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Tony Hancock and The Missing Page

November 8, 2010

I’m currently tweaking a manuscript I’m about to submit, so I haven’t had much time for blogging. However, I would like to share something I’ve recently rediscovered via YouTube. When I was a kid, my parents owned several videotapes of the British comedian Tony Hancock’s classic sitcom Hancock’s Half Hour. As a child, I never thought an old black and white comedy show would appeal to me, but one day I put one into the VCR and watched a few episodes such as ‘The Blood Donor’, ‘The Two Murderers’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men’. I was immediately hooked. There was something incredibly funny, but also touching and sad about the buffoonish and pompous Hancock. Playing an exaggerated version of himself, and aided by wonderful scripts by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Hancock is always desperate for some kind of artistic or establishment recognition but is constantly frustrated or upstaged by his laid-back friend and lodger Sid James.

As this blog is about crime fiction, I’d like to refer you to one of the very best episodes, ‘The Missing Page’ from 1960. The episode begins with Hancock at his local library declaring to the librarian that he has read almost every book they have in stock. He manages to get a hold of a copy of the pulp thriller, Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto (the only other book he wants to read, Lolita, is always out on loan). Hancock is gripped by the mystery whodunnit featuring suave New York Detective Johnny Oxford, but to his horror when he gets to the end of the book he discovers the last page is missing, along with Johnny Oxford’s unveiling of the murderer! It’s up to Hancock and Sid James to solve the mystery of Lady Don’t Fall Backwards, but will they prove as good at detective work as Johnny Oxford? You can watch a clip from ‘The Missing Page’ below, and the entire episode is available for viewing on the WorldofTonyHancock YouTube page. In my opinion, fifty years after it was first broadcast the humour still holds up well. And unlike many spoofs of crime fiction, it actually captures the joy of reading a crime novel and playing armchair detective:

The real life Tony Hancock was a sad and tragic figure. He brought laughter and joy to millions of people and deserves his reputation as one of Britain’s best post-war comedians, but he was also self-destructive and betrayed every friend and colleague he had. He committed suicide at the age of forty-four, an alcoholic and celebrity exile living in Australia. I’d recommend Cliff Goodwin’s biography When the Wind Changed: The Life and Death of Tony Hancock (2000) as a fairly comprehensive and heartbreaking account of his life and demise.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2010 2:10 pm

    This is my favourite episode of Hancock! I love the way he describes Johnny Oxford’ method: “New York is now a cleaner place to live in.”

    Another cherished moment, on Darcy Sarto’s doorstep: “Put that pen down, we know you’re in there!”

    • Steve Powell permalink*
      November 22, 2010 4:59 pm

      Thanks Nicolas,

      It’s my favourite too! I also love his imitation of Johnny Oxford, ‘Come on man, you’re cooking with gas now!” which he translates as “I believe it’s a phrase employed when one is being favourably impressed by the prowess of another chap.”

      And on Darcy Sarto’s doorstep, “Dead. The Fool!”

      Steve

      • November 22, 2010 5:03 pm

        Yeah, I think the “prowess of another chap” line is my favourite line of the episode! Hugh Lloyd’s great as the librarian too.

  2. March 8, 2012 9:35 pm

    I love love love Hancock and this is a terrific episode. You might also want to recommend Joan Le Mesurier’s autobiography detailing (among other things) her relationships with John Le Mesurier and Tony Hancock (who had been best friends) which is also called — wait for it! — Lady Don’t Fall Backwards. Wonderful!

  3. Glenn Cambray permalink
    January 23, 2013 12:35 pm

    Tony Hancock, was incomparable in his ability to intepret a script. He had a phenomenal capacity to apply different intonation to different lines. I think leonard Rossister occupies the same place as far as the T.V sitcom goes. This edition of the missing page was a later T.V version of the original radio show and it’s the radio shows where Hancocks true genius shines through. Galton and Simpson were writers of genius who knew how to use the English langauge to make people laugh. They summed up Hancock perfectly and no one can really add too much to their description of Hancock’s genius which runs as follows:’With his impeccable timing and brilliantly sublte shifts of intonation he could creat comic sound pictures which bore the unmistakable hallmark of a genius”.I got to Hancock through my father and his radio shows overtime have become ” closer to me than my jugular vein’,it’s like I know them so well that I dont even have to listen to them anymore. As much as I love Hancock I always felt that he looked a bit lost on his T’V shows and as I said you have to listen to the original radio broadcasts to really appreciate the essence of his genius and appreciate how great he was.

    • January 23, 2013 7:14 pm

      Glenn,

      Thanks for commenting. I agree that Hancock was a brilliant comic performer on radio, although I don’t think his television performances were in any way inferior. I use to own several of the radio episodes. I ordered them through the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society when I was a member. Alas, I haven’t got them anymore but I remember them fondly. The episode ‘Sunday Afternoon at Home’ was a work of comic genius. Just a perfect combination of acting and direction and very British in its humour.

      Steve

  4. Randal Williams permalink
    August 12, 2013 7:55 am

    I dont think he was exiled in Australia He came out to do a series of TV commercials ( I think he needed the money) and either accidentally or deliberately overdosed on alcohol and pills in a Sydeny Hotel

    • August 12, 2013 8:17 am

      In the late sixties it was considered a career low for an entertainer to move to Australia because he couldn’t find work in the UK. It’s certainly not that way any more. It was a deliberate overdose I believe. He left a note saying ‘Things seemed to go wrong too many times’.Perhaps he wanted to be found before the pills kicked in. It was a desperately sad end to a much-loved entertainer.

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