Here’s another post to add to my series on Being English.
I can’t tell how younger people respond to the masterly oeuvre of Tony Hancock. My generation is perhaps the last that remembers the original programmes; like Brief encounter, Beyond the fringe, or the Hoffnung speeches, it seems to belong to a bygone age. Rappers are less likely to be aware of, or respond to, such works than are the aging BBC Radio 4 demographic.
Among the wealth of original broadcasts, Hancock’s disgruntled persona is justly celebrated in The blood donor:
But in recent years there have been several projects to recreate episodes (both radio and TV) for which no tapes survive, with the aid of scripts—an exercise more reliable than recreating Daoist ritual from the manuals. As with listening to early music, one tends to discern contemporary spin on the urtext. Of course, in this case—by contrast to the lack of recordings of Bach performing his own music—we can compare the original.
In the recent series The missing Hancocks the episode Prime Minister Hancock (after the 1955 original), performed with a fine feeling for period style, is particularly topical. His campaign speech (from 10.11) could have been written yesterday, alas:
Now Zoe Williams has perceptively compared the spirit of the original broadcasts with our current malaise.
In Hancock’s Half Hour everyone is ridiculous—the people who hate change and the ones who seek it, in this playful mudbath of piss-take and self-parody. Implacable differences of opinion and outlook weren’t a cause for mournful patience and hand-wringing toleration: they were the price you paid for a society full of people it was enjoyable to laugh at.
We are not in the grip of unprecedented or enigmatic division: the only mystery is when we lost our sense of humour about it.