Hancock's Half Hour
The Very Best Episodes - Volume 2

Starring: Tony Hancock, Sid James, Bill Kerr, Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques
BBC Audio
RRP: 12.99
ISBN 0 563 50408 0
Available 06 March 2006

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson have chosen another selection of favourite episodes from the classic radio series, and written an introductory sleeve note to explain just why they love each one so much. Episodes include The Conjurer, Cyrano de Hancock, The Diary and The Impersonator...

I always smile when I see a "best of" compilation that proudly displays the words "volume 2". This usually means that the collection is not as good as "volume 1", as all the best episodes have already been used. However, in the case of Hancock's Half Hour, there are very few poor episodes and the best and worst of the episodes are all down to personal taste anyway. These episodes have been chosen by the show's original writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, so at least you get a selection of episodes that the writers feel are amongst the best.

The Conjurer is the earliest recording in this collection and was originally broadcast on 19 February 1956. Back then the Hancock/James relationship was simple. Sid was an out and out crook and Hancock was an out and out mug. In this episode Hancock decides to become a magician in order to keep the wolf from the door. His first gig sees him being hired by Sid to give a performance at Dartmoor Prison. Little does Hancock suspect that he is part of an escape plan.

There are some fantastic moments in this show, including Kenneth Williams as the man who heckles Hancock's act; and Hancock laughing at the news that there have been several prison breakouts that have used the magician's act to do a runner.

Cyrano de Hancock was first broadcast on 02 December 1956 and sees James acting suspiciously odd. It transpires that he is in love with miss Pugh, Hancock's secretary. Pugh isn't aware that James is infatuated with her and when Hancock tries to act as matchmaker he inadvertently asks her to marry him. Pugh says yes and Hancock has to talk his way out of the impending wedding, as well as convince James that he is not trying to steal his woman.

Comedy highlights in this episode include Hancock making James go through a ceremony that basically makes him give his word he won't steal from Hancock while in his house; Sid's lovesick explanations about how he has fallen for the woman of his dreams; and Hancock's list of excuses as to why he can't marry his secretary.

The Diary was originally broadcast on 30 December 1965 and sees Hancock revealing that he has been keeping a diary. Sadly, the contents are not exciting as Hancock would have everyone believe. The rest of the episode is divided into three mini tales as Hancock daydreams about how his life could have turned out if only he'd followed another path. He imagines what it would have been like if he'd become a surgeon, lion tamer and test pilot.

While personally I wouldn't put this in my top list of Hancock episodes, it's interesting in as much as it strays from the normal formula. Highlights include hearing how Bill Kerr received his war wound; Hancock performing an operation in record time; and Williams, as an airfield mechanic, accidentally tagging along with Hancock during the test flight of a new plane.

The Impersonator was first aired on 29 December 1959 and was based on the true story of thespian Alistair Sim who attempted to sue a company for employing a voice actor to mimic his voice for a TV commercial. The build up to this episode is painfully slow. There is a huge section that establishes Hancock as a serious theatre actor which is redundant as the advertisement that parodies Hancock relies on the fact that people know Hancock from Hancock's Half Hour. However, the theatre heckling is amusing.

This episode is by far the least entertaining. It's just one long joke - that's not even that funny in the first place. It's a little like a shaggy dog story where you already know the punchline.

Someone should have checked the sleeve notes a little more thoroughly for this release as, depending on which page you read, The Diary was either first broadcast on the 10 or 30 December 1965.

To be honest though, all four episodes are entertaining in their own right, and are as funny today as they were when they were originally broadcast over 40 years ago. Go on, treat yourself to a slice of classic comedy.

Pete Boomer

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