TV Review: Lost Sitcoms - Hancock's Half Hour, BBC4

Stone me this is good. I was a little bit worried about this TV recreation of a lost Hancock episode because last week’s Alf Garnett reboot was so disappointing. But there is no problem here. A combination of excellent casting and excellent writing makes this easily as funny as most contemporary sitcoms.

It probably helps that this is largely the same team that has been doing the recent radio and live versions of lost Hancock comedies*. Kevin McNally totally owns Hancock and gets that rictus grin just right. Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams gets two roles here and has plenty of camp double entendres to get his teeth into. Jon Culshaw is Sid James (and keeps it restrained instead of just doing an impression), Katy Wix is a pouty Hattie Jacques and Kevin Eldon (we know he'll be good) is John Vere. All spot on. 

The set-up is fiendishly uncomplicated. A new neighbour has moved into Railway Cuttings and Hancock is so suspicious he immediately sets up 24/7 surveillance on them. The set-up is quite similar to the Tom Hanks movie The Burbs - it is easy to mistake something perfectly innocent for something sinister if you have the wrong mindset.

Funny lines fly thick and fast and hardly feel dated at all. And when they do - such as when Hancock is shocked by the massive size of the TV being delivered next door, “8 inches” - there is an extra frisson. And for those that think post-modernism is a new thing it is worth noting that in each episode of Hancock the characters played different parts. For no apparent reason Sid James is an estate agent here. 

The script - by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, of course - is so good you are not even bothered by the basic scenery - there are literally no walls. In fact it would be just as funny if you closed your eyes and imagined you were listening to the radio. The only thing you would miss would be McNally’s gloriously unforgettable face.

Catch up on iPlayer here.

*Neil Pearson, who was instrumental in the recent radio and live versions, gets a deserved credit here too. Read an interview with him here.

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