The Masters of Sitcom: From Hancock to Steptoe Hardcover – 1 Sept. 2011
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An excellent guide to two of Britain's sitcom pioneers. A must-buy for fans of classic comedy. (Paul Merton)
Galton and Simpson are The Beatles of British comedy - they changed everything. (Frank Skinner)
In Christopher Stevens their achievements have found a perceptive and sympathetic chronicler (Sunday Express)
Breathtakingly funny (Matt Lucas and David Walliams)
Descriptive and informative narrative written by an obvious enthusiast of their work (Tony Hancock Archives Newsletter)
About the Author
Christopher Stevens is a television critic, author and journalist. He began working as a journalist in 1983 and currently holds the position of Daily Mail TV critic, writing daily reviews of the previous night's viewing from Monday to Friday.
He has written 6 books and is the father of two teenage boys.
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It is still interesting, but not a detailed analysis of the writing team that I expected.
Regarding the scripts, I believe that Stevens has chosen well, particularly including some writing that never made it to transmission because of the programmes duration. An example of this is the inclusion of a page of the "Sunday Afternoon at Home" script that was cut for the aforestated reason. For Hancock completists like me it is nice to have those words if only in written form.
Stevens has reproduced many segments of scripts from the Galton and Simpson archive here - too numerous to detail in this review. But as you are reading the reviews that people like me have posted regarding this book, then you probably already know that the quality of writing is truly outstanding from watching or listening to either (or both) Hancocks Half Hour or Steptoe.
This is a book that I didn't rush to get through - and as I wanted to spend time with the stories and characters voices, I thought it better to get the Hancock/James/Kerr/Jacques/Williams/Harold and Albert delivery in my head when reading those wonderful scripts. For me, the Hancock scripts will never be bettered in situation comedy, and the Steptoe one's are nearly - or should that be "very nearly" as good.
I recommend this celebration of the writing genius that came from the minds of Ray and Alan - it was a delightful read.
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.
Top international reviews
Christopher Stevens provides excellent commentaries and background details to the writing of the scripts plus short biographies of the writers. He demonstrates how Galton and Simpson moved away from the standard comedy variety show common at the time and developed the idea of sit-com which relied less on jokes and more on observing the main characters in humourous situations. This development was to influence a whole range of writers resulting in some of the best comedy shows to appear on British television.
There is also a wealth of additional information which makes this book a most enjoyable read.