Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Brian Wilde Season on Sheffield Cablevision #2

Poor old Hancock. Between Channels' dad saw him do a week at Batley Variety Club in the sixties, just after he had left the BBC (and before he would go on to film his series for ATV - see below). Apparently he was plastered for the first few nights, shambling around the stage doing impressions of Long John Silver, whilst the audience slow-handclapped before drifting off to the bar. So the management enforced a dry dressing room policy, and lo and behold, the next night he was brilliant - so good that my source tells me he was the second funniest turn he ever saw at that hallowed palace of entertainment (the funniest was Sir Bob Monkhouse).



This is 'The Craftsman' written by Richard Harris and Dennis Spooner, and it isn't particularly funny. Hancock doesn't have much to do in this opening segment, and the scenario he gets himself into - bluffing his way into Brian Wilde's home to do some DIY - is amusing as the description I have just written. If anything, Brian steals the opening scene from him, coming over a little E.L. Wisty as he describes his plight.



All DIY shop sketches suffer from a bad case of 'Fork Handles', even if this one was filmed years before. Anyway. On the next night of the performance, Between Channels' dad was at the bar (working) and expecting another brilliant performance by his hero when Hancock staggers on, drunker than ever. With his young bride to be in tow, they go to the dressing room afterwards, and speak to Hancock. "We're very big admirers of yours." Now you might expect Hancock to have told them to piss off or some such, but instead he was apparently very touched someone had come to meet him and they talked for a little while. He had got someone to smuggle vodka into his dressing room by filling his hot water bottle up with it.



All the subtlety seems to have gone - where Brian Wilde is fluttering and birdlike as he tries to minimise the damage Hancock is doing, the lad himself just seems off. The self-delusion - which is at the heart of what makes Hancock funny - has degenerated into bluster and bullying, and it becomes uncomfortable when he punches and kicks holes in the table. You can imagine him doing more of the same, worse for wear, after recording; hating that his standards have fallen, that it isn't as funny or well-observed as it used to be. Hancock never came to Batley Variety Club again, and we all know the story after that. This programme, with the future Mr. Barraclough, illustrates the start of the decline.

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