Ray Gal­ton

Writer who, in part­ner­ship with Alan Simp­son, cre­ated the great ‘Han­cock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Step­toe and Son’

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Deaths snd Obituaries -

RAY Gal­ton, the scriptwriter who has died aged 88, earned — with his pro­fes­sional part­ner Alan Simp­son — pride of place among the greats of post-war Bri­tish com­edy writ­ing; be­tween them they cre­ated Step­toe and Son for tele­vi­sion, hav­ing ear­lier, on 1950s ra­dio, made a star of the trou­bled comic ac­tor Tony Han­cock.

Gal­ton was only in his teens and se­ri­ously ill with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis when he first met Simp­son, a fel­low suf­ferer, in hospi­tal in the late 1940s. Both saw the world from a Left-wing per­spec­tive, and in the 1950s — with Eric Sykes, Spike Mil­li­gan, Johnny Speight and, later, the co­me­dian Frankie How­erd — formed their own agency, As­so­ci­ated Lon­don Scripts.

It was a sort of writ­ers’ col­lec­tive, run from rooms above a green­gro­cer’s in Shep­herd’s Bush. Gal­ton and Simp­son took the (then) un­fash­ion­able view that the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in any com­edy was the script rather than the star.

By the early 1960s Gal­ton and Simp­son had es­tab­lished them­selves as one of the most suc­cess­ful writ­ing part­ner­ships in broad­cast­ing, thanks to their work with Tony Han­cock, first on ra­dio with Han­cock’s Half Hour and, from 1956, on tele­vi­sion with Han­cock. In both, the hero was a mid­dle-aged bach­e­lor frus­trated by the fail­ure of the glum drudgery of re­al­ity to meet his in­tel­lec­tual as­pi­ra­tions.

Han­cock’s cul­tural al­lu­sions de­rived from Gal­ton and Simp­son’s own read­ing binge in the TB sana­to­rium. In Han­cock’s Half Hour they fash­ioned one of the ear­li­est and wit­ti­est ra­dio sit­coms in Bri­tain; be­cause they started so young, they were known as the Boys. The se­ries charted the re­cur­ring dis­ap­point­ments of the ir­ri­ta­ble Han­cock, trapped in gloomy lodg­ings at 23 Rail­way Cut­tings, East Cheam.

When the show trans­ferred to tele­vi­sion, in­no­va­tive cam­era shots, us­ing fre­quent close-ups, caught Han­cock’s ex­tra­or­di­nary range of ex­pan­sive fa­cial ex­pres­sions. One of Gal­ton and Simp­son’s sketches for this se­ries — “The Blood Donor” — be­came a 20th Cen­tury com­edy clas­sic (“A pint!?! Have you gone rav­ing mad? That’s very nearly an arm­ful!”).

But when, in 1961, Simp­son and Gal­ton of­fered to write a new se­ries for Frankie How­erd, the BBC turned them down, declar­ing that How­erd was a spent force. In­stead the pair were asked to fill a 10week run of the new Com­edy Play­house strand, and of­fered carte blanche as to sto­ries and set­tings.

While Simp­son, clean-shaven and at 194cm and 112kg the taller, heav­ier and more lugubri­ous of the two, be­gan ham­mer­ing out the scripts, the bearded Gal­ton rolled on the floor seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion.

When their ideas started dry­ing up, they held brain­storm­ing ses­sions punc­tu­ated by pe­ri­ods of si­lence that could last for hours. It was dur­ing one of these that Gal­ton re­called “tot­ting” for junk to earn money as a teenager, and came up with the no­tion of two rag-and-bone men, fa­ther and son, driv­ing their horse and cart down Pic­cadilly. He and Simp­son started writ­ing, and the re­sult was a 10-page script for Com­edy Play­house called “The Of­fer”.

Set in a ram­shackle tot­ters’ yard in Oil Drum Lane, Shep­herd’s Bush, the orig­i­nal two-han­der soon mu­tated into Step­toe and Son, a weekly half-hour sit­u­a­tion com­edy star­ring Wil­frid Bram­bell and Harry H Cor­bett which ran for eight se­ries be­tween 1962 and 1974 and at­tracted au­di­ences of 20m.

Such was the show’s pop­u­lar­ity that dur­ing the Gen­eral Election of 1964, the op­po­si­tion Labour leader Harold Wil­son per­suaded the BBC to de­lay the episode sched­uled to be broad­cast on polling day by an hour be­cause he feared for its dam­ag­ing ef­fect on voter turnout. Wil­son’s es­ti­mate that the de­lay was worth a dozen or more seats to Labour was im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify, but the party’s slim ma­jor­ity of four was enough for him to form a govern­ment.

The con­tin­u­ing suc­cess of Step­toe and Son trans­formed Gal­ton and Simp­son into the world’s high­est-paid tele­vi­sion writ­ers, com­mand­ing a record fee of £2,000 (€2,290) for each episode.

Be­tween them they re­de­fined the Bri­tish tele­vi­sion sit­com, re­lo­cat­ing it from mid­dle-class clean­li­ness to the squalor of Oil Drum Lane. The dark and risky re­la­tion­ship they cre­ated be­tween fa­ther and son in­fused the writ­ing with pathos and poignancy as well as smut and slap­stick.

As one of their bi­og­ra­phers noted, their achieve­ment in cre­at­ing Han­cock and Step­toe was im­mense, and to change the na­ture of the sit­com and cap­ture the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion not once but twice was — and re­mains — an un­prece­dented feat.

Ray­mond Percy Gal­ton was born on July 17, 1930, the son of a Lon­don bus con­duc­tor, and grew up on a Sur­rey coun­cil es­tate. Af­ter Garth School, Mor­den, he worked as a plas­terer’s ap­pren­tice, then took a job with the Trans­port and Gen­eral Work­ers’ Union, but in 1947 he con­tracted tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, was ad­mit­ted to a sana­to­rium at Mil­ford in Sur­rey and given six weeks to live. Gal­ton was bed-rid­den for a year, and in the next bed, also with TB, was Alan Simp­son.

They spent three years in hospi­tal con­va­lesc­ing, fos­ter­ing their shared ob­ses­sion with com­edy by lis­ten­ing to the Amer­i­can Forces Net­work and the BBC on a huge RAF 1150 ra­dio re­ceiver sal­vaged from a Lan­caster bomber.

To help pass the time, they wrote and per­formed their own com­edy rou­tines over the hospi­tal ra­dio, and on their dis­charge in 1950 tried sell­ing com­edy scripts to the BBC. Within a few months they had grad­u­ated to pro­fes­sional work with the co­me­dian Derek Roy in a se­ries called Happy Go Lucky, sell­ing gags for five shillings [28 cents] a time.

The first went: “Jane Rus­sell pon­toon?” “Yes, it’s the same as or­di­nary pon­toon but you need 38 to bust.” When Roy’s pro­ducer was re­placed by the young Den­nis Main Wil­son, he pro­moted Gal­ton and Simp­son to be the show’s prin­ci­pal writ­ers. By 1952, they were writ­ing an­other ac­tand-sketch ra­dio show, Forces All Star Bill, star­ring the upand-com­ing Tony Han­cock.

Be­tween them the three devel­oped the idea of a com­edy “with no jokes and no funny voices, just re­ly­ing on car­i­ca­ture and sit­u­a­tion hu­mour”. The re­sult, in 1954, was Han­cock’s Half Hour, a show re­ly­ing on the de­vel­op­ment of the char­ac­ters. They had to ad­mit de­feat on the ques­tion of funny voices when Ken­neth Wil­liams be­came a favourite with his weekly ad­mo­ni­tion: “’Ere, stop mess­ing about!”

Each episode would take two to three weeks to write. At the head­quar­ters of As­so­ci­ated Lon­don Scripts in Orme Court, Bayswa­ter, Gal­ton would stare into space or lie on the floor while Simp­son bashed out the words on a type­writer they had owned since turn­ing pro­fes­sional.

Gal­ton and Simp­son wrote 160 shows for Han­cock, even­tu­ally fall­ing out with the co­me­dian over the script for his film The Punch and Judy Man (1963).

But by then the pair had as­sured their place among the great writ­ing teams in Bri­tish com­edy his­tory. With their mix­ture of fan­tasy and the com­mon­place, the early edi­tions of Han­cock’s Half Hour were a rev­e­la­tion of econ­omy and in­sight.

As well as ra­dio and tele­vi­sion, Gal­ton’s 30-year col­lab­o­ra­tion with Alan Simp­son pro­duced a num­ber of fea­ture films, start­ing with the Tony Han­cock ve­hi­cle The Rebel (1960), and go­ing on to in­clude The Bargee, The Wrong Arm of the Law (both 1963) and two Step­toe films, Step­toe and Son (1971) and Step­toe and Son Ride Again (1973). The pair also wrote for the stage in a re­vue, Way Out in Pic­cadilly (1966) for a res­ur­rected Frankie How­erd and the Liver­pudlian singer Cilla Black, and in an adap­ta­tion of Rene de Obal­dia’s The Wind in the Sas­safras Trees (1968), also star­ring Frankie How­erd, which trans­ferred from Lon­don to Broad­way.

Al­though he col­lected many awards for his work with Simp­son on the Han­cock and Step­toe se­ries in­clud­ing, in 1964, the John Lo­gie Baird award for an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to tele­vi­sion, Gal­ton’s later tele­vi­sion shows, in­clud­ing Daw­son’s Weekly (1975) for the co­me­dian Les Daw­son, and The Gal­ton and Simp­son Play­house (1976-77) for ITV, lacked the early magic, and the pair dis­solved their part­ner­ship in 1978.

In 1995 they up­dated some of their clas­sic scripts for Paul Mer­ton in Gal­ton and Simp­son’s..., one of which was en­tered for the Mon­treux tele­vi­sion fes­ti­val.

In 1997 Gal­ton re­vived his ca­reer, writ­ing Get Well Soon, about pa­tients re­cov­er­ing in a sana­to­rium. Like Simp­son, he was ap­pointed OBE in 2000. Alan Simp­son died in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

Ray Gal­ton, who died on Oc­to­ber 5, mar­ried, in 1956, To­nia Phillips; she died in 1995; they had a son and two daugh­ters. © Tele­graph

DREAM TEAM: Co­me­dian Frankie How­erd (cen­tre) joins a script con­fer­ence be­tween Ray Gal­ton (left) and his writ­ing part­ner Alan Simp­son in De­cem­ber 1964. Photo: PA/PA Wire

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.