Hancock's comic spirit lives on in Scandinavia: Exhibition highlights comedian's enduring appeal. Chris Arnot reports

THE NORWEGIANS, until recently great admirers of English football, also harboured a sneaking regard for our comedians. Tony Hancock might have been amused to learn that he had an imitator in Oslo.

His name is Rolv Wesenlund and the video of his 1989 performance as 'The Blood Donor' is much sought after.

Dave Sandall, a Birmingham postman who chairs the Tony Hancock Society, is negotiating with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in the hope of acquiring a copy for this year's annual convention in October.

It will be too late for Hancock: 25 Years On, an exhibition of memorabilia that opened yesterday in Birmingham. The comedian was born five minutes' walk away in a large bay-windowed semi very different from his seedy fictional home at 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.

A picture of the birthplace is one of the exhibits, along with storyboards about his life, rare variety programmes and recordings, old scripts and a copy of the blue plaque that the Dead Comics Society attached to a house in Hampstead where he lived for six months in 1947.

In June 1968, when news came through of Hancock's death in a Sydney hotel room, Mr Sandall was 17. His wife, Gaynor, was less than a year old. They met at a gathering of the Hancock Society, which now has more than 200 members.

Mr Sandall pondered the secret of the comedian's enduring appeal. 'I suppose we can all imagine ourselves in the sort of situations he used to find himself. He's inside you, he's inside me, he's inside all of us.

'We can all see ourselves being bored and alone in a bedsit or finding the last page missing in a library book. Although the situations were exaggerated for comic effect, they were all plausible and still relevant.'

The Sandalls' loft conversion harbours a store of neatly filed Hancock newspaper cuttings and video tapes.

Pictures of the lugubrious face beneath the Homburg hat peer down from the walls. Alongside them is a detailed map of the Royal Borough of East Cheam, circa 1957, showing the shunting yards, the gas works, the abattoir, the fish and chip 'parlour', the bookmakers and 67 pubs.

Near by is a large walnut-veneer wireless of the sort that once beamed Hancock's Half Hour into millions of homes via the BBC Light Programme. On a clear night, they could pick it up in Norway.

Hancock: 25 Years On runs until 31 July at Hall Green Library, Stratford Road, Birmingham.

(Photograph omitted)

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