Lost Sitcoms: Hancock's Half Hour | TV review by Steve Bennett © BBC

Lost Sitcoms: Hancock's Half Hour

Note: This review is from 2016

TV review by Steve Bennett

Of all the sitcoms dusted down for the BBC’s Landmark Sitcom season, Hancock's Half Hour has got the most experience behind it.

Kevin McNally has been playing the Lad Himself for the past couple of years – ever since actor and rare book collector Neil Pearson unearthed original scripts from wiped radio episodes, and persuaded the BBC to re-record them – and has the lugubrious comedian down to a T.

This episode, The New Neighbour, originally aired on TV in 1957, based on a radio show from two years earlier. Yet more than 50 years on, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s script still zings.

It is a classic Hancock premise, the inveterate snob trying to size up the social status of the chap who’s moved in next door, based only on the items the removal men bring in. As he twitches the curtain, binoculars at the ready, he judgmentally comments on how Railway Cuttings, is the 'nosiest street in the district’, impervious to his hypocrisy.

He’s aided in his endeavour by Katy Wix – who perfectly encapsulates the matronly spirit of Hattie Jacques – and his other neighbour John Vere, played by Kevin Eldon. Vere replaced Hancock regular Bill Kerr when the show transferred from radio, but the scarcity of original TV recordings means he’s less familiar.

Not a statement you could make about the unique Kenneth Williams. Robin Sebastian reprises this role, with all the flared-nostril histrionics of the original, deploying that trademark ‘snide’ delivery both as an estate agent’s underling and an an ineffectual copper, putting a dozen hilarious syllables into a phrase like ’ bloodthirsty murders’. And Jon Culshaw takes on Sid James, although interestingly given his background in mimicry, it’s not the closest impersonation, although the does capture the essence of James’s Cockney geezer shadiness – and that distinctive ‘hyuk, hyuk’ laugh.

It was the 50th anniversary of Hancock hitting the small screen which provided the hook for this whole BBC sitcom season, and there are a couple of references in this reshoot that show its age, with archive footage setting the scene. Yet it holds up so well that some lines seem to have been injected just for wry 21st-century nostalgia: Hancock being impressed by the size of the newcomers’ TV screen: ‘It must be all of eight inches,’ he says enviously.

The plot here turns out to revolve around a rather unlikely misunderstanding – the suggestion the man next door might be a cross-dresser or a serial killer – though it’s none the worst for that, thanks to a script that fizzes with fine, character-driven gags every minute.

Hancock’s Half Hour has broadly been the inspiration for sitcoms of the last half-century – it’s especially easy to see a through line to shows like Seinfeld – but it’s not just historical value that makes this revival such a hit. It’s funny, simple as.

Review date: 8 Sep 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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