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Lost Hancock’s Half Hour is the only one to feature a Goon

Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers perform for BBC Radio 4 Extra
Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers perform for BBC Radio 4 Extra - BBC

An audio sleuth who spends his days listening to old tapes has discovered a lost Hancock’s Half Hour episode – the only one to feature both Hancock and Harry Secombe.

Fans of The Lad Himself are delighted that the half hour has emerged, especially because they consider it one of the most important because it features the Goon.

Richard Harrison, a former teacher, buys old reel-to-reel tapes in the hope of finding missing programmes that were not kept by the broadcaster and are missing.

The 47-year-old from Lowestoft in Suffolk has uncovered numerous important programmes over the years including some lost Desert Island Discs episodes, including one with Kenneth Williams.

And in 2022 he found another of the missing Hancock’s Half Hours – The Marriage Bureau – which was broadcast by the BBC.

The latest discovery, called A Visit to Swansea, was the fourth episode of the second series that began in April 1955. There are now 21 missing episodes.

Recording is the only one to feature both Hancock and comic Harry Secombe
Tape is the only one to feature both Hancock and comic Harry Secombe

Richard said: “In essence I go through lots and lots of tapes and every now and then I hit the jackpot.

“This new episode was from the same collection as The Marriage Bureau and was unlabelled. It had been recorded by the same person.

“When I first began listening to it, I thought it sounded like a different episode called Back From Holiday.

“But I thought I’d check the end credits and heard that Harry Secombe was in it, and this meant it was one of the missing ones.

“I couldn’t believe I had found another one. Things from the mid-50s are like gold dust. It was a great moment.

“The BBC remade it years later and I listened to it to check the scripts matched, and they did. It is a good quality recording with just a couple of minutes missing from the start.

“I am a member of the Radio Circle which is a collaboration of enthusiasts and one member has cleaned up the tape. We just need to persuade the BBC to run it.”

As well as having the skills to digitise old reels and put them on to CD, Richard has the all-round knowledge of early radio to identify the missing programmes.

Tony Hancock took his own life in Australia in 1968
Tony Hancock took his own life in Australia in 1968 - Hulton Archive/Associated Rediffusion Production

Tim Elms, archivist and membership secretary of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, said: “We are absolutely thrilled that this has been found.

“It was the only episode that featured Hancock and Harry Secombe and it follows the discovery of The Marriage Bureau that featured Peter Sellers.

“The first series was such a success that the second followed shortly afterwards but before recording began, Hancock disappeared.

“He had been appearing in a long-running show called Talk of the Town with Jimmy Edwards and things got too much and he had a bit of a breakdown and went to Italy.

“The producers had to find a replacement and Harry Secombe was obviously available and he was a great friend of Hancock.

“So Secombe played Hancock in the first three episodes.

“Then Hancock returned and writers Galton and Simpson quickly wrote the script for the fourth half hour of the series.

“In it Hancock searches for Secombe to thank him for filling in and finally locates him down a coal mine in Swansea, which was where he was from.

“There was only a cameo from Secombe in this episode, and Hancock recorded the rest of the series.

“In those days the BBC didn’t keep all the recordings – people treated radio like the theatre; you’d watch it, talk about it for half an hour then forget it. Nobody thought that 70 years later fans would still be wanting to hear the shows.

“There were over 100 Hancock’s Half Hours and many that survive do so because the

Transcription Service put the recordings onto vinyl and sent them to a number of overseas

countries who had bought the rights to air them.

“They were supposed to destroy the records after a certain time, but of course many didn’t.

“Others were recorded by amateurs and the further back you go the less likely people were to have tape recorders.

“A Visit to Swansea includes regulars Sid James, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams and is the earliest recording we have of Andree Melly, who plays the love interest.

“It is the centenary of Hancock’s birth next year so maybe the BBC will broadcast it then. If Richard finds another one, we might have two to celebrate with.”

Tony Hancock, whose hugely successful radio show moved onto television and gave an outlet for his astonishing range of facial expressions, took his own life in Australia in 1968, aged 44.