Lost Hancocks found

Forgotten Tony Hancock scripts revived for Wolverhampton performance.

Two long-lost Tony Hancock radio scripts from the 1950s receive their belated premiere in Wolverhampton this November.

Billed as The Lost Hancocks, the much-anticipated performances take place at The Light House Media Centre on Saturday 4h November.

The story behind the remarkable scripts begins in 1952 when West Bromwich-born comedy writer Larry Stephens convinced the BBC to let him create a new comedy series expressly for his friend, rising radio star Tony Hancock – then best known as a supporting player.

Entitled Vacant Lot, Stephens’ series focused on life in the dull faded fictional seaside town of Churdley Bay where the blundering, slightly pompous and barely tolerated Hancock – a local auctioneer and wannabe councillor – aspires to better his lot.

Despite featuring a supporting cast of colourful characters (and with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Carry On’s Kenneth Connor all mooted for roles), Vacant Lot was never recorded, and the scripts lay buried in the BBC archives for over sixty years.

“As very little of his early work has survived, so much of what people know about Hancock is based almost solely on the later Hancock’s Half Hour radio and TV series,” explains show producer Dave Freak, whose Birmingham Comedy Festival company is staging the production. “But here we get an all too rare glimpse of a pre-superstar Hancock, in what would have been his first major leading role.”

An unsung comedy hero of 1950s, Larry Stephens wrote much of Hancock’s stage material as well as sketches for his ATV series, The Tony Hancock Show. Writing on his own, and with such future legends as Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, he also penned material for Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Bernard Braden, Dickie Valentine, Jon Pertwee, Graham Stark and Arthur Askey. A key figure in the development and success of The Goon Show, he went on to work for TV hit The Army Game before dying suddenly in 1959, aged just 35.

A giant of post-war British comedy, Tony Hancock was born in Hall Green, Birmingham, in 1924, and raised in Bournemouth. Moving from stage to radio, he appeared regularly in such popular BBC series as Workers’ Playtime, Variety Bandbox, Educating Archie and Calling All Forces, which featured material by young writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

The duo would go on to pen the seminal Hancock’s Half-Hour, which crossed over to TV in 1956 and firmly established the self-important self-righteous Hancock character. But attempts to work with other writers and change direction during the sixties largely failed, and Hancock committed suicide in Australia in 1968.

With a full cast (including James Hurn from Dead Ringers and Janice Connolly), The Lost Hancocks: Vacant Lot debuts at The Light House Media Centre, Wolverhampton, on Saturday 4th November. Performances are at 2pm and 7pm. A Q&A with the cast and project team, including Julie Warren, biographer (and cousin) of Larry Stephens, is at 3.30pm followed by a rare screening of Hancock’s final film, the seaside-set The Punch And Judy Man, at 4.40pm.

Details/ tickets: www.bhamcomfest.co.uk/losthancocks.htm