Iconic Comedian

Header Photo: Icon and Iconography. The iconic photo of Tony Hancock. If you asked people to remember Hancock in their mind's eye then I'm sure it is this shot they'd immediately think of when they recall him.
© BBC/Sportsphoto/Allstar, 2014.

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Tony Hancock ~ Biography (1924 - 1968)

A tubby, hangdog British comedian in morose, Eeyore-like characterisations, who became enormously popular on radio and TV before discarding writers and co-stars alike and failing in films.

Grouchy and bag-eyed, and always heading for a fall with his head in the clouds, Hancock is regarded by many as the greatest radio and television comedian of his day from any country.

Born in Birmingham to a hotelier and part-time entertainer who died when he was still a boy, Hancock had already tried stand-up comedy at 16 and made his first radio broadcast in 1941.

During wartime service with the RAF, he worked in ENSA concert parties and gang shows. On one of these, Hancock met Graham Stark with whom he would later co-star in situation comedy routines that foreshadowed the advent of the classic Hancock's Half Hour. After early post-war struggles he got a job as a comedian at the Windmill Theatre. Radio bookings began to come in from 1949. His characterisation of a long-suffering Scoutmaster in Happy-Go-Lucky (Stark and Bill Kerr, both to be associated with him, were among the Scouts) was popular, as was his term as tutor to the ventriloquist's dummy Archie Andrews in Educating Archie, when his exasperated 'Flippin' kids' became a nationally repeated catchphrase.

Two years later, in 1953, Hancock became the resident comedian on radio's All-Star Bill, working again with Stark and, for the first time, writers Ray Gallon and Alan Simpson, who would create his 'character' and furnish him with all his best material. Egocentric and depressive, Hancock worried to an obsessive degree about relying too much on fellow performers. So Stark was missing when the first series of Hancock's Half Hour began in 1954 featuring a talented cast that included Sidney James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams and Bill Kerr. It soon took off, more than can be said for Hancock's first film appearance, as a bandmaster in a deadly army comedy, Orders Are Orders. Later Hancock would tell of going to a cinema to see the film and asking if they had a seat in the circle. He was told he could have the first 15 rows.

By great radio comedy acting, Hancock created a character of grandiose ambitions and huge cynicism, rooked by everyone and loved by no-one. This creation, frequently pictured in Homburg hat and astrakhan coat, wearing a predictably gloomy expression, was described by Galon and Simpson as 'a cunning, high-powered mug'. The character of Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock III was rude, arrogant, stubborn, childish and pompous — and much-loved by millions of listeners. The show went on until 1959 and ran on television from 1956, though Kerr, Williams and Jacques were phased out. The TV programmes, many of them two-handers for James and Hancock, were equally popular and became much-repeated classics.

In 1960, at Hancock's insistence, James was dropped and, still scripted by Gallon and Simpson, he went solo. Despite increasing dependence on alcohol, and often having to read his lines from cue cards, he turned out some wonderful half-hours, including The Blood Donor, The Bowmans and The Radio Ham. There was another film, The Rebel, also written by Gallon and Simpson, casting Hancock as a London clerk who becomes an artist in Paris, but it was only partly successful (although today it is regarded as somethng of a cult movie and one of its biggest fans is John Lydon, aka Johny Rotten. I think if my mind serves me right he owns some of the paintings from the film).

Actually, on revisiting The Rebel recently I'd like to revise that and say it's the work of absolute genius! If it was deemed 'partialy successful' at the time then that says more about the viewer/reviewer than the film. I don't know, perhaps it's one of those films you find better or funnier as you get older as I found it like a treasure trove of comedy. I haven't laughed out loud so many times as I did with this film. I mean, this gag, for example, must of passed me by before and now I find it hysterical: when Josey (Nanette Newman) informs him 'all my friends are existentialists' and he replies 'it's company' or words to that effect it made me laugh. Not so much the words but the way Hancock said them. You've got to see it.

What's interesting about its observations on the art world is how true they are. For example, can you imagine if the 'rubbish' paintings (actually I loved the childlike quality of the work) were painted by Hancock and came on the market today how much they would be worth. Not for the quality but because they emanated from or were part of a genius. There is no quality control in art nor should there be.

    Direct link: The Rebel available @ amazon.co.uk. Aside from the brilliance of Hancock the Dvd is worth the price alone to see the incomparable Oliver Reed hamming it up in an early role.

Galton and Simpson had partially written several other film ideas when Hancock decided not to work with them again, in films or TV. Instead, he did The Punch and Judy Man, a melancholy film comedy which cast him as a seaside entertainer with a nagging wife. It was too downbeat for his public, who stayed away in droves.

That was really the end, although there was an abysmal TV series, Hancock's, and three episodes of a comedy series made in Australia, where he committed suicide with a combination of alcohol and pills. Like many other comedians, he had not known when the pinnacle of achievement had been reached.

I still think Hancock is underrated to this day. Yes, people speak fondly of him and the Blood Donor, and some say how great he was but he was better than that. He is up there with a Chaplin or Keaton.

Put simply, he was funny. Very, very funny.

Tony Hancock
Tony Hancock

Many Tony Hancock official prints are available at Allposters.com

Tony Hancock Dvds available @ amazon.com.

Tony Hancock ~ Gallery

You won't be surprised to know but the company with the most varied of Tony Hancock repro. film posters and photos is amazon. There are a vast array of his posters there - far, far more than here.

They come in various sizes and usually work out to be less than $10 per poster which I don't think is too bad. You get an unusual and beautiful item to hang on your walls and I bet your friends won't have it.

Here, occasionally, you will find an original poster from the time of the release of the movie. They are obviously far more expensive but if you have the money they are worth it as they are works of art in their own right.

Tony Hancock prints available @ amazon.com.


Tony Hancock: Biography >> Gallery >> Sid James >> >> Vol. 2 >> Vol. 3 >> Vol. 4 >> The Tony Hancock BBC Collection >> Tony Hancock autographs, dvds, photographs, dvds and more @ ebay.co.uk (direct link to signed items) - just checked and a bigger selection than I have seen everywhere else

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