The Missing Hancocks: Live in Edinburgh

Aug 24 2015 | By More

Shows A and B: ✭✭✭✭✩     Timeless comedy

The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20): Wed 5 – Sun 30 Aug 2015

At first glance, The Missing Hancocks is a strange idea for a Fringe show – a recreation of the recording of 1950s radio programmes. All that matters, however, is that the result is two separate and extremely enjoyable shows.

Hancock’s Half Hour was, of course, a phenomenally successful and influential BBC comedy series of the 1950s scripted by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, that later transferred to TV. Surviving programmes crop up regularly on Radio 4 Extra, but in the era before home recording, the BBC routinely wiped old programmes, and some of the scripts also disappeared.

Robin Sebastian and Kevin McNally

Robin Sebastian and Kevin McNally

Actor Neil Pearson (perhaps best known for Drop The Dead Donkey), in his other life as an antiquarian book dealer, acquired some of the lost scripts. Some have been re-recorded for the radio, and Pearson has now directed the revival of four others at the Fringe.

The four episodes – The Winter Holiday, New Year Resolutions, Prime Minister Hancock and The Three Sons, have been combined into two separate shows, running on alternate days and romantically titled Show A and Show B.

The staging is extremely simple, with a 1950s radio mic around which the actors congregate, scripts in hand, when they are speaking, and a row of chairs for them to sit on at other times. This sounds overly static, but it works very well, with a liberal helping of ad-libbing and panto-style ‘mistakes’ both real and rehearsed.

Apart from the modern asides, the scripts are untouched, and while there are a few references that will mean nothing to younger audience members, it is astonishing how well they have withstood the passage of time. While none of these episodes approach the genius of that classic slice of English absurdism Sunday Afternoon At Home, they are all funny and surprisingly modern.

endears and endures

Kevin McNally would surely forgive the observation that he is considerably older than Tony Hancock was at the time of the original recordings, and bears no immediately obvious resemblance to The Lad Himself, but this is of no importance. He makes no attempt to impersonate Hancock, but somehow manages to inhabit the character completely.

Describing the personality of the exaggerated version of Hancock appearing in the radio series does not make him sound immediately attractive – a puffed-up, self-important, permanently underemployed actor – but there is something about him that endears and endures, and McNally has captured that brilliantly.

Some of the other performances tend more towards straight impersonations. Robin Sebastian’s Kenneth Williams is spot on, as might be expected from someone who has played the role on so many occasions. However, his limelight-stealing happens just a little too often, which leads to the only occasions when things threaten to drag.

Alex Lowe’s Bill Kerr is another uncanny recreation. Simon Greenall, whose range encompasses both Michael the Geordie in Alan Partridge and Captain Barnacles in Octonauts, is a particularly talented voice actor who could probably don Sid James equally convincingly, but instead wisely opts for a more rounded approach.

Susy Kane suffers in her recreation of Andrée Melly’s role, in that her contributions are relatively underwritten and stereotypical in a way that could be said to be a reflection of the times if it was not something that persists in some BBC comedies to this day.

The obvious warmth felt by huge audiences flocking to these recreations is testament to the regard in which the original is still held, but there is a great deal more than nostalgia at work here. These are cleverly staged and genuinely funny. If you have to make a choice, Show A (with The Winter Holiday and New Year Resolutions), is marginally better, but you would not go wrong with either.

Running time 1 hour 10 minutes
The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), 54 George St, EH2 2LR
Wednesday 5 – Sunday 30 August 2015
Show A on odd dates at 4.15 pm
Show B on even dates at 4.15 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website. Show A:
Show B:


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