Hancock's Half Hour: The Horror Serial

Strangely, one of the things which gives me most pleasure on this blog is blogging about episodes of shows which no longer exist, such as the posts I've done on series 1 episodes of The Avengers. There is something spectacularly contrary about the cult TV world. The TV stations wipe all their shows (for Reasons) thinking that we won't ever want to watch them again and we spend decades on the internet locating reel to reel off-air recordings and wipe-shaming the BBC into remaking the shows that they made in the first place. We damn well WILL see those shows again even if it's on an odd reel that somehow made its way to Cape Town - it's almost as if the cult TV world *prefers* TV which has been wiped.

So we have reconstructed Who, and we have original scripts of The Avengers recorded by Big Finish. Hancock's Half Hour is another show which suffered from junking and has been reconsctructed. If you like the radio shows I cannot recommend The Missing Hancocks highly enough; they are truly excellent. In the case of this episode of the TV show it exists as an audio recording and has been commercially released. It is on volume 1 of the Hancock's Half Hour Collectibles CD series if you want to hear it.

I haven't heard it myself. I have had the boxed set of the TV show for years and have only recently noticed that one of the discs has all the scripts for the series on it as PDFs (I worry about me sometimes, I do really). This post is therefore solely based on reading the original script as a PDF. In fact I think those scripts provide a unique experience in themselves, in that (as is the case with the scripts on the Avengers DVDs) they are the actual scripts used for the recording and they're glorious. If you want a reminder of what typed documents really looked like before modern word processors look no further. It's not just that there are mistakes, it's also the fancy typewriting that's done, the patterns decorating the covers, the way some very fancy tabbing and spacing has gone into setting out the scripts. And then we just know that they've been reproduced using one of the old copying techniques (I doubt it was the Banda system we used in the UK because they would have faded to nothing by now; it was probably that one that required an actual cut stencil - Roneo, or whatever it was called). And then they look like they've been photocopied again and finally scanned. Involuntarily, anyone who went to school much before the nineties will smell the purple ink on the handouts. There is a strange immediacy and atmosphere in reading the actual scripts used for the recording over a script tidily set out in a published book. This may be excessively fanciful but it just *feels* like being in the studio as the lad himself was glaring at Sid James. And you don't miss the pictures because swipe me, TV fans of our calibre can hear Tony Hancock talking to them all the time anyway.

Add to that the fact that this TV show was broadcast four days after the original broadcast of Quatermass and the Pit in 1959, and is largely a pastiche of Quatermass. And so we have one TV show which is very much about another, or at least clearly in the same milieu, although transformed to a comedy. Hancock, the story goes, has been really spooked by watching the final episode of Quatermass (at Sid's mother's) and gets thinking that an unexploded bomb in the garden is a Martian space ship coming to take over the world. We therefore also have nere a comment on the way media influences people: the hysteria over War of the Worlds being the classic example, as we all know. This is quite some solid commentary for a half hour comedy show. If you listen to this or read the script, I would recommend watching through Quatermass and the Pit (the BBC version, not the Hammer film version) to get all the references since there is barely a scene without multiple references. I did it the wrong way round so have ended up listening to both of them a couple of times.

Obviously a half-hour comedy show can only do the merest hint of a six episode serious drama, and perhaps this will become clear when I say that Hancock sort-of takes the role of Professor Quatermass, i.e. the role in every science fiction series of the one who knows what is coming and has to warn everyone. Of course Sid James takes the role of the one who simply refuses to see it coming at all. Or, as Hancock puts it, the 'existentionalist'.

When they find the bomb in the garden, Sid rings the War Office to tell them about it but of course Hancock doesn't want them involved because they would spoil it exactly the way they did with Quatermass. He does a magnificent dramatised account to indicate to the War Office that Sid is an escaped asylum patient and they've just caught up with him to put him in a strait jacket. Somehow, this didn't seem quite as unhinged reading it in the script, as it does writing it in the blog. It just shows how you accept things you see/read and don't question enough.

The rest of the episode is what happens when the War Office turns up to defuse the bomb, only done in the style of Quatermass and the Pit with Tony Hancock in the middle of it telling them it's Martians. I would say you have to see this, but unless the Martians bring a spare copy when they take us over you will have to read it or listen to it.

Watching Quatermass and the Pit again for this blog post has also made me wonder about its influence on Dr Who. The scenes of the army who are called in after the space ship is discovered irresistibly remind me of UNIT - I know it seems ridiculous because of course they're wearing the same uniform and are soldiers that I should be reminded, but it just feels like those particular soldiers influenced UNIT. And then we have the appearance of the space ship, which is covered on the outside in roundels just like the inside of... well you know what I'm getting at. It's just as shadow but it definitely feels as though Quatermass and the Pit was an inspiration for some of the look of Dr Who.

This is probably not the intended response to this but my absolutely favourite bit is where Tony describes Sid James's mother as 'no Edith Sitwell...wagon train, that's her...wrestling, that's what she likes'. Biting.

Of course there is a sound track to this blog post: