Ray Galton And Alan Simpson

Perhaps, Britain’s best known comedy writers.  Ray Galton and Alan Simpson are best known for their classic sitcom Steptoe and Son and for their work with Tony Hancock, but there were many others that we perhaps don’t associate with the pair.

Quick Bio/History

Raymond Percy Galton was born in Paddington on 17th July 1930, Alan Francis Simpson was born in Brixton on 27th November 1929.

The two men met in 1948 at Milford Sanatorium where they were both being treated for tuberculosis.

Previous to their meeting Alan Simpson had worked as a  shipping clerk, whilst Ray Galton was employed at the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

It was whilst at the sanitorium ( a term used for hospitals) the two decided to write some comedy shows together.  There was an amateur radio room at the sanitorium provided for occupational therapy.  They had decided on comedy as a vehicle to write for as they both listened to the popular radio comedies of the time ie, The Goons and Take It From Here and therefore had become interested in the subject.  They wrote four scripts together for broadcast on the sanitorium’s radio entitled “Have You Ever Wondered” that was in 1949.

On leaving the hospital, Alan Simpson was asked by a church concert party, of which he was a member, if he could write them a show.  He contacted Ray Galton  and between them they duly obliged.

Around 1951 they were wrote a letter to the big comedy writers of the time, Frank Muir and Dennis Norden, asking  if  we  could  work  for them, hoping to learn how to write comedy.

They found themselves writing gags for Derek Roy, who was a big comedian of the time.  They supplied material for the final three shows of the comic’s Happy Go Lucky radio series.to writing professionally for the BBC.  Whilst working on that show they had their first encounter with Tony Hancock.  Click here for the full story.  This lead to them writing a brief sketch for Hancock who was appearing in Workers’ Playtime.

After writing the last six shows of calling all forces around 1952, the BBC changed the name of the show to ‘Star Bill’ and elevated Tony Hancock to top of the bill and handed writing duties to Galton and Simpson.

In 1954 the duo decided thery wanted to write a comedy that placed the star in a different situation each week, running for a full thirty minutes without intereruptions for musical interludes.  Hancock’s Half Hour was the result, Britain’s first full length sitcom.  this would run until 1959 on the radio and a TV version broadcast alongside from 1956 ran until 1961.
In 1955, Galton and Simpson, along with Eric Sykes, Johnny Speight and Spike Milligan formed the cooperative, Associated London Scripts, originally based above a greengrocer’s in Shepherd’s Bush, West London. The company was purchased by Robert Stigwood in 1967.

Career

In The Beginning

Their break in comedy writing gags for Derek Roy, who was a big comedian of the time.  They supplied material for the final three shows of the comic’s Happy Go Lucky radio series.to writing professionally for the BBC.  Whilst working on that show they had their first encounter with Tony Hancock.  Click here for the full story.  This lead to them writing a brief sketch for Hancock who was appearing in Workers’ Playtime.

After writing the last six shows of calling all forces around 1952, the BBC changed the name of the show to ‘Star Bill’ and elevated Tony Hancock to top of the bill and handed writing duties to Galton and Simpson.

Early Work With Tony Hancock

In 1954 the duo decided thery wanted to write a comedy that placed the star in a different situation each week, running for a full thirty minutes without intereruptions for musical interludes.  Hancock’s Half Hour was the result, Britain’s first full length sitcom.  this would run until 1959 on the radio and a TV version broadcast alongside from 1956 ran until 1960.  They would write a final series for Tony Hancock entitled Hancock in 1961.  Hancock’s big screen debut was The Rebel in 1961 with script by Galton and Simpson.
After the break with Hancock in 1961, they were commissioned by the BBC to write a series of ten one off comedies under the umbrella title Galton and Simpson’s Comedy Playhouse, this ran until 1962, after which the series continued but without Galton and Simpson.

Work After Hancock

Out of Comedy Playhouse came ‘The Offer” a play about a Father and Son who are Rag and Bone men.  That proved to be popular with BBC sources and after considerable persuassion Galton and Simpson wrote a full series.  Steptoe and Son was an immediate hit attracting audiences of up to 28 million.   In total eight series were made between 1962 and 1974.

Later Years

Steptoe and Son now behind them, both writers continued to work solidly including several projects with Frankie Howerd.  They worked with Les Dawson on Dawson’s Weekly, Lealie Phillips in Casanova ’73 and countless thetre and film scripts.  In 1977 Duncan Wood, the former Hancock and Steptoe producer now at Yorkshire Television, commissioned The Galton & Simpson Playhouse, a seven-part series of one off sitcoms featuring leading actors of the time such as Leonard Rossiter and Arthur Lowe.

Alan Simpson formally retired from scriptwriting in 1978, concentrating on his business interests, and Ray Galton collaborated in several projects with Johnny Speight.

In October 2005, Ray Galton and John Antrobus premiered their play Steptoe and Son: Murder at Oil Drum Lane. It opened at the Theatre Royal, York, before touring the country.  The play is set in the present day and relates the events that lead to Harold killing his father, and their eventual meeting thirty years later (Albert appearing as a ghost).

In 2000 they were awarded the OBE for their contribution to British television, an honour well deserved after all without Galton and Simpson breaking the established format would the sitcom be what it is today?

In 2016 they were honoured with a Bafta fellowship award.

Sadly, in February 2017 Alan Simpson died adfter batling a chronic lung disease.

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