Cursed? Not them

Writers deny 'tears of a clown' myth

Veteran comedy writers Alan Galton and Ray Simpson have poured scorn on the idea that great comedians must be ‘cursed’ with turbulent private lives.

They spoke out as BBC Four embarks on a series of dramas about the off-stage misery of Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Hughie Green and Steptoe and Son stars Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell.

Galton and Simpson wrote Steptoe and Son, all Hancock’s output for a decade and several series for Frankie Howerd, so writing in today’s Sunday Times, they joked: “’One cannot but wonder, “Did we drive them to it?”’

But they added: ‘We are both very suspicious of the concept that underneath the motley all comedians are miserable bastards. In our experience the most miserable comics were the rotten ones and thus had plenty to be miserable about.

‘For instance Frankie Howerd, off stage, providing he was talking about himself, was the happiest man you could meet. Wonderful company and a genuinely funny man, which is all that matters.

‘Tony Hancock was a slightly different kettle of fish. The public conception of him is of a man who makes Jack Dee look like the Laughing Policeman. This is totally at odds with our experience. Firstly, he was the greatest laugher you could imagine. If something tickled him in a read-through he would collapse in hysterics and roll around on the floor clutching his sides helplessly.

‘Tony was a joy to work with. His interpretation and timing of a joke were always nigh perfect. His only problem was learning the lines.’

Of Steptoe and Son, they said: ‘We were unaware of any conflict between the actors save from the occasional gritting of Wilfrid's false teeth when Harry had the perceived audacity to give him a little direction. At all other times they were the acme of professionalism.’

And the duo said of the BBC Four biographies: ‘They are all about parts of [the comedians’] lives to which we were not privy, so as to the content we cannot possibly comment. They are all dead now so neither can they. Suffice to say that they all left a great body of work behind them, which in the final analysis is the only thing that matters.’

BBC Four's Curse of Comedy season begins on March 19.

Published: 9 Mar 2008

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