Tony Hancock

  1. George Cole, Too Many Crooks, 1958.   UK producer Mario Zampi offered Hancock the role rejected by Peter Sellers. (Not a good idea). “Mario invited Tony to lunch asking him to come to the office first to listen tell an outline,” recalled scenarist Michael Pertwee in his book, Name Dropping. “Tony arrived with his agent and listened glumly while I told the story. When I finished he shook his head… he wasn’t interested. When he made a picture he was going to be the star, the only star, and he had no intention of sharing the honours with Terry-Thomas or anybody else. Mario accepted this with his usual urbane good humour and suggested we went out to a prearranged lunch. Tony shook his head again. ‘No point in having lunch now, is there?’ The seeds of self-destruction were sadly evident here before he had even made the grade.”
  2. Richard Hayden, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, 1967.     A shot in the arm for Britain’s best-loved ’60s comedy star.  Except, he kept collapsing from  the heat of his costumes, drinking too much and playing “What Kind of Fool Am I?”  in his dressingroom, looking “nervous” and requiring too many takes.  Disney hated his work as a Shakesperean ham actor and sacked him, fast-forwarding his sadly tormented decline and suicide the following year in Australia. Film  flopped –  what else  with Roddy McDowell as a whip-brandishing hero, a  kind of Windy Jones.
  3. Zero Mostel, Rhinocerous, 1974.      Producer Oscar Lewenstein’s bright 60s idea. Hancock got drunk. Again. Went back into a clinic to dry out. Again. By which time the Ionesco project had moved on – momentarily for Peters Sellers and Ustinov. Sadly, Hancock never moved on. His suicide note read: “Things seemed to go wrong too many times.”

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“How do you convince a very funny man that he’s a great comic when he is convinced that he isn’t?”  – Jack Warner on Tone….   Hancock, better known as ‘Ancock, or The Lad, was the biggest and best radio and TV comedy star in  the UK on radio and TV in the 50s and 60s. Streets literally emptied when his TV  show came on-air. (His Hancock’s Half Hour series co-related to Seinfeld years later… as briefly explored in the Seinfeld page in Special Movies). I write about him  with sadness because I knew him. Slightly. (No one really knew him, except, perhaps, his brother Roger, who suggested that self-analysis killed him – suicide in  1968). I interviewed Tony a few times – akin to quizzing  Elvis in those days. Tony had grown up in Bournemouth, where I worked on a local paper that loved any “local” stars.  Visiting him on location in Bognor Regis for  his final film, The Punch and Judy Man, in  1962, I asked during  the morning if he’d sign a photo for me. Sure. He still had not done so by the time I had to leave. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said miserably (he beat Peter Sellers for misery).  Pause.  “I just don’t know what to write.” And that, alas, mirrored the exact the trouble when writing  his own scripts after firing his greatest writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

 (The  great Brtitish novelist  J B Priestley used Hancock as his  model  for  the  self-destructive comedian in his 1968 novel, London End. He said Tony was “a comedian with a touch of genius, who had no enemy, except himself.).


 Birth year: 1924Death year: 1968Other name: Casting Calls:  2