HANCOCK, Tony (1924-1968)
Plaque erected in 2014 by English Heritage at 20 Queen's Gate Place, South Kensington, London, SW7 5NY, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Radio and Television, Theatre and Film
TONY HANCOCK 1924-1968 Comedian lived here 1952-1958
Tony Hancock was one of Britain’s first comedy superstars, achieving widespread fame with his show Hancock’s Half Hour. For the most successful years of his career he lived at 20 Queen’s Gate Place in South Kensington.
HANCOCK’S HALF HOUR
Anthony John Hancock made his stage début in Bournemouth in 1940 and, after four years in the RAF, moved to London to pursue his entertainment career. He shot to star billing with the popular radio series Educating Archie in August 1951, but it was Hancock’s Half Hour, first broadcast on BBC radio in 1954 that made him famous. In July 1956 the show transferred to BBC television, where it proved even more popular.
With writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, co-star Sid James and other contributing performers including Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques, Hancock found the perfect recipe for success. The show ran until 1961, and it was said that streets all over Britain would empty as families gathered inside for the latest episode.
Hancock’s style of comedy has been hugely influential. He popularised the observational, character-based comedy which has since been the basis of so much British comedy. From Steve Coogan to Paul Merton, many of today’s comedians have cited Hancock as an influence.
HANCOCK AT HOME
Between 1952 and 1958, Tony Hancock lived with his wife Cicely Romanis on the fourth floor of 20 Queen's Gate Place, a Grade II-listed mid-19th century building just to the west of the Natural History Museum. It was the London address where he lived the longest and his five years there coincided with the most creative, successful and memorable period of his career.
The top-floor flat was accessed only by stairs and Hancock regularly appeared at his door panting and out of breath. ‘We knew who our friends were in those days,’ he would joke. Visitors to the flat included his Hancock Half Hour co-stars Sid James and Kenneth Williams, and the series writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. It was here that Hancock, Galton and Simpson together mapped out the story for the 1961 film The Rebel.
The elegant stucco exterior of Queen's Gate Place belied the nature of its interior. Writer Philip Oakes considered the kitchen to be ‘a breeding ground for botulism’ while Dennis Main Wilson, who produced the radio version for most of its run, offered this description:
There was an old leather club armchair with the stuffing coming out, a few other odd chairs and a put-you-up settee. There was an underfelt on the floor but no carpet. There was a mark where someone had been sick. There were piles of fan letters behind the lavatory pan.
After Hancock’s Half Hour finished in 1961, Hancock broke with Galton and Simpson but failed to achieve similar success in his new ventures. He was known to be a perfectionist, and revealed himself in interviews as extremely self-critical. After two failed marriages and a long battle with alcoholism, he committed suicide in Sydney in June 1968.