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Lost Hancock scripts brought back to life

By Heather Large | Entertainment | Published:

They have been buried in the BBC archives for decades – but now two long lost radio scripts written for Tony Hancock will be performed for the first time.

They were penned by acclaimed West Bromwich-born comedy writer Larry Stephens in 1952 but never recorded.

Entitled Vacant Lot, the series focused on life in the dull faded fictional seaside town of Churdley Bay, where Hancock aspires to better his lot.

Despite featuring a supporting cast of colourful characters, and with such actors as Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Carry Ons Kenneth Connor all mooted for roles, no recordings of Vacant Lot were ever made.

Recently rediscovered, they will now be heard by audience at a special event on November 4 organised for the Funny Things festival in Wolverhampton.

The comedy extravaganza kicks off on October 23 running through to November 5 at more than 100 venues.

The scripts, which will be performed at the Light House Media Centre in conjunction with Birmingham Comedy Festival, are for two episodes of Vacant Lot.

In the first, after accidentally auctioning off a prized clock, would-be councillor Hancocks election chances look grim. The audience will find out whether he can track down the buyer and save himself from ruin.

The second episode sees, in a drive to promote tourism, Mayor Ambrose Tripfield calling on Hancock for assistance. But a copywriting gaffe looks set to destroy the reputations of both Hancock and Churdley Bay.

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Moving from stage to radio, Hancock, who was born in Hall Green, Birmingham in 1924, appeared regularly in such popular BBC series as Workers’ Playtime, Variety Bandbox, Educating Archie and Calling All Forces, which featured material by young writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. The duo would go on to pen the seminal Hancock’s Half-Hour, which crossed over to TV in 1956.

But attempts to work with other writers and change direction during the sixties largely failed, and Hancock committed suicide in Australia in 1968.

Producer of The Lost Hancocks: Vacant Lot is Dave Freak from Birmingham Comedy Festival.

It is the festival company’s third stage production following two sell-out revivals of The Goon Show, which it toured this year to significant acclaim.

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Mr Freak said the show is being produced as if it was a radio recording and it is believed that there were only ever two episodes written.

“As far as were aware, we are performing everything, which is just the two episodes. A full series was never commissioned, as everyone moved onto other projects, so its unlikely that writer Larry Stephens left other completed scripts.

“Larry wrote the scripts for radio in the first place, so we are just staying true to the source. The cast will be performing script-in-hand, but there will be theatrical elements to their performances, as the supporting actors take on the characteristics of those they’re playing.

“The radio format worked brilliantly for our recent revival of The Goon Show, and some of our cast will be returning for Vacant Lot.

“As no recordings were ever made at the time, these performances will be the first time anyone, outside of the BBC in the 1950s, has heard Vacant Lot.

“Until relatively recently, the scripts had laid buried in the BBC archives – so no one had even read them for decades, which explains why it’s only ever mentioned in passing, and often poorly or incorrectly referenced, in some Hancock biographies,” he added.

“It’s an honour to be able to bring these stories back to life after so many years. We have a great cast too, including James Hurn, from Dead Ringers, who does an uncanny impersonation of Hancock; Janice Connolly, aka Mrs Barbara Nice; Wolverhampton actress and comedian Linda Hargreaves; as well as three actors from our acclaimed Goon Show stage productions - Richard Usher and Mark Earby, who will play characters initially mooted for Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, and Jimm Rennie,” said Dave.

The Lost Hancocks: Vacant Lot will be performed at the Light House Media Centre 2pm and 7pm on November 4. There is also a question and answer session with members of the cast and project team, along with Stephens’ biographer and cousin Julie Warren, at 3.30pm.

This will be followed by a screening of Hancock film The Punch and Judy Man at 4.40pm.

Tickets are available online at lighthousemediacentre.savoysystems.co.uk or from the Light House box office on 01902 716055.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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