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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2008
This isn't the first account of Tony Hancock's life. Variously his agent/wife Freddie, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams among others have covered his story to one degree or another. The previous "full" account - When the Wind Changed - concentrated more on the scurrilous allegations of Tony's life -but, as John Fisher effectively says in hs preface here, you need to take some of that with a pinch of salt.

I guess we're not likely to have a more definitive biography than this one looking at the wealth of contributions to it. Fisher clearly knows his British comedy, as he pompously keeps telling us, but you are left with a very clear idea of where Hancock's humour came from, the contribution he made and the footprint he left. I'm tempted to say he left a huge shadow but it is clear that it was exactly those sort of puns which represented his dislike - if not loathing - of his self image.

The truth is that he was the best British comic actor of our time but he was fatally unable to simply recopgnise that and luxuriate in the genuine love his audience and colleagues had for him (Sid James comes out of this particularly sympathetically). Fisher brings out very well Hancock's huge intellectual pretensions and the negative impact his ever growing quest for perfection had on his comedy and those around him.

Hancock's alcoholism, mental illness and lapses into violence and abuse are well and responsibly handled by Fisher. Ultimately it leaves you with a real sense of sadness for what Hancock did to himself and what we lost. But there is a huge amount of good to remember and this long (very long)and exhaustive view of the lad and his times is rewarding at all times.

I finished the book and watched a couple of old TV shows straightaway, Brilliance.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
In his preface to this work, John Fisher mentions eight other previous biographies of "the lad himself" that he has referred to and which have between them have attempted to tell the whole tragic story that is the life of Tony Hancock, all of which I have read at some point, and all of which put another piece into this complicated jigsaw of a comedian. So why, you might think, did he feel we need another one?
Well, for the first 300 or so pages this book turns out to be one of the most affectionate portraits of Mr Hancock that I have read so far, and, whilst addressing his faults, it does not attempt in any way to diminish the actual man and retains its fondness for him throughout.
Once the troubles begin, Mr Fisher does not gloss over them, but does manage, at least, to address them from Mr Hancock's point of view, which I find encouraging - too often, previous biographies have dealt with the monster and failed to connect with the anxieties that made the monster. The tragedy of his suicide is addressed with a certain sympathy, and the book wisely uses its last chapter to address the good that was in the man rather than the bad, so that I was not left with the bad taste in the mouth that some the other writers have left me with.
I can't totally agree with the parallels made with the career of Ricky Gervais in the final few pages, but they do serve to emphasise the kind of career Tony Hancock could have had if television production had been a different beast back then, but it wasn't and so he couldn't; and maybe that's the biggest tragedy of what we lost - the possibility of what might have been. I still have to suppress a tear when I read the story of the flight home his ashes took - this was a man who was truly loved by his public and still managed to lose it all. The photograph on the inner front sleeve (on the back cover of the hardback edition) which is credited to his brother, is one of the greatest clues to the inner torment of the sad comic and that image alone is worth the admission fee.
I happen to think that this turns out to be, for the most part, one of the happiest biographies of Tony Hancock that I have read and didn't leave me feeling truly disillusioned in a way some of the others have, and is definitely worth a look, but even though I continue to read all I can about the life of Mr Hancock, I still feel that it is by his work that he should be most judged, and the CD and DVD releases of his BBC radio and television and performances are his legacy. Listen to them, watch them, enjoy them. Then read the biographies. The other way round just gets too heartbreaking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2011
I was introduced to Hancock by my father growing up as a lad. I was mesmerised by not only the comedy but the old fashionedness, that added to the comedy not detracted from it. Having now grown up, and some I realised i had read very little about the lad himsef, apart from the very publicised affairs, and his death.

John Fisher writes from a factual standpoint, rarely going into fan mode, or defending him. Definitive is a good description of this book. From growing up in the music hall era, to Educating Archie, then onto the part of his life that made him, Hancocks Half Hour. It is almost imcomprehensible that he wanted to change the formula and then move on, the mixed success of his films, and then the breakdown of marriage, success and self belief.
Althouth this is not a novel, and I was very aware what the outcome was, I found the book very very sad. How great a body of work could Hancock have produced. How many more episodes could the fantastic Galton and Simpson have written of hancocks half hour 20, 30, 50. I felt denied that his death had robbed us of a greater legacy, and so sad that someone who was respected by his peers, and a comedy genius, loved by his audiences, and still loved now, by an audience many of whom were born after his death, fought demons includin the belief that perhaps he was just not funny any more.
Throughout the book the who's who of comedy, Drake, Sykes, Williams, James, Forsyth, Secombe all appear, having worked alongside him. Read this if you are a fan of Hancock, readi it and become a fan of Hancock. An excellently written, well researched biography.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2012
A lot of the reviews on here do a lot better job than I in detailing the brilliance of this book so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice to add that Tony had departed from this earth the year after I was born and it was only because I had always heard his name but had seen nothing of his work, that I purchased the Hancock's Half Hour and Hancock boxset about four years ago. I am presently hooked on the radio 4 extra Hancock's Half Hour series on Wednesday's, and look to start my radio series collection from Amazon when finances permit. This brilliant biography is exquisite in detail, you are drawn in from the start and his relationship with other stars of the era such as Sid James, Hattie Jacques, John Le Mesurier, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams are extremely interesting. I have learned a lot about the golden age of radio, and early tv comedy from this book as well. Tony's sad end will always be asking more questions that can ever be answered, it is the saddest end to a life that I have ever read.

I recommend this book on so many levels, and I will be returning to it after my current read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I grew up during the radio heyday of Tony Hancock - his "Hancock's Half Hour" persona was legendary when I was at grammar school, every episode being discussed at length at both break times and between lessons; every laugh being relived in the process. This biography of the flawed genius that was Hancock has given me so many insights into the man, his times and his character. He may not have been what I thought he was, but then few of us are, and my debt of gratitude to Hancock, as well as the author, is undiminished. I particularly liked the early chapters on radio comedy of the 1950s. A brilliant book, thoroughly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2013
I did enjoy this book, but found the writing style a bit difficult. For example, the writer refers to a person, and writes quite a bit of text, goes off at a tangent and then comes back to the main person without 'reminding' you who they are writing about, and with so many characters coming and going throughout the Lad's career, I found myself having to go back several times to figure out just who the writer was referring to.

The writer also assumes that you are familiar with all of the Lad's works, whereas I only got to see some of the 'classic' episodes, and didn't hear him on the radio - some of the comments and references were lost on me, but that is my shortcoming rather than the author's.

A tricky subject tackled very thoroughly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Forty years after his death his genius is undimmed and is being re-discovered on BBC Radio 7. You have only to listen to Paul Merton doing some of the Hancock sketches to realise that although Merton is good, Tony Hancock is brilliant and his comic genius and perfect timing will never diminish.

This is 512 pages of closely typed text, meticulously researched, sometimes to the point of affecting the readability; I found myself re-reading sections as there were just too many facts to take in. It also has 8 pages of photographs. The book is described as the Definitive Biography and I wouldn't argue with that.

I found the final chapters particularly harrowing. Tony Hancock had the deep affection of the British people and the genuine love of those around him and yet his quest for perfection and his illness caused him to pay the ultimate price.

He left us a legacy of radio plays and TV shows and for those who want to know more and understand the man this biography can be recommended, even though at times it can be hard going!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
In his preface to this work, John Fisher mentions eight other previous biographies of "the lad himself" that he has referred to and which have between them have attempted to tell the whole tragic story that is the life of Tony Hancock, all of which I have read at some point, and all of which put another piece into this complicated jigsaw of a comedian. So why, you might think, did he feel we need another one?
Well, for the first 300 or so pages this book turns out to be one of the most affectionate portraits of the man and, whilst addressing his faults, does not attempt in any way to diminish the man and retains its fondness throughout.
Once the troubles begin, Mr Fisher does not gloss over them, but does manage, at least, to address them from Mr Hancock's point of view, which I find encouraging - too often, previous biographies have dealt with the monster and failed to connect with the anxieties that made the monster. The tragedy of his suicide is addressed with a certain sympathy, and the book wisely uses its last chapter to address the good that was in the man rather than the bad, so that I was not left with the bad taste in the mouth that some other writers have left me with.
I can't totally agree with the parallels made with the career of Ricky Gervais in the final few pages, but they do serve to emphasise the kind of career Tony Hancock could have had if television production had been a different beast back then, but it wasn't and so he couldn't and maybe that's the biggest tragedy of what we lost - the possibility of what might have been. I still have to suppress a tear when I read the story of the flight home his ashes took - this was a man who was truly loved by his public and still managed to lose it all. The photograph on the back cover is one of the greatest clues to the inner torment of the sad comic and that image alone is worth the admission fee.
I happen to think that this turns out to be, for the most part, one of the happiest biographies of Tony Hancock that I have read and didn't leave me feeling truly disillusioned in a way some of the others have, and is definitely worth a look, but even though I continue to read all I can about the life of Mr Hancock, I still feel that it is by his work that he should be most judged, and the CD and DVD releases of his BBC radio and television and performances are his legacy. Listen to them, watch them, enjoy them. Then read the biographies. The other way round just gets too heartbreaking.
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There are some good elements to this biography but generally it is a poor effort. Mr Fisher's constant referral to episodes of Hancock's Half Hour and the parallels to Hancock's real life are wearing and uninformative. Has he never heard of the biographical fallacy? Hancock was acting in these episodes, not playing himself, but he cannot resist even the most spurious comparison.
He constantly describes the episodes of various programmes in detail which sheds no light on his subject. It might be interesting for him but not for the reader.
The second problem is that there is very little about Hancock's real life, where he lived, how much money he earned, what he liked to buy, the sort of thing that would have grounded him in reality for a reader. I suspect that the money side was sheltered from Fisher by the fact that this book is written with Hancock's brother's co-operation. The same is probably true of the fact that his mother remains a shadowy character only briefly mentioned though she clearly had an extraordinary life. There is no mention of where his money went after his death.
The third problem is that instead of going through his life chronologically Fisher does it in themes, choosing to write about Radio, then Television then the Theatre so you're never sure where you are in time and you're left constanting going backwards and forwards which destoys the continuity.
Must try harder Mr Fisher.
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Tony Hancock remains a true post-war giant of British TV and radio comedy, a performer, who, before the booze kicked in big time, had one of the most supremely mobile and expressive faces on TV. He could get more laughs with a facial expression than most of his contempoararies managed in a whole show. John Fisher's biography is thoroughy well-researched, and can be unexpectedly revealing in places - even bringing in discussion about Hancock's rumoured bisexuality. Throughout, Fisher is painstaking in presenting the uniquely gifted Hancock in a sympathetic way, whilst not stinting in his assessment of how alcoholism blighted his life and ruined his interpersonal relationships, friendships and marriages, and his dealings with the classic scriptwriting team of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Compared to, say Roger Lewis' biog of Peter Sellers The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, which has a rather vinegary, sour tone to it (you rarely get the impression that Sellers was FUNNY), this book is affectionate without side-stepping Hancock's many character flaws, and also sheds light on his insecurities and self-esteem issues. There won't be another Hancock - one was more than enough. Read this book then listen to the vintage Hancock radio shows, then buy the DVDs. Classic Brit comedy.
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