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Tony Hancock [Mar. 27th, 2008|10:01 am]
Tony Grist
Sometime in the mid to late 50s (I had hoped to pinpoint the year but I can't) my grandmother took me to watch a revival of the 1951 film Lorna Doone, with Richard Greene and Barbara Hale. We were sitting in this small, three-quarters empty cinema in a small town in Kent on a weekday afternoon and there was this little group of middle-aged men in the seats across the aisle from us. We compared notes afterwards and my grandmother was convinced one of them was Bill Kerr- the tall Australian actor who sometimes worked with Tony Hancock- and I was equally sure that one of his smaller, dumpier companions was Hancock himself.

Question: Would Hancock- huge star that he was- have wasted an afternoon watching a silly B movie in a provincial fleapit?
 
Answer: Nothing more likely. He was probably waiting for the pubs to open- and he always had the air- onscreen and off- of a man who didn't know how to enjoy himself.

I loved Tony Hancock. His half hour TV show- first with Sid James, then without- was the funniest thing ever. I'm a little nervous of revisiting it now- but I firmly believe I wouldn't be disappointed if I did.

Last week's TV drama about Harry H. Corbett and Wilfred Brambell (who,as Steptoe and Son, inherited the writers Hancock sacked) was little better than grave-robbing- and I expected the follow-up film about Hancock's affair with Joan le Mesurier,  wife of the beloved character actor, to be more of the same.  In fact it was brilliant- a  beautifully written, painful, little film about  alcoholism, thwarted genius and mad, crazy love- which would have worked just as well if the characters had been called X,Y and Z.  Conclusion; biopics mostly suck, but they don't have to.  Ken Stott approached Hancock as an actor not an impressionist- the likeness was rudimentary, but the performance full of emotional truth. Alex Jennings did the same for Le Mesurier. Maxime Peake, unburdened by expectations of how her character should look and sound, was equally true and good. 

Hancock was 44 when he killed himself. His career was on the slide and he was filming a new series Down Under in an attempt to revive it. The three shows he completed, before finally reaching for the booze and pills, are said to be feeble, but has anyone actually seen them? He left a couple of suicide notes. The first-  which is famous and quoted all over- says, "things just went wrong too many times". The second- according to the film (I haven't been able to confirm this)- was addressed to his mother and contained the words, "the soul is immortal...."
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