Creator of TV’s great comedies
IN 1947 Ray Galton was admitted to hospital with a high fever and persistent cough. Towering above his peers at 6ft 4in, the teenage boy weighed only nine stone and feared he was going to be gravely ill for some time. He was diagnosed with TB and sent to an isolation hospital, where he was informed treatment could take up to four years.
At Milford sanatorium, the 16-yearold Galton felt lost and alone, as most of his fellow patients were much older men. However three years into his time at the sanatorium his luck changed.
Galton was lying on his bed in a small four-cubicle room when another teenager appeared. “The room went dark, because he was a big man,” Galton would recall. “I thought, ‘Who the hell’s that?’ He was the biggest guy I’d ever seen.”
That teenager was Alan Simpson. The pair soon became friends, began writing comedy sketches and went on to forge a long and distinguished partnership, earning a reputation as the creators of the British sitcom and famed for writing Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe And Son.
Born in Paddington, London, Raymond Percy Galton was the son of Herbert, a bus conductor, and his wife Christine.
He attended Garth School in Morden but left at the age of 14 to work as a junior clerk at the Transport and General Workers’ Union. He toiled there until he was sent to Milford sanatorium and had his fateful meeting with Simpson. Together they would listen to the American Forces Network and soon started writing their own sketches.
Their first, called Have You Ever Wondered?, was for the sanatorium’s in-house radio station, which was housed in a broom cupboard but gained good reviews from fellow patients.
After leaving, the pair moved on to writing for the radio show Happy Go Lucky starring Derek Roy, earning five shillings per episode, although it was not a success.
Their luck changed however when they sent a script to the BBC and were put in touch with the comedian Tony Hancock, who offered them 25 guineas to write for his popular radio show Hancock’s Half Hour.
When Hancock made the transition to television, ratings climbed steadily and for seven years Galton and Simpson wrote every scene in the much-loved show.
It rapidly became the yardstick against which all other British sitcoms would be measured.
In 1961 Hancock ended his professional relationship with Galton and Simpson but a year later the pair wrote the sitcom Steptoe And Son which revolved around a father and son’s rag-and-bone business in the fictional Oil Drum Lane.
Starring Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett, the programme ran for eight series and boasted audiences of up to 28 million.
During that period, Galton and Simpson won the Screenwriters’ Guild best comedy series for four years running.
The show finished in 1965 but was revived for a second run from 1970 to 1974, when Galton and Simpson then went their separate ways for a number of years.
Galton continued to write comedy, collaborating with Johnny Speight in Spooner’s Patch for four years until 1981. When asked why he had not taken a much-deserved sabbatical like his opposite number Simpson, Galton said: “I really have no other interests.”
In 1997 Galton and Simpson won the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain lifetime achievement award and three years later Galton was awarded an OBE.
He followed this up with a Bafta fellowship in 2016, the same year as the 60th anniversary of the first TV episode of Hancock’s Half Hour. Simpson died last year.
Galton married his wife Tonia in 1956. She died from cancer in 1995 and he is survived by his three children, Andrew, Sara and Lisa.
BEST: Galton won awards with Simpson for Steptoe And Son