Hancock’s Half Hour v’s Take It From Here
On the 2nd November 1954 on the BBC Home Service Tony Hancock made his debut in a radio show called Hancock’s Half Hour, written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson it became a huge hit with audiences and is widely regarded as Britain’s first sitcom. Six years earlier tom other well known writers Frank Muir and Denis Nordan had written a radio comedy series Take It From Here.
Up until Take It From Here most comedy came in the form of Music Hall Revue, a mixture of music and short sketches or jokes. After a slow start for series two of Take It from Here the writers changed the format to three acts. Firstly there would be topical discussion, then some music, then came what Frank Muir described as a gimmick, which might be Hamlet done as a pantomime, or an operatic weather forecast. Finally, after another song there was a situation comedy sketch. This would be worked up from the clichés of a literary or cinematic genre; for example, later TIFH programs included a sketch about restoration England, with Charles II, Nell Gwyn and the Puritan keeper of the Privy Purse (“anything TV can do, we can do later”). In 1953 The Glums made their debut the popularity of this sketch made Muir and Norden realise that they were on to something. They made one or two modifications to the characters, and The Glums became a regular part of Take It From Here.
So we have Take It From Here A good mix of traditional music discussion comedy and a short sitcom sketch. As far as the material we’ve looked at this had never been done before and was considered pretty ground breaking stuff. However in 1954 the BBC broadcast Hancock’s Half Hour. This show would turn everything we’d expected from our regular comedy fix on the radio on it’s head. Here we had a sitcom that was not a sketch but a full half hour show with no sketches or musical interludes, just 30 minutes following the hilarious mis adventures for want of a better phrase of one Tony Hancock and friends.
Hancock’s Half Hour continued to be a success transferring on to television and and set the pattern for what would become the great British sitcom, we all love today.
Take It From Here was no less important it’s format also continued and was used to great effect by some of our most fondly remembered comedy shows. The Two Ronnies made great use of the format for their hugely successful shows, as did Morecambe and Wise.
As we have seen both shows were hugely important for setting out a format still used to this day. However in our opinion there can be little doubt that despite the appearance of a sitcom sketch in Take It From Here, Hancock’s Half Hour was the first full length situation comedy and will be 60 years old this Sunday.
Don’t forget Friday 31st October Hancock returns, as Kevin McNally takes on the role of Tony Hancock in the Missing Hancocks, click here for trailer
Tomorrow: Galton and Simpson talk Comedy Playhouse