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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic sitcom - great scripts with some biography thrown in!
I ordered this with some trepidation as I do not usually read biographies and it was described as such: however it is a little biography with a lot of original material that has disappeared from the public arena due to the past BBC policy of not necessarily retaining material once broadcast.

Great to see something which has the authority of the scriptwriters:...
Published on 19 Sep 2011 by R T

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I thought it was
My own fault - I should have read the reviews, as I thought this was a biography - not a book of scripts with a bit of their life story.

Disappointed..................
Published on 27 Jun 2012 by Lucy Lastic


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic sitcom - great scripts with some biography thrown in!, 19 Sep 2011
By 
R T "RT of Keighley" (Keighley) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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I ordered this with some trepidation as I do not usually read biographies and it was described as such: however it is a little biography with a lot of original material that has disappeared from the public arena due to the past BBC policy of not necessarily retaining material once broadcast.

Great to see something which has the authority of the scriptwriters: and to see some gems from the past. There is historical detail, which is relevant and describes the approach to writing which I found fascinating. Basically it tells the story of Hancock's Half Hour, its transfer to TV, Steptoe and Son and work with the likes of Frankie Howerd and the start of Comedy Playhouse - I had not realised that Galton and Simpson started the whole thing off with all the wonderful series that have been spawned. It really shows how they laid the basis for much of the excellent sitcoms we have enjoyed through the 1970s and beyond. Christopher Stevens's hypothesis is that Galton and Simpson really were pioneers - and I would not argue with that. He tells the story well with plenty of evidence from actual scripts which I especially enjoyed.

A number of illustrations, some I have seen before but some are fresh.

Interestingly despite Christopher Stevens claim to include as much unseen material as possible I felt that a lot of it was well known material. If you are a fan then you probably have the Radio ham and Blood donor on LP as well as DVD and thus to see large chunks of material that is readily available was a bit of a shame as the author did have access to all the scripts. Personally I would have rather had more of what is only to be found in the basement files of Ray Galton. However this is only a minor quibble as he wanted to demonstrate the development of sitcom and the differing elements, and thus some of the well known material is essential for that purpose. Perhaps another dip into long lost scripts another time?

If you like classic sitcom - then this is a volume for you.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I say, I say, I say; What's so Great About Galton and Simpson?, 13 Sep 2011
By 
K. Petersen "Ken" (Hemsby,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
This book traces the history of one of Britain's greatest comedy writing duos. Galton and Simpson were as much a part of the success of Tony Hancock as the lad 'imself. When Hancock cut the final thread, holding him to his fame, by dismissing the services of his writers, they went on to create Steptoe and Son, a series that took sitcom on another step.

Pre-G&S, comedy, this side of the Atlantic, consisted of comedians, men (and they almost exclusively were men) who had served their time on the boards doing mother-in-law jokes, telling a story packed with jokes. They wrote, initially for Tony Hancock, a different style of comedy: one without punchlines. Their humour was the humour of the ordinary man but, Hancock, although he agreed with this approach, was still that archetypal comedian.

Galton and Simpson's next foray into comedy, with Steptoe and Son, bore no comedian. Wilfred Bramble had played comic roles in the theatre but Harry H Corbett was an actor making a name for himself in serious theatre. They tell a lovely story about the making of the first episode when Harold is frustrated and they were amazed to see real tears in the actor's eyes.

This book is a real tribute: almost fifty per cent of the work is taken up with extracts from Galton and Simpson scripts. These are surrounded by quotes from the writers as to what they were trying to achieve and details of their lives. I have been a fan, through Tony Hancock, for many years and so, I knew most of the information contained in this opus but, there was enough new information to sustain my interest and it is great to have it all within a single set of covers. This book is an essential for anyone with even a passing interest in British comedy - and a darned good read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The glory days of sitcom, 21 Sep 2011
By 
Hilary French - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were well-known to me as comedy writers. They had not only helped create the brilliance of Tony Hancock, but also survived his self-destruction. And then went on to spawn a whole new sitcom genre, with actors, exploring the tragi-comedy of life. But I had no idea where their ideas came from and how they had developed.

This book gives a real insight into the sequence of events. From their very early days, with a new vision of comedy having a social conscience, making relevant social comment, not just playing for laughs, they developed the art of juxtaposing laughter with tears. The story is clearly chronicled here, with facts and scripts side by side, illustrating beautifully their development as writers.

The story of the development of sitcom is fascinating in itself. The actual scripts, some published nowhere else, are amazing. Yes, there are only a few photos, but those are well-chosen. It is not a celebrity line-up of sitcom, it is the honest story of how two men changed the face of sitcom forever, and has its illustration in the scripts. A brilliant book. For anyone interested in the glory days of sitcom, this is an absolute must.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Playhouse first, Comedy second, 30 Sep 2011
By 
Sheenagh Pugh "Sheenagh Pugh" (Shetland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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I don't think this book does exactly what it says on the tin, and I don't think it shows exactly what it set out to show. Nevertheless, what it does show is something rather fascinating.

The title "The Masters of Sitcom from Hancock to Steptoe" is mildly misleading since it does in fact include some riveting script material from earlier in the careers of these writers, but it is better than the title he originally proposed, "The Men Who Invented Sitcom". They rightly turned this down - he says, because of innate modesty. I prefer their own explanation, that sitcom goes back at least to Shakespeare if not earlier. This is so obviously true (Aristophanes' Bdelykleon and Philokleon from The Wasps are essentially Harold and Albert Steptoe with robes on) that one wonders Stevens can't see it, but in fact he draws almost no parallels from the history of comedy before the 20th century, which is a flaw in the book and in his understanding of where Galton & Simpson came from.

Another slight niggle I have with the book is that early on, it clearly subscribes to the modern notion that any biographer or chronicler needs to explain what attracted him, personally, to this material; there has to be an authorial "journey". Hence, in the introduction, we get some childhood reminiscences which personally I can do without in this kind of book. But it doesn't last long, and soon we are into swathes of script material - the BBC may have wiped hundreds of tapes but G & S were the meticulous type and kept all the scripts. These scripts are naturally the most fascinating part of the book, particularly the less well-known ones, and taken together they highlight things one might otherwise miss, eg the number of times G & S used their own youthful experiences as long-term TB patients in a sanatorium.

The volume of scripts, though essential in my view, can actually make for heavy reading, both because of the constant need to adjust to a different mode of writing and for another, less expected, reason - they often aren't remotely funny or even light, because they aren't trying to be. G & S pioneered Comedy Playhouse, and the title of that is significant: they were writing plays. This is where I think Stevens would have benefitted from a closer look at Shakespearean comedy as a forerunner of G & S, because the only difference between comedy and tragedy in Shakespeare is that the former tends to have a happy(ish) ending. It is actually remarkable how completely G & S rejected most of the English comedic tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries that can be traced in the flowering of the postwar years; they had no time for music-hall, despised the punchlines and anecdotes of stand-up, didn't like catchphrases or funny voices (they couldn't stop Kenneth Williams smuggling some in, but then neither could the Angel Gabriel have done), didn't care for Wodehouse (that may have been partly a class-based dislike, but then I'm a leftwinger too and I find him hilarious) and, oddest of all, had no truck with the double-entendre, innuendo-based comedy that had been so popular with the forces and bloomed so happily in the contemporary radio comedy Round the Horne.

The number of things they didn't find funny was in fact an eye-opener and led me to the conclusion that they defined "comedy" much more as Shakespeare would have done than as anyone in the modern age does. They weren't really all that interested in being "funny" for its own sake; the character of Hancock is intrinsically funny because of the discrepancy between how he sees himself and how the world sees him, but a lot of the scripts, without him to animate them, read like the pure observation they are, Pinteresque rather than comic. One of their Comedy Playhouse scripts, "Lunch in the Park", a two-hander for Stanley Baxter and Daphne Anderson, managed, in the run-through, to get exactly one laugh from the studio audience - not because they were bored but because they didn't think they were watching a "comedy". Nor, to judge by the script, were they - I'm only surprised that both Baxter and G & S were shaken by the lack of laughs, because for the life of me, I don't see any. It's a bleak little playlet about two lonely and inhibited people.

Many Steptoe episodes, of course, are also bleak little playlets about two men trapped in a relationship, and they are innovative comedy in that this time, there isn't even really ever a happy ending in prospect. They are probably the most successful example of the kind of comedy G & S were aiming for, because they did, most of the time, keep in mind that there was a need to be funny along the way, which they achieve by means of the way the characters interact and their different but equally entertaining modes of speech. In some of their other work, they don't always keep that need in mind, and the script material shows it. What this book showed me, at least, was the extent to which they should be viewed as straight dramatic writers, rather than comic writers, and very interesting it was too.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and very informative, 24 Jan 2012
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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This is a well written and very funny book. I know from my childhood both Tony Hancock and Steptoe and Son, and I knew a little of Alan and Ray. I enjoyed the book as both a informative on script writing, the British sense of humour, and the history of the 1950's and 60's.

It is a very easy read and something you have very little difficulty in picking up but certainly more difficulty putting down.

I found the earlier chapters on the origin of the pairs' formation and getting script to speaker quite riveting and I think this is the strength of the book. I can thoroughly recommend to all, this is a great way to read how comedy developed from early radio through to massive audiences on television.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Comfort Reading!, 19 Jan 2012
By 
Mr. J. C. Clubb "byshee" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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My first memories of the work of Alan Simpson and Ray Galton came in the form of a video rental my dad brought home to please my mum. I hadn't a clue who Tony Hancock was and couldn't understand the excitement. My mum and her cousins on the circus were huge fans of the Tony Hancock records and radio shows. They knew many of the scripts off by heart and would often fall into scenes at the drop of a hat. The only connection I made with the video was when Sid James popped up in "The Missing Page". Terrestrial TV in the 1980s ensured that its children grew up on the entire "Carry On" collection. However, even then, I noticed that there was something about Hancock that seemed better than the very broad and brash strokes of the seaside postcard humour that these later films exhibited. Later I was introduced to "Steptoe and Son" on TV and couldn't help but be drawn to its on-going comedy drama. Again, it seemed remarkable how it could pick such a depressing setting and even creepiness and yet make it so funny. Fast forward a few years and we had just moved into our cottage on the farm. It was the night of the terrible and under-anticipated hurricane. Mum had bought the first set of BBC released audio recordings of "Hancock's Half Hour" and we had a battery powered tape recorder to listen to them on. Since then the Hancock radio work especially has been a source of comfort to me. It has accompanied me on long car journeys, recovering in hospital (appropriately listening to "The Hospital Visit" episode for the first time) and it has got me through some tough emotional times too.

Therefore it was of little surprise that "The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe" was a real joy to read. It's not an in depth analysis of the subject matter or even a "warts `n all" biography. It's an affectionate yet honest tribute to Britain's best loved comedy writing duo. By the time I could enjoy real comedy Alan Simpson and Ray Galton had long since ended their fruitful business relationship. They have remained lifelong friends, but their golden, silver and bronze eras had long since passed. They got out when they were on top, leaving a prolific and highly influential legacy few could come close to equalling. In this book, author Christopher Stevens, an expert on Galton and Simpson's era of comedy, presents a collection of excerpts from the duo's archives, including work that no longer exists in its broadcast form. Galton and Simpson made their names in a profession that was virtually destined for unsung heroism. It was rare for producers or for comic actors to want the general public to know that there was a creative genius behind artistes like Frankie Howard and Tony Hancock. The writing duo seemed to fit in well with this anonymity, as to this day Stevens found them to be incredibly modest and self-depreciating about their massive contribution to entertainment.
On that note I think there is a lot to be said about Stevens' understated approach to writing. The book could easily have been a throwaway piece of nostalgia - the low pictures/high text ratio equivalent of a coffee table book. However, the subject matter and the material contained is so engrossing and downright entertaining only fool would want to part with it. This is enhanced by Stevens' knowledge. He puts his case that without Galton and Simpson situation comedy would look nothing like it does today. He further argues that many of today's sit-com icons are clear extensions of Hancock or Steptoe. The evidence he produces is pretty compelling, and it carefully shows the way the writing duo's style evolved, providing the writers that would follow them with a rich pool of ideas.

Stevens' decision to just give surface details in his biographical sketches of the various people mentioned in the book was a prudent decision. It's not a short volume and it is clear the author doesn't want too much distraction from the actual comedy itself. This is not to say this book should be taken as an academic study of the anatomy of situation comedy or even Galton and Simpson's work; this is clearly not its intention. However, where needed, Stevens is willing to talk candidly about certain aspects of people's lives. Hancock's breakdown during his time working on the radio series, which led to him fleeing to Europe without warning and for Harry Secombe to takeover is not brushed over. Likewise, Stevens disagrees with the commonly held belief that Harry H. Corbett and Wilfred Brambell really had a bad relationship off screen.

The book takes a slightly unusual if simplistic format. Stevens has interviewed Galton and Simpson a lot, and briefly describes his experiences with them. He has also interviewed a few other people connected to their work. However, for the most part he lets the voices do the work. We find out about the two writers' backgrounds and how they both ended up recovering in hospital together for a year, which ended up forging an almost telepathic writing collaboration. Inspired by American comedy, which they felt was decades ahead of the British, the duo had an uncannily similar idea about how What emerged were two people who prided themselves as being craftsman rather than artists, but were nonetheless passionate about their work. Here and there their strong political and (non)religious views popped up, but it never took over the pieces in the way so many other comedy franchises of today have done. Stevens also shows how many of their own experiences and people from their own lives have ended up in the material, which seems to make it all the more heartfelt. The book's selection criteria for what excerpts to use is quite novel. It follows a chronological path, but Stevens is mindful not to just include the famous scripts. Knowing that his core reader will be the firm fan or collector, he has given precedence to scripts of work that has been erased forever by the BBC or never materialized. This means we get the wonderful pairing of Frankie Howard with Tony Hancock - which we will never hear again - and the time when Harry Secombe filled in for Hancock for three episodes, resulting in their eventual meeting. However, even if you are a casual fan of their work I am confident this not put you off. The writing is light yet informative and the material showcased is true comedy genius. It's a wonderful book to just relax into and to recall a golden age of British situation comedy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not What I thought It Was, 12 Oct 2011
By 
C. M. Cotton "Chris Cotton" (Europe and USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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Without a doubt, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson will go down in UK TV history as probably the greatest duo of writers for TV comedy scripts of their generation. Their output at their peak was phenomenal, as writers for Hancock and Steptoe and Son. As such the duo has always intrigued me as I know so very little about them, as people.

I ordered this book thinking it was a biography of the two writers, instead what you get is a concentration on scripts for Hancock and Steptoe with a bit of biography thrown in. The scripts are pure genius and have some analysis pertaining to the stars involved in working the scripts and the situations surrounding filming. All of these things are interesting but I would have liked more biographical information on the two writers. Having read the book its still leaves the person who likes biographies asking who were the real Galton and Simpson?

There is nothing wrong with the book. I ordered it when there were no reviews and I did not know it wasn't a full blown biography. From the reviews now published, that explain this is not a normal biography, I would not have ordered it. Whilst the scripts are of historical importance, as the BBC has destroyed many of the episodes from its archives, it is not the biographical book I was looking for.

A great book for those who love reading comedy scripts, but lacks the depth of character analysis and biographical information for those who love biographies.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?!?!, 30 Sep 2011
By 
Ms. Felicia Davis-burden (Staines, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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There have been many fine scriptwriters and writing teams, but Galton and Simpson were special: the speed of their output, their delightfull wordplay, sense of where the core emotions lay in everyday language and the knowledge that there were actors capable of zeroing in on these emotions with exquisite timing. In Tony Hancock, G&S found the perfect voice, face and body to bring their words to vibrant life. Even the silences held meaning. Reading some of the script extracts, one is aware that much is missing without Hancock's presence. Anyone who has seen the clip of his miming the entire synopsis of 'Lady Don't Fall Backwards' in the library will still react to the distinct emotions coursing over his face - the whole thing was scripted. Reading the extract, I challenge anyone to try acting it out!

Galton & Simpson were hell-bent on breaking away from the endlessly repeated cliches of British comedy that had ruled since music-hall days. In fact they even lampooned particular over-familiar items: Read Hancock's doomed attempt to tell the good old 'Why did the chicken cross the road' tale, and imagine the voice and face, perhaps the sudden jolts of his shoulders. Delicious!

For a while, G&S had a comic dream-team with Hancock, Kenneth Williams (Oooh, it's the ejector seat!), Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Sid James. Sometimes it was only Hancock and James, or Hancocks and Williams, but every duet consisted of beautifully personalised wit and topical japes.

Then there was Steptoe and Son, the claustrophobic and doomed relationship between a father and son Rag & Bone team. G&S continued following their dictom of never repeating themselves, increasingly difficult given the nature of this new comedy vehicle.

This book often raises laughter: maybe there isn't quite a laugh per line, but it's certainly close. It's a joy to discover the background behind the writing team, their players and the sources of many of their finest passages. This is dream-reading for anyone who loves quality word-play and fully formed characters who stay just on the right side of being caricatures. 'A pint? Well that's very nearly an armfull!'
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Masters of Sitcom," Never Truer Words Spoken., 25 Sep 2011
By 
Amazon Customer "A Likely Lad" (Sheffield, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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The book's title is "Ray Galton and Alan Simpson: The Masters of Sitcom" and there has never been truer words spoken. The two are without a doubt the most influential and important sitcom writers in the entire history of the genre.

This book is an absolute godsend and is the first one of it's kind to open their script archives and written with their full cooperation, there have been other books detailing their work in which they only had a peripheral involvement, this is entirely different.

The author has chosen to take the option of illustrating his points with various relevent script extracts, this has the nice effect of breaking up the text of the main body of the book and giving it a nice easily flowing structure.

The book is divided into sections detailing thier different bodies of work, this includes Comedy Playhouse, The Frankie Howerd Show etc. Of course the two largest sections deal with those masterpieces Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

Hancock's Half Hour comprises of over half the book in terms of analysis and that's understandable as that series bothe radio and TV does make up the majority of their work.

There are many script extracts from episodes that no longer exist in the TV and radio archives interspaces with overviews, analysis and interviews with the two writers.

The Steptoe and Son section follows the same format and is topped off wonderfully by the full script of the Christmas Night With The Stars 1962 edition, which is entirely lost and hasn't been available for over forty years and is one of the major highlights of the book and very rare indeed.

There is a lovely photo plate section with most of the illustrations unseen before, these feature the writers onset with the Steptoe stars discussing the script, the writers in their office and many unseen shots from Hancock and their other work and rounds the book of nicely.

This really is a wonderful book and any fan of Galton and Simpson and/or classic comedy and sitcoms really cannot be afford to be without it.

It's a gem!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Masters of Sitcom, 25 Sep 2011
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe (Hardcover)
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Ray Galton and Alan Simpson met as teenagers in Milford Sanatorium in 1948, where both were recovering from pulmonary tuberculosis. When discharged at the start of the 1950's they had already begun writing sketches for the hospital's radio network. Both liked American humour and had an interest in getting rid of catchphrases, songs, running gags and introducing more natural comedy. Their partnership was equal, with not a word added without the approval of both, and this early start and good friendship served them both well.

This excellent book contains a brief biography of Galton and Simpson, along with lots of interviews with them and other people who worked with them, and also many extracts from scripts. The book begins with their very early career and then, in 1952, Tony Hancock invited Galton and Simpson to write a five minute slot for his appearance on the BBC radio show "Worker's Playtime". The original writers were Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin, but apparently Hancock loathed their writing to the point where he used their scripts for toilet paper! Their excellent success with Hancock led to a long running series which just got better and better.

This book covers all the Hancock years and also their work on "Steptoe and Son". It shows how many modern sit coms and comedy writers have benefited from the legacy of Galton and Simpson and discusses their most famous episodes, as well as much previously unseen material. The development of Galton and Simpson is, in many ways, the development of comedy. The transition from radio to television and from music hall to modern, realistic settings with real drama. This makes for an absolutely fascinating read, which is also extremely funny. I think a lot of people would be very happy with this in their Christmas stockings this year. Excellent book and highly recommended. Now, I think I just HAVE to go and order some "Hancock Half Hour" CD's.
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The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe
The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe by Christopher Stevens (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2011)
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