Tony Hancock and The Missing Page
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.