That’s Very Nearly An Armful: Red House Museum pays tribute to Tony Hancock

By Richard Moss | 17 August 2011
a photo of Tony Hancock looking glum in a trilby
© BBC Photo Library
Exhibition: That’s Very Nearly An Armful: A pictorial tribute to the comic genius, Tony Hancock, Red House Museum, Christchurch, August 20 – September 17 2011

It’s become something of a cliché to talk about the tears of a clown but in the case of Tony Hancock it rings true.

One of a select band of BBC comedians who made the transition from radio to TV in the 1950s, Hancock became one of the country’s best-loved comedians with his eponymous show, which is still debated and poured over by documentary makers and comedy buffs today. 

His star rose so high in the 1960s that he even managed a partially successful transition to celluloid, until his inner demons, insecurities and the bottle led to an untimely suicide in a Sydney hotel room in 1968.

Today the Hancock sketches, written by the lionised comedy writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, are part of British comedic folklore and the cast of characters that Hancock worked with reads like a who’s who of British comedy of the period.

Sid James, Kenneth Williams, John LeMesurier, Hattie Jacques, Richard Wattis and Bill Kerr all appeared with him on radio and TV.

A BBC publicity photograph of Tony Hancock in a suit next to a microphone
Tony Hancock in his BBC radio days© BBC Photo Library
It is this popular legacy that Red House Museum is celebrating with this pictorial exhibition that mixes film clips and sound extracts with photographs from his career.

Taking its name from one of Hancock’s most celebrated TV scenes, The Blood Donor, the exhibition highlights some favourite sketches from Hancock’s Half Hour.

The series, written by Galton and Simpson, was first aired on BBC radio in 1954 with Hancock starring as an exaggerated version of himself: Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock was a down-at-heel, delusional comedian waiting for the big time while he struggled to make ends meet in the inglorious setting of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.

It may be 43 years since his death but this universal comedic figure – channelled and recycled over the years through characters like Alan Partridge and David Brent – still strikes a chord with comedy audiences today.

More pictures from the exhibition:

a publicity photo of two men extricating a wallet from the jacket pocket of a third man standing between them
(L to r) Sid James, Tony Hancock and Bill Kerr
© BBC Photo Library
a photo of four men reading a comedy script into a BBC microphone
(L to r) Kenneth Williams, Tony Hancock, Bill Kerr and Sid James.© BBC Photo Library
  • Red House Museum will host a special evening with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson on August 25 at 7pm. Cost: £10 per person. Places are strictly limited, contact the Museum on 0845 603 5635 to book.
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