Happy Go Lucky, 1951
Last week we told you the story of two Englishmen a boat trip to the USA and the influence they would have over comedy as we know it.
Whilst the movies kept the world laughing for many years and still do another juggernaut; Radio was to make it’s own waves (excuse the pun).
Today we look at another chance meeting that would go on to shape the great British sitcom as we know it today.
Way back in the mists of time a chance meeting between two budding scriptwriters and a comic unhappy with his role in a show would set off a chain of events that would change the face of comedy as we then knew it.
Those scriptwriters were Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the unhappy comic was one Tony Hancock and the show was Happy Go Lucky.
Derek Roy was a huge star of his day. His BBC Radio show Hip Hip Hoo Roy, was a huge success and he’d also hosted Variety Bandbox, a talent show that had helped many upcoming comics of the day make a name for themselves, including one Tony Hancock.
Happy Go Lucky did not fair well. First broadcast in August of 1951 it had been conceived as a ‘light-hearted blend’ of comedy and music. By October of that year the show was falling apart the writers had been fired; the producer had suffered a nervous breakdow. To make maters worse one of the regular sketches was considered so poor that the up-and-coming comic (Tony Hancock) leading it was begging for his performances to be excised from broadcast.
Today it would just have been cancelled, but back in the day the BBC decided it to see it through to the end. In came the new producer – the now BBC legend Dennis Main Wilson. He called a meeting of cast and crew. He turned to two young men, who were there only because they had recently started selling jokes to Roy for a few shillings a time. He asked them if they could write the last few shows of the series so it could limp to completion before Christmas; and they agreed, the show went on until the end.
More importantly it was the first meeting between Galton and Simpson and Tony Hancock. Between them they were about to change the way we see comedy for good. Hancock’s part in this show had been written by someone else, but a sketch written by Galton and Simpson for the show featuring Benny Hill and Frances King as squabbling children caught the eye of Hancock. Alan Simpson takes up the story “We were rehearsing a bit that we did write and he said “did you write that?” and we said “yes” and he said “very funny” and walked off.
We never heard from him after that, then two months later he got in touch and asked us to write a 5 or 10 minute sketch for him, for Workers Playtime, where he had to provide his own material”
Tony Hancock and Galton and Simpson would work together again before the “big one”
Happy-Go-Lucky (HGL) was a one-hour variety show broadcast on the BBC Light Programme, commencing in August 1951. It was a vehicle for Derek Roy, a significant star of the time, but now largely forgotten.
The idea of the show was conceived as a ‘light-hearted blend’ of comedy and music.
This post is adapted from a blog written by: Tristan Brittain-Dissont the current Archivist of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society. Click here to read the story in full and to hear excerpts presumed ‘lost’
Channel: BBC Light Programme (Radio)
Written By: Later sketches were written By Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
Produced By: Later shows by Dennis Main Wilson