* Prices may differ from that shown
There are certain old comedy actors/performers/comedians that I re-discovered and there are those I was practically weaned on. I won't bore you with my reasons for loving the guy and finding his work something of a comfort - that's better reserved for a more biographical writing entry - suffice to say that he came from a golden age of British radio comedy. He also made a very successful switch to television, which demonstrated he and many of his colleagues - Kenneth Williams, Sydney James and Hattie Jacques for example - were not just vocal talents. All had a background in live theatrical work and grew up in the Music Hall tradition, a tradition that is sometimes a close relative and sometimes exactly the same as my own cultural heritage in circus. This made them all pretty good at adapting to the changing entertainment mediums from stage to radio to television, albeit with having to suffer being pigeonholed. Of course, this sacrifice was something that would haunt Hancock, Jacques and Williams who were all very intelligent, educated and talented - and all had personal internal struggles between egotism and self-doubt. All longed to play more challenging roles and all of this could be seen whenever they were interviewed.
Hancock was a genius in front of the camera, but he was best on radio. For some reason all the best elements came together - Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Williams, James, Kerr, Jacques and several other regular cast members - and they were all relatively young and enthusiastic. Unfortunately this CD is not of one of these radio episodes. It is another curious example of the BBC selling the sound recording of a TV show as an audio book. I have bought a few of these in the past, but never thought they worked out 100 per cent. Comedy can be a bit annoying as there are clearly visual cues and gags throughout the programmes, which the listener obviously cannot pick up. This leaves us with extended scenes of laughter, which really should be edited out. On top of that the sound quality is not very good. This is sadly due to the fact that the recording comes from someone putting a radio microphone up to a television screen. We should count ourselves lucky that at least that much was preserved.
So, production and background aside, what is the actual content like? Both episodes come from Hancock and James era, the early days of Hancock's television career. Neither one stands out particularly, but if you are a fan there is a feel of being among old friends. One thing you notice with Hancock's TV career is that there are far more gaffs than there were on radio. In fact, the radio gaffs have become classic moments because you remember them. The TV gaffs, being more common, are fun to a certain degree, but can get a little tedious at times.
If it doesn't make you laugh out loud it should bring a knowing smile to your face. This isn't to say there is some great delivery or some very witty lines, but this is not "The Bowmans", "The Lift", "The Missing Page", "The Radio Ham" or "The Reunion Party" territory. "The Flight of the Red Shadow" is something of a pleasant link-in to the radio show with Hancock's career as a member of the East Cheam Reparatory Company. He is forced to go on the run when he upsets a member of the Company and assume many aliases. "The Wrong Man" is a send-up of Alfred Hitchcock's classic of the same name. Galton and Simpson did a fine job with their spoofs of other works, creating classics of their own. Many of today's spoof writers would do well to learn from their restraint with this particular type of comedy.
I guess you could call these uncovered gems, but of a lesser stone.