Right, where were we then?
Several centuries ago I started to take a look at the mysterious episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour on radio which Tony Hancock isn’t even in. That first installment can be found here https://ladydontfallbackwards.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/hancocks-half-hour-the-harry-secombe-episodes-part-1/.
Listeners in 1955 didn’t have to wait this long to pick up where we left off but at long last, it’s time to see what happens in episode 2 of series 2, The Crown Jewels. Rehearsed and recorded on the 24th of April 1955 and transmitted on the 26th of April 1955, this episode no longer survives in any recorded format. However, the script does and it’s this that we’re looking at to try and get a flavour of what S-S-S-Secombe’s Half Hour might have sounded like.
Anyone who missed the previous week’s antics in France would be forgiven for thinking it’s business as usual as the usual doleful sig plays in. However, our announcer (credited as Michael Brooke on the script’s title page, simply as “Reggie” thereafter) soon puts us right :
REGGIE We present Bill Kerr, Sidney James, Andree Melly, and Kenneth Williams in Hancock’s Half Hour, and in place of Tony Hancock…meet Harry Secombe!
after the theme plays out we hand over to Kenneth Williams, directed by Ray and Alan in the stage directions to play it “very John Snagge” :
KENNETH In the continued and unfortunate absence of Tony Hancock, Mr William Kerr the international vagrant has been compelled to find some other way of providing himself with succour. The sucker in this case being Handsome Harold Secombe. Mr Kerr has rooted himself in Mr Secombe’s London flat, where he freely enjoys the amenities that are offered. Well, not actually offered, but well…
We fade to Harry’s little box in town, where “Finger of Suspicion” is playing in the background. Bill’s been at the drinks cabinet and is making substantial inroads into Harry’s supply of scotch.
HARRY There were four bottles left last night!
BILL I’ve had a cold, Harry.
HARRY You had a cold. Four bottles of scotch for a cold. Bill, promise me one thing. Move out before you catch Pneumonia.
Harry soon finds out that his supply of fags is virtually all away as well. Bill has his own justification – he’s doing it all for his mate.
BILL I like you. I don’t want to see you end up as a dipsomaniac with a smoker’s cough.
HARRY The sooner Hancock comes back and collects you the better…
Andree has moved in as well. She’s upstairs, getting ready for Harry and Bill to show her the exciting fleshpots of London Town.
HARRY I’ve worked out the routes to take her on. If you’re coming with us, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, The Tate Gallery and the Tower of London.
BILL And if I don’t come with you?
HARRY Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’s Park and Hampstead Heath.
If ever there was an exchange crying out for Hancock’s voice, there it is.
Andree enters, wearing a provocative dress. The neckline’s a bit daring, and our boys are a little taken aback.
ANDRE ….Dior calls it his Empire Neckline.
BILL Oh well, that’s another Empire fallen.
ANDREE Oh, you Englishmen. You have such nasty minds. If I wore this dress in France nobody would notice.
HARRY That’s the trouble with Frenchmen today. They’ve lost interest in everything.
The tour begins. Covent Garden first stop and Andree wants to savour the local atmosphere. Harry warns her to cover her ears, because an enormous worker balancing fifteen baskets on his head is about to walk into a wheelbarrow. Cue GRAMS crashes, followed by Kenneth Williams in as precious a voice as he can manage:
KEN Oh, spit. This just isn’t my day. That’s the third lot of daffs I’ve dropped this morning. I might as well go home. Makes you sick. It does, really.
A handwritten exchange – presumably worked out during rehearsals – is penned in here:
HARRY And he looks so tough.
BILL With a voice like that you’ve got to be.
Another moment of pure Hancock arrives, with Harry flannelling furiously to cover up a severe lack of London knowledge.
ANDREE Ah, that must be Nelson’s Column
HARRY Quite correct. Built by Nelson in 1895 as a look-out post from the top of which he could keep his eye on the movements of the galleons as they made their way towards Plymouth Hoe. Note the hordes of pigeons still hanging around waiting for him to come back with a message from the fleet.
Hancock may be absent, but his voice can be heard ringing through many of these exchanges. Much tortured mangling of London history later, we fetch up at the Tower.
HARRY …and this of course is the famous Bloody Tower, built in 1132 for the imprisonment of enemies of the crown, and where you’ll remember in 1543 James Robertson Justice had Richard Todd thrown in when he caught him going at it a bit heavy with Glynis Johns.
Thankfully Kenneth arrives as the official guide to put Andree right and he isn’t too impressed with Harry’s grasp of events.
KEN The man’s off his chump. That’s not what they learned me at school… Madam, will you PLEASE tell that revolting child to get his jammy fingers off Anne Boleyn’s Tomb!
Several pages worth of debate later, we arrive at the room housing the Crown Jewels. Unsurprisingly the ranks of the Beefeaters have been swelled by one.
BILL …. Harry, you’ve met Syd James.
HARRY Why yes of course. I’m sorry, Mr James. I didn’t recognise you in the Beefeater’s uniform and black mask.
BILL How long have you been a Beefeater, Syd?
SYD I joined this morning. If all goes well I resign tonight.
Syd appeals to Harry’s sense of patriotism to secure his assistance in removing the Crown Jewels for safekeeping. There are thieves about and the jewels need to be taken to a safe location to protect them. One hacksaw and several bars later, the job’s nearly done.
HARRY …we must help Mr James transfer the jewels. Don’t you realise the honour that has befallen us? We will go down in history. Harold Secombe and William Kerr who were instrumental in removing the Crown Jewels of the British Empire.
Shortly after –
SYD Hold this, will you?
HARRY What is it?
SYD A Brick.
HARRY No, no, please. Allow me. You might miss.
So, Harry is naive, patriotic and kind-hearted, easily manipulated by people he trusts. Neddy Seagoon is hanging around in the shadows, giggling and blowing raspberries.
Job done, Syd discovers Harry plans to show Andree the Tate next and offers them a lift. After all, the thieves might strike there next and those paintings might need to be transferred for safety as well. Unfortunately, the Rozzers are onto them the minute they drive off.
HARRY It must be the crooks. They must have seen them take the jewels. The cunning devils. Look at them… disguised as policemen. They won’t catch us. Faster man, faster. We must get to the Tate Gallery and take those paintings before they do.
At the Tate Syd gets to work. before too long an entire row of “Toulousey Lautrecs” and a “Dotty Kelly” are preserved for the nation (“Might sell well in Dublin”, muses Syd). Andree wants to go and see the Elgin Marbles next.
SYD No, you don’t want to bother with them. I think we ought to go round and save Lord and Lady Docker’s stuff first.
ANDREE I want to see the Elgin Marbles!
SYD There’s plenty of marbles at Lady Docker’s place…
ANDREE Mr James, the Elgin Marbles are ancient Greek Statues
SYD So what?
ANDREE They’re beautiful.
ANDREE They’re priceless.
SYD I’ll go and get a lorry.
Before too much longer, the evening papers break the news of the sensational robberies. Shortly thereafter, Syd disappears.
ANDREE He’s gone… when you got to the bit about heavy sentences he muttered something about South America and letting two other men take the blame.
HARRY Who could he have meant?
ANDREE I don’t know. But both their christian names were Charlie.
Bill meanwhile has been reading the description of the felons given, and presents the news to Harry with a flat, dead “Hiya Charlie”. Now, at long last, Harry gets a chance to do a bit that plays to his strengths.
BILL The descriptions of the criminals are as follows. One man in a beefeater’s uniform. One short fat man with enough hair for three people. One thin Australian…
HARRY A short…fat…man….and…a….thin….Austral…. (GULPS)
The game’s up and our heroes make plans to try to get out of this mess. Harry suggests they leave the jewels in an empty railway carriage. Bill vetoes it – “the number of times they get cleaned out, they’ll still be missing for the next coronation”. Eventually they decide to try and put them back where they found them. Job done, Harry thinks they can all relax.
HARRY You’ll be able to sleep safely tonight, Andree
ANDREE Why? Are you going to have Bill locked up?
Along comes Kenneth Williams, this time as a stern-faced representative of the law (no room for Snide in this one but Ken more than makes up for it by playing more or less everybody else)
HARRY Found those jewel robbers yet?
KEN Yes, I think so.
HARRY Ahem. Yes. Lovely moon out tonight.
KEN Yes, quite a picture as it glints on the old Koh-in-noor stuck on your nut there.
KEN I think you’d better come along with us… your majesty.
Turns out in the dark, Harry’s nervousness has got the better of him. If he hadn’t been caught comments Bill, the next monarch would have to be crowned with a size-ten bowler.
Finally we arrive back more or less where we started, with Harry continuing his history lesson. Well, almost.
HARRY … and over there, we have the prison walls, built in 1763 by the convicts themselves.
ANDREE How interesting, Harry.
HARRY Yes, there’s not much I don’t know about this place. This is my cell here, and it has quite an interesting history, in 1847 it was built by….
etc, fades into theme tune.
With that the announcements roll, the music fades in and Hancock’s been successfully covered for another week. Multiple clues can be gathered from the script as to how broadly it would have sounded – the GRAMS instructions are all present and correct, with the details of which pieces of music are to be used and where. Galton and Simpson also give Kenneth Williams a few pointers, with their indication of the type of voice they’re after (I can just hear his John Snagge impersonation reverberating down through the ages). Andree is presumably still lumbered with her accent – it’s still fairly cut-glass when we reach the actual surviving episodes from this series. Bill’s still fairly sharp, albeit naive, although he’s exhibiting signs of the permanently unemployed, boots-on-the-pillow layabout he’d soon become. Syd’s character is fully formed, and on the fiddle – no tweaking necessary. He’s found someone else to twist in Hancock’s absence and he’ll take full advantage. Harry? He plays on the page as part Hancock, part Neddie Seagoon. Equal parts pompous but kind-hearted innocent and frantic, hyperactive giggler. It’s an impossible situation for Harry to take on but I’m sure he aced it.
Hancock would remain absent for a further episode – frantic antics involving Harry and a foolish investment in a racehorse, before returning himself to harness for episode four. We’ll hopefully look at both of those soon. In the meantime, I’ll let Reggie have the last word.
REGGIE You have been listening to Hancock’s Half Hour, with Harry Secombe, Bill Kerr, Andree Melly, Sidney James and Kenneth Williams. Incidental music was by Wally Stott and recorded by the BBC Revue Orchestra conducted by Harry Rabinowitz. The script was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and the programme which was recorded was produced by Dennis Main Wilson.
CLOSING THEME (To to & End)
And who can argue with that?