Last night's viewing - My Hero: Ben Miller on Tony Hancock BBC1

It was the smaller corners of this tribute to a comic genius that made My Hero: Ben Miller on Tony Hancock worth watching. We already knew the larger story, of Hancock's dry, doleful wit, of his radio and TV success, his thwarted ambition to be a serious actor and, later, film failures, and of his drinking and untimely death from an overdose at the age of 44. What was more interesting, beyond Miller's gushing praise of the comedian, were the small, surprising things that he discovered as he spoke to those who had worked with Hancock.

We heard that he froze with stage fright in his first two auditions; that he was such a nervous young performer that he was only kept on in the Army's stage group because he was such a nice guy to be around; that he was a loner, even in the days when he played at the kind of men-only clubs that opened with dancing girls and an on-stage nude; that he rehearsed tirelessly for Hancock's Half Hour, sometimes until two in the morning; and that when he walked away from the show, the BBC called him a "moody perfectionist with a great interest in money and no sense of loyalty to the Corporation" (according to a report in the BBC archive).

Many of Miller's own memories sounded like homilies: when he sat down with his father as a boy one Christmas to watch The Blood Donor, "I honestly don't think I've seen anything so funny in my life"; and that he had watched Twelve Angry Men at least 30 times. His personal recollections were not nearly as interesting as his journey to meet the people who knew Hanncock, including the writers of Hancock's Half Hour, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who were spry old men now, remembering Hancock's friendship with his one-time co-star, Sid James, his work ethic and also his nerves before a show. He would get so anxious that he would "dry heave and retch" in his room, said Simpson.

Most of the people Miller met delivered a small nugget of gold for Hancock fans, though there was one strained encounter with a ventriloquist's dummy, Archie, with whom Hancock had worked on the 1950s comedy show Educating Archie. After a stilted conversation with Archie, Miller said, "It was so good to meet a performer who worked with Tony", which sounded pretty corny, given that he was talking about a puppet.

He also found the wife of Derek Scott, with whom Hancock performed one of his first double acts in Piccadilly, as well as the man who now lived in his house and a group photograph of a slim, smiling Hancock in his Army stage troupe.

Miller's journey also took him to the places in which Hancock had lived and worked, such as the Bournemouth hotel where he grew up. Walking around its corridors and rooms, Miller noted that a certain sensibility could be detected within its walls that might have nurtured Hancock's "sheep-like despondency". "Everything is muffled and quiet… and boring..." There were a few quietly poignant moments in Miller's trip down Hancock's memory lane. One was his parting word on the honesty in his hero's comedy and his willingness to "let us in" that made his work so profound. The other was an archive interview in which Hancock himself spoke humbly, but ardently, of his perfectionism. Asked if he was "happy", he ducked the question and said: "I've been fortunate… My whole purpose is to perfect the talent – however small – that I have got."

To know the befuddlement and alcoholism that he would later suffer, that he would have doctors on hand backstage to administer his pills and that these would render any more perfecting of an immense talent impossible, was truly tragic.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'