Hancock’s Half Hour: Missing episodes of series to be resurrected at Edinburgh Festival

Four scripts of the comedy series will be performed at the Assembly Rooms in August after being unearthed by actor Neil Pearson

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The Independent Culture

Missing episodes of the hit BBC comedy series Hancock’s Half Hour will be resurrected at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer after their scripts were rediscovered.

Four scripts, which were among the 20 thought lost from the broadcaster’s archives, will be performed at the Assembly Rooms in August after being unearthed by actor Neil Pearson. The 1950s series, which began on radio before moving to television, propelled comedian Tony Hancock and two young scriptwriters, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, to stardom.

But of the 103 episodes they wrote, 20 recordings were wiped from archives and believed to be lost forever, until they were found by Mr Pearson.

The actor, who found fame with newsroom comedy Drop the Dead Donkey, is a collector of rare books and came across the missing scripts in a haul of documents acquired from the estate of an unnamed freelance comedy writer.

The Fringe performances will come less than a year after five missing episodes were re-recorded and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to mark the 60th anniversary of the partnership between Mr Galton and Mr Simpson, who went on to write Steptoe and Son.

Mr Pearson, who will direct the stage show, called The Missing Hancocks, said the four scripts had not been performed before and were “as fresh and funny as if they were written yesterday”.

He told Scotland on Sunday: “As well as being quite hilarious reads, these scripts are quite valuable artefacts, which link us not just to the period but the very time when they were recorded.

“Galton and Simpson are still very much with us. I went along to them and asked them to choose five episodes to hear again if I could persuade the BBC to re-record them,” Mr Pearson added.

Like the recent radio recordings, the Fringe show casts Pirates of the Caribbean star Kevin McNally as Hancock.

Mr Pearson said: “The BBC thought it was a great idea as long as I could get an absolutely nailed-on piece of casting for Hancock himself, as they felt it just wouldn’t work without that.

“Kevin McNally is a great comic actor, a comedy anorak and an absolute Hancock aficionado. He’s been carrying around Hancock material on his iPod as long as he’s been able to. I sent him a long email and got a one-word response back, which just said yes.”

He added: “When people come to the live show it will be as if you are attending the original radio recording in the 1950s. The characters will have the scripts in their hands around a 1950s microphone, just as it would have been recorded at the BBC.”