The bootlegger who saved Hancock

Lost episodes to be released on CD

Six lost episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, long destroyed by the BBC, have been recovered thanks to a fan who recorded the shows off the TV.

The episodes were first aired 50 years ago, but thought lost forever when the BBC wiped the master copies so they could reuse the expensive tape and save on storage space.

But although they might never be seen again, fans will get the chance to hear them – thanks to a bootlegger who made a DIY sound recording, long before the days of videos.

Hancock was one of the biggest casualties of the BBC policy. His hugely popular radio sitcom transferred to television in 1956 – and the entire first series and all but one episode of the second – have been lost.

The new finds come from the fourth season, which aired in 1959.

Writer Alan Simpson said: ‘Nobody really thought that these things had a life after the immediate. It never even occurred to us that 50 years later there would be people wanting to buy them. We just wrote them for there and then.’

The BBC will release four of the episodes on two CDs and as a download next month, although the sound quality on the other two episodes is thought to be too poor to be made commercially available.

The episodes to be released are Horror Serial, the Hitchcock parody The Wrong Man, The Beauty Contest, and in The Flight of the Red Shadow, in which Hancock tries to pass himself off as the Maharaja of Renjipur. Underpaid! Or, Grandad's SOS and Matrimony Almost may not be put out on CD.

Some of the lost episodes feature writers Galton and Simpson in walk-on parts as well as stars like John Le Mesurier, Arthur Mullard, Rolf Harris.

The shows originally went out live, from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London.

Click here to read Anthony Harvison's Chortle piece about the lost episodes from earlier this year.

Click here to pre-order The Flight of the Red Shadow and The Wrong Man, or here for Horror Serial and The Beauty Contest.

Published: 15 Jun 2009

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