Hancock’s Half Hour (Revisited): The First Night Party. Audio Comedy Review. 60th Anniversary.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 7/10

Cast: Tony Hancock, Sidney James, Bill Kerr, Moira Lister, Alan Simpson, Gerald Campion, Kenneth Williams.

The first night of any new venture can be a daunting one, for the arts it sows the seeds of excitement and despair, of hope in a long running show or the gloomy realisation that months of preparation had all come crashing down before the first sentence uttered. How do you get round this, how to win over those who would write about you and the programme and get them to give you at least a passing golden smile within the column inches afforded them? For Tony Hancock the answer is simple, throw a first night party, invite all the big names from the B.B.C. and newspapers and watch as the reviews come glowingly in.

The only problem is, Tony had only just come across suave Sid James and for The First Night Party, Hancock’s name will already be mud in the corridors of the corporation.

The First Night Party brings together the talents of the recently departed Australian actor Bill Kerr, Sid James, a small but hugely enjoyable moment from Kenneth Williams and Moira Lister under Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s first radio series of Hancock’s Half Hour with the comedian from Birmingham and the self-styled lad himself, Tony Hancock. From the opening music arranged by Wally Stott, later to undergo gender reassignment surgery, the first half hour would still be seen 60 years later as a quiet and unmitigated success. It already had an abundance of talent that had worked in radio and in film and who for the likes of Kenneth Williams and Hancock had earned their comedy stripes as part of the Armed Forces Bandcamp during World War Two. It not only showcased Tony Hancock’s, Sid James’ and Bill Kerr’s immense radio talent but also of the two writers, the unbeatable pairing of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

From this opening half hour, from behind the fairly insane, but ultimately brilliant, idea of ventriloquism on the radio in Educating Archie, stood not one legend being born, the often teased about, the hang dog expression punctuated by the lines of two comedy greats, but a whole team. First nights come and go, to have the enduring legend still very much in fan’s minds 60 years later is something to be proud of. Hancock’s Half Hour made a national celebrity out the comedian from Birmingham, it made Ray Galton and Alan Simpson become comedic treasures whose use and command of the English language seem so effortless and in Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr and all those others who would follow after, the likes of June Whitfield, Hattie Jaques, John Le Mesurier, Hugh Lloyd, Patricia Hayes and Liz Fraser seem as part of British life as fish and chips, football on a Saturday at 3pm and holidays in Clacton and Scarborough, a true icon had been born.

Hancock’s Half Hour endures to this day, the jokes are of excellent quality, the cast is exceptional from day one and Tony Hancock a dream to listen to.

Hancock’s Half Hour: The First Night Party was first aired on the B.B.C. on November 2nd 2014.

Ian D. Hall