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Saturday, 6 January 2018

Harry Secombe who replaced Tony Hancock is replaced by Andrew Secombe as the BBC recreate the behind the scenes drama of the Missing Hancock scripts.

I've written several times of  my love of legendary comedian, Tony Hancock - you can find Hancock related posts HERE and HERE. So I was cautious a few years back when I heard that the BBC were going to re-record some of the missing shows from their archives with a new cast - I need not have worried  - Actor, Kevin McNally does a remarkable job reinventing Hancock. So good that if you played these episodes to someone they'd never know it wasn't Hancock they were listening to. In fact the entire cast have done an amazing job - Kevin Eldon sounds exactly like Bill Kerr,  Robin Sabastian is camply spot on as Kenneth Williams and whilst, Simon Greenall may have not quite nailed Sid James' distinctive smoky voice he does at least get his trademark laugh. And of course the scripts are pure Galton and Simpson.

When I heard the first series of these recreated episodes I loved them - I now own most of them as audiobook thanks to the wonderful service that is Audible . The background on the episodes is that the BBC recorded 103 episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, recognised by many as the first sitcom, for the BBC Light Service, but 20 of these episodes were wiped. For many years the scripts for these missing episodes were thought to have been destroyed but when the scripts were re-discovered the BBC decided to recreate the episodes - there is, after all, still a massive audience for the genius of Galton and Simpson's Hancock's Half Hour.

Now just over Christmas I caught the third season, of The Missing Hancocks and it is now that they get totally surreal. Back in 1955 when the original episodes were recorded, Tony Hancock was having a dispute over the fact that the recording of his successful radio series was clashing with his lucrative theatre work. Hancock felt he was getting pressure from both sides - the BBC and his theatre producer. Hancock's response to this was to vanish - he buggered off to Rome without telling anyone. The BBC were in trouble - Hancock was a hugely successful radio series, and rather than cancel they brought in Welsh comedian, Harry Secombe, famed for among other things, his work on The Goon Show. In the end Secombe did three episodes - A Trip to France,  The Crown Jewels and The Racehorse - so successful was Secombe that the BBC had plans to change the name of the series to, Secombe's Half Hour should Tony Hancock fail to return. However, Hancock did return and the first episode of his return saw him and Bill Kerr visiting Swansea to thank Secombe for standing in.

Like father like son - Harry and Andrew Secombe
The story of Hancock vanishing is interesting - when producer, Dennis Main Wilson went to the Adelphi Theatre to give Hancock the first script for the second series of the sitcom, which was due to be recorded that weekend he was told he wasn't there, had vanished. Frantic telephone calls to Tony's wife and agent failed to reveal the whereabouts of the star. Main Wilson then went around all the bars Hancock was known to frequent but he wasn't found. Shortly afterwards Main Wilson received a surprise telephone call from Chief Superintendent Ginger Rose of Scotland Yard - the policeman had tickets to attend the recording of the shows and he wanted to know what the star of the show was doing on a plane to Rome. Main Wilson felt that the recordings would have to be cancelled but the BBC said they would go ahead with a replacement. Welsh clown, Harry Secombe was drafted in and recorded his episodes directly following recordings of Goon Show Episodes.

Now when the BBC came to record these episodes as part of The Missing Hancock series they could have simply done them with Kevin McNally playing Hancock himself, but instead they opted to re-create them as faithfully as possible and drafted in Andrew Secombe to play his father's part. In fact in the fourth of the Secombe episodes Andrew is actually playing his father rather than his father's version of the Hancock character,  as Kevin McNally's Hancock come to Swansea to thank him for his involvement.

"These programmes have long been a source of curiosity among the family, developing an almost mythic quality - indeed I had no idea that the scripts still existed until I got the call from Neil Pearson! I'm thrilled to be a part of the very talented team bringing these episodes of a much-loved series back to life. Who'd have thought taking over the family business could be such fun?" Andrew Secombe.

The episodes can be heard on the BBC website.

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