Hancock's Last Half-Hour on BBC Radio 4 Extra
BBC Radio 4 Extra, 27 April 2012
First broadcast on Radio 3 on 15 June 1988, Hancock's Last Half-Hour imagines the lad himself (Richard Briers) alone in a Sydney hotel room on the day he died, with a book of newspaper cuttings, a telephone and a bottle of vodka for company. He looks back over the highs and lows of his career - his stint with Educating Archie, the great years of Hancock's Half Hour, when everyone used to stay in on a Friday night to listen to him, and the years of decline, marked by an unsuccessful ITV comedy series and an abortive trip to Hollywood.
What emerged most from this remarkable monologue was that Hancock never seemed satisfied, either with himself or with his success. He was always looking for something else, even if he had no idea what it was. He spent much time and energy speculating on the nature of laughter, or what it was to be a comedian, turning to Bertrand Russell and Freud as authorities, but never actually finding any satisfactory answers. Every speculation ended up as a joke ("How would he (Freud) go down second house at the Glasgow Empire?")
In Briers' remarkable performance, Hancock came across as a comic genius, blessed with a remarkably fertile mind. Some of his ideas were quite brilliant (a King Lear with himself as the Fool and the celebrated drunk Wilfrid Lawson as the old King, or a musical version of Waiting for Godot). On the other hand he was so full of self-loathing that he really saw no purpose in prolonging his life. His suicide came as a merciful release, as he addressed a moose-head on the wall and offered a final comic parting shot: "There's not a cloud in the sky."