Earlier this month, Britain lost another comedy giant and one half of British comedy’s most successful comedy writing partnerships. Alan Simpson met Ray Galton in a sanatorium while recovering from TB and thus began a union which lasted over sixty years. In 1953 the pair joined friends Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes in the formation of Associated London Scripts – Britain’s first Scriptwriting agency. Just a year later, Galton and Simpson found themselves with a hit BBC Radio comedy on their hands in the form of the bittersweet Hancock’s Half Hour. In 1956 Hancock’s Half Hour made a successful move from radio to the relatively unknown medium of television and helped the British audience fall in love with the art of situation comedy.
Clip 1 – Associated London Scripts
The controversial decision to drop Galton and Simpson from Hancock in 1961 was something which ultimately cost Tony Hancock his career as he failed to find anyone who knew the character of Anthony Aloysius Hancock better than the two people who created him. Yet the duo were already at work on another sitcom as part of the new BBC Comedy Playhouse: their own BBC Comedy series in which they penned six self contained episodes starring some of the cream of British comedy. Comedy Playhouse went on to be a playground for both new and experienced writers to write and create pilots of potential series. One episode entitled “The Offer” surrounded the bittersweet relationship between father and son rag ‘n’ bone men; Albert and Harold Steptoe. The episode struck a chord with the public and a series was promptly commissioned. Steptoe and Son would survive in its many guises until 1974, despite the notorious thwarted relationship between actors Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett and elevated Ray Galton and Alan Simpson into comedy superstars.
Clip 2 – Comedy Playhouse
Three years later, Yorkshire Television commissioned a similar six part series entitled The Galton and Simpson Playhouse featuring sitcom pilots starring Arthur Lowe and Leonard Rossiter to name but a few. Despite a stella lineup, the series failed to live up to former successes which encouraged the pair to take a break from television comedy. Then in the mid nineties, the pair teamed up with Hancock fan Paul Merton for a six part series paying tribute to the man who started their glittering career.
Clip 3 – Working for ITV
In 2010 I had the absolute honour to interview Ray Galton and Alan Simpson about their unparalleled career in comedy and their dealings with various members of BBC management. The interview was part of research for a biographical drama script I was writing based on the life and work of Sir Bill Cotton. Yet being in the virtual presence of two of the icons of British entertainment, it would have been a crime not to have touched upon their own glittering career. Over half an hour, the pair waxed lyrical about their life, career and professional partnership which I feel extremely fortunate to have witnessed. Here are three excerpts from that wonderful interview as a way of my tribute to a comedy giant proving that Alan Simpson may be gone but never forgotten.
Clip 4 – Reflections on a glittering career