Here we are then. Week three of Hancock’s Half Hour, without Tony Hancock. It’s been a strange run of episodes so far. Everything is almost normal but not quite, simply because of the gaping Hancock shaped void at the centre of proceedings. We’re almost there,though. For one more week then, let Kenneth Williams – doing extra duty as announcer this week – usher us into this strange little alternative universe as he presents Hancock’s Half Hour, Series 2 Episode 3… The Racehorse.
KEN We present Bill Kerr, Sidney James, Andree Melly and Kenneth Williams in Hancock’s Half Hour… and in place of Tony Hancock Who is indisposed – meet Harry Secombe!
Though his regular meal ticket, Mr Tony Hancock Esq, is still absent, Mr William Kerr is still living off the fat of the land… Mr Harold Secombe Esquire. And with Andree, his French amorata to look after as well, Mr Secombe is finding it increasingly difficult to feed three mouths on the miserable pittance he gets from the BBC.
Interesting to note Andree’s an amorata. A word you can imagine Ken rolling gleefully around before delivering it in that way that only he does. You’ll also note that in this universe Harry’s also working for a pittance at the BBC. Not stated whether it’s his own series – like the in-continuity one Hancock’s got – or whether he’s part of another show altogether. Not much time to rewrite at this stage, presumably.
Meanwhile, things are fraught at the breakfast table.
HARRY Food, food, for pity’s sake, food. Three days ne’er a bite has passed these lips. I’m a living skeleton. Food. Food…
ANDREE Harry, calm down. Breakfast’s ready.
HARRY (Slobbering) Breakfast. Ha ha. Where is it? Where is it?
ANDREE Here you are. Bean on toast.
HARRY Come now, Andree, you must get your English right. In English the plural has an “s” on the end. Like sheeps. Understand?
ANDREE Yes. And you’ve still got bean on toast.
Times are hard and it’s all Kerr’s fault. Harry gave him ten shillings three days ago to go and get some food, and… well, you can guess where this is going to end up, can’t you?
BILL Well you see, Harry, I bumped into an old Army pal and well…
HARRY How much can we get on the empties?
BILL I didn’t booze it.
HARRY What did you do with it?
BILL I wouldn’t throw money down the drain like that.
HARRY What did you do with it?
BILL I’ve got more sense than that.
HARRY WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT?
BILL We need food, and food costs money, so I did the only sensible, logical thing.
BILL I bought a horse.
HARRY Quick, light the oven, I want the fetlocks.
Bill got himself a good bargain, or so he says. Seven and six for a prime racehorse, the thing that’s going to make their fortune. Where’s the rest of the money? Horses have to eat so Bill’s spent the rest on some hay. “I wonder what it’s like with chips?” ponders Harry.
The horse is presented to the rest of the household to a less than enthusiastic response.
BILL There you are, it’d take a keen eye to find out why I only paid seven and six for that horse.
HARRY (Flat) It’s only got three legs.
BILL Huh? Where, let me see… one two three… I’ve been cheated! So that’s why he had it standing up against that post.
ANDREE Yes, and that front leg looks a bit stiff to me.
On tapping said leg it turns out to be wood. Backed into a corner Bill defends himself by claiming all it needs is a good trainer. “He’ll have to be a good carpenter too!” is Harry’s only response.
Andree asks whether the horse – who turns out to be a she – has a name.
HARRY What did you call her that for?
BILL Well, I’m hoping she’ll be well out in front.
Seasoned Hancock watchers will know that Galton and Simpson peppered their scripts with references to fifties culture, and here’s a belter. Norma Ann Sykes – aka Sabrina – appeared every week with Arthur Askey on “Before Your Very Eyes”. You can probably guess what everyone’s referring to here. Regularly mentioned in dispatches by The Goon Show as in “by the sweaters of Sabrina!” and the like, her name will appear again in latter Hancock scripts. I love it when Galton and Simpson do this. The casual, throwaway mentions of things that would be utterly familiar to the listening audience give you a real feel for a vanished world, one you’ll never know. All we can do from this remove is peek in from the outside.
Needless to say, Bill’s made another foresighted arrangement for the training of the lovely Sabrina. The Sid James Racing Stables at Epsom are awaiting their pleasure.
HJARRY That man’s been warned off every racetrack in the country!
BILL Only under one of his names.
With a clip-clop-bonk, clip-clop-bonk, they’re off. Only as far as the nearest bus stop, though. “It’s a long way to Epsom”, protests Bill. “It’s been raining – her leg might get warped”.
Once on board, things get even stranger.
HARRY We’d better take her upstairs. The people downstairs might object.
BILL What to?
HARRY To her smoking.
BILL Don’t be ridiculous. You know very well that pipe isn’t alight.
Every bus needs a conductor and Kenneth Williams is on hand. However, he isn’t happy with a horse being on board his bus. He’s reluctant to have her stay on the grounds that she might interfere with the other passengers. Sabrina’s already eaten an old lady’s straw hat. Harry’s offer to buy her a new one falls on deaf ears – she’d prefer the old one. “Her hair was still in it”, Kenneth tartly explains.
Thanks to Andree’s blandishments the conductor reluctantly allows them to stay on but not before Bill attempts to blag a three and a half on the grounds that Sabrina’s under fourteen. As it turns up they end up walking anyway. Sabrina keeps stamping on the floor with her wooden leg, meaning the driver thinks someone wants to get off. Interfering with corporation business is a capital offence in Kenneth’s book so it’s off they have to get.
Several hours later…
BILL Young girls of today have no stamina, that’s the trouble…. Lead a horse for fifteen miles and they’re finished.
ANDREE Well, here we are, boys. (PAUSE) Well, shall I help you down off the horse?
Having arrived at the establishment of “Honest Sidney James, the owner’s friend”, they find Sid on the phone to someone called “Nobbler”.
SID I want you to put two hundred pounds on the other horses. No, not money. Weight. I want to make sure…
Sid’s rates are fifteen guineas a day. Since Harry doesn’t have that sort of money, he agrees to a quarter share. One slight problem there. The cry goes up from Sid – “Who’s whipped my share??”
SID Do me a favour fellows, be reasonable. Do the kind thing, take her away and put her out to graze.
HARRY See, you’ve offended her now. She heard that. Her hearing aid must have been switched on.
Bill wants Sid to train her up to Derby winning standards. Sid remains unconvinced.
SID Billy, she’s only got two good legs… and they’re not even level.
ANDREE You could put a book under one of them.
SID That’s alright when she’s standing still What about when she races? She’ll be lopsided.
HARRY A definite advantage when she goes round the bends.
SID Only right handed ones.
Reluctantly, Sid agrees to give her a trial. Sabrina Clip-Clop-Bonks off. Enormous crashing noise off-stage. “Don’t worry Sid”, says Harry. “That won’t happen when her glasses arrive”.
You get the feeling that Ray and Alan are absolutely flying with this one, having a ball in seeing just how ridiculously decrepit they can make this poor broken down nag. They’re not done yet.
Several days later, and Sabrina’s out on a trial gallop of two hundred yards.
SID She had one six hours ago.
KENNETH It’s the same one. She’s got another hundred and twenty five yards to go.
Despite all this, Harry has entered Sabrina for the Britannia Steeplechase. Sid is horrified.
SID You must be off your chump. Besides, there’s not a jockey in the country who’d ride her.
ANDREE That’s why Harry’s going to ride her.
SID Well, good luck to him. I hope… WHA??!
SID Him? Jockey?
HARRY And why not?
SIDNEY Well, you’re the right height, whichever way you measure.
HARRY My size doesn’t matter. Steeplechase jockeys always weigh more.
SID Yeah, but not more than the horse.
BILL I think Harry’d make a good jockey. He gets on well with Sabrina.
SID Blimey, what a pair. His weight and her wooden leg. If the going’s soft, there’ll be a bloke following behind planting potatoes.
Some time later, the training seems to be working. Sabrina can now jump over two whole fat worms and the jockey doesn’t have to dismount and throw her over the fences like he used to. Race time is three o clock. . “Gastonia Yankee”’s on twenty to one. “Red Lion Street” hundred to eight. “Sabrina” seven hundred and fifty eight thousand to one. Yesterday, seven hundred and fifty nine thousand to one. “Just as I thought”, comments Sid. “They’re getting the wind up”.
Sabrina is led to the starting line.
EFFECTS CLIP CLOP, CLIP CLOP
ANDREE Oh Sabrina, you silly girl, you’ve forgotten something, haven’t you? Go on, go back and get it.
EFFECTS CLIP CLOP BONK, CLIP CLOP BONK
Down at the racecourse Sid is despondent. Even after going round the paddock poking the other horses with a syringe stuck in the end of an umbrella, he’s still lost a heap on the first three races of the day.
SIDNEY I’m not sure, but I think there’s someone on this course who’s got a bigger umbrella than mine. I’m going to complain to the stewards, this course is full of crooks.
Bill’s put threepence on Sabrina – he wired home for it. It’s his share of Grandpa’s inheritance – “I was always his favourite”.
Harry arrives, wearing his new riding gear.
Sid ponders how they found enough material to make his silks –
ANDREE Oh, I just sewed together a pair of curtains.
BILL Where from?
ANDREE The Palladium.
SID I like the riding breeches. Did you have them made specially?
HARRY Of course not. These are my cricket flannels. My legs have always been this shape.
The weigh-in follows. Needless to say, Harry breaks the scales spectacularly. “I wonder what would have happened if I’d put both feet on?” he ponders.
It’s all up to Harry now. Sid’s given him his riding instructions.
SID The usual stuff. As soon he gets over the first fence, tip a bagful of marbles all over the track. That’ll bring a few down. And I’ve had petrol poured in the water jump. All he’s got to do is drop a match in as he goes past. If nobody cheats, we might win this.
The race begins. Things got off to a predictably bad start –
BILL Two hundred yards behind the field. Three hundred yards behind the field. Four hundred yards behind the field. Ten yards behind the field.
SID What happened?
BILL They’ve lapped him.
Somehow they stagger through to a promising position, although only because Harry goes first – Sid excitedly noting, “Blimey, look at that horse holding onto Secombe for dear life!”
It’s a close run thing, but Sabrina’s done it – Ken announces the winner, by a short leg – Sabrina.
Back at the flat glasses are chinking, and everyone’s happy.
BILL For the first time in our lives, we’re rich!
ANDREE You’ve got Sabrina to thank for that. You ought to be grateful to her.
HARRY I haven’t forgotten Sabrina. I went out this morning and bought her a lovely present.
BILL What did you get her?
HARRY Something she’s always wanted. Come on, I’ll show you, she’s out in the yard… there she is. Complete with present.
ANDREE Oh, Harry, how sweet.
BILL What a wonderful idea.
HARRY She’s very pleased with it. I’ll call her over. Sabrina, come over here, dear.
EFFECTS Horse neigh, followed by CLIP CLOP BONK BONK, CLIP CLOP BONK BONK.
With that, we’re into the end music.
What a lovely, silly script this one is. Galton and Simpson flying with an utterly ridiculous premise – pushing it as far they can go, but never cruel with it. The balance feels shifted slightly – it’s very much Sid who gets all the best lines, with Andree and Bill stooging somewhat this week. Harry doesn’t do anything that Hancock wouldn’t have done in this one – a few cracks about his weight but otherwise it’s very much business as usual. It has a really sweet ending – you can hear the audience going “aaaaaawwww” over the final gag, and it feels like it could have been one of the great radio episodes. Sadly, barring miracles it seems unlikely we’ll ever find out.
With that Secombe gracefully steps back, allowing a fully recovered Hancock to return to his place at centre mic. Following this unexpected bump in the road Hancock’s Half Hour settles back into its accustomed groove, and business continues as usual. Except it doesn’t, not quite. Hancock has a debt to pay, and he’s going to do it. Join us next time for Hancock’s Half Hour starring Tony Hancock AND Harry Secombe in … A Visit To Swansea.