in many an eye.

Great from the off it probably hit it’s peak from series 4, when Hattie Jacques joined as Hancock’s secretary, Griselda Pugh, or Grizzly. When Hancock lists the letters after his name – made up of course – she likes the sound of Cantab, he replies Oxon would be more fitting.

Along with Kenneth Williams as Snide – No, stop messing about! Go on, be a devil! Ooh, you are rotten.

By now Simpson had stopped appearing uncredited in the story as an aside with Hancock. Hancock, away from the rest of the cast “Well, it’s not the first time I’ve…” done what ever the story was about, Simpson would reply “No, I didn’t think it was” and Hancock would be off on a story of his daring do.

The show ran on radio from 1954 to 1960, it ran on TV from ’56 to ’61. All in all 160 episode written by just the pair of them. The radio show is still repeated on BBC Radio 4 extra on a Wednesday, it’s pretty much the only decent comedy the Beeb put on these days.

Don’t know how many times I’ve heard each episode but I still record them, know ’em off by heart by now. Much like their next hit.

Steptoe and Son, is shown daily on the Drama Channel, yup seen ’em plenty of times, know what’s coming, still laugh.

Again they changed the way things were done with sitcoms. Most before and even after were twee little middle class, 2.4 kids, family affairs. None were as grubby, fifthly, vicious, working class, hell underclass as Steptoe.

Harold the social climbing socialist, always thwarted in his attempts to better himself, or get a bird, by his Tory dad. The father that beats him at everything from Monopoly to Scrabble and badminton – could have included snooker if the old man hadn’t thrown the game – and well… life in general.

So many classic episodes from Leonard Rossiter selling them the lead from their own roof, to him appearing as an escaped convict mentally shackled to an old hindrance much like Harold and Albert, who though free are in a much worse situation. To Harold’s numerous attempts to get away from it all for a bit of current bun and crumpet. “Obergurgl”.

58 episodes the pair wrote, shown between 1962 and 1974, with record audiences, a couple of classic Christmas specials and two cracking films. I don’t care what any listings says when they give ’em a couple of stars out of five, like the Porridge film, I’ll watch the two Steptoe films whenever they’re on.

A Bombay Shitehawk would have left more on it. Still one of the great movie quotes.

And one of the great scenes in British comedy above…

Of course in their wisdom the BBC lost a number of episodes of both Hancock and Steptoe.

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