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Radio review: A History of Delusions, The Missing Hancocks, and The Importance of Being Earnest

21 December 2018


In The Missing Hancocks (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), lost episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour have been recreated

In The Missing Hancocks (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), lost episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour have been recreated

“JUST because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” Google it, and this neat epigram is attributed to Joseph Heller; but it is one of those sayings that exudes the wisdom of ages. As it turns out — at least, according to A History of Delusions (Radio 4, weekdays) — we are, indeed, most paranoid about the situations that we are most likely to encounter.

It sounds straightforward; but so cluttered is the literature of neurosis with the bizarre and exotic — the men and women who think that they are Napoleon, or Boudicca, or having affairs with both of them — that we overlook the mundane paranoias of our everyday condition. As social beings, we constantly worry whether people are like us, and whether we fit in. It would be very strange not to do so, and the only people who don’t are too busy thinking that they are Napoleon.

Professor Daniel Freeman led us through a series of case-studies, historic and contemporary, with an admirable sensitivity born of many years as a practising psychologist.

This was a tempered and, at times, moving engagement with debilitating illness. That grand baroque fantasies, such as the Millennium Bug, could be understood in terms of intimate psychological deficits — a lack of self-esteem, ill-health as a child — made them more, not less, touching; and reinforced the sense of the uncontrolled psyche as a drama queen, inflating the everyday challenges of existence into grand histrionics.

Whether or not you regard the message — that the psychotypical and the paranoid are closer than you think — as comforting, may it­­self depend on your state of mind.

Paranoid, misanthropic, and dysfunctional; all these, and many other psychological traits can be attributed to Tony Hancock — both the real one, and, in particular, the persona created for Hancock’s Half Hour. And, because nobody did a better comic misanthrope than Hancock, the BBC have set about “lovingly recreating” episodes that have been scrubbed or lost in the archives.

The Missing Hancocks (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) is the result: fresh recordings of original scripts by Galton and Simpson, voiced by actors doing their best to impersonate the original cast, and a musical score performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, all in front of an adoring live audience.

One might have preferred an approach in which the actors were given a freer rein over their interpretations: only Sid James can do that laugh. But the listener is bustled along from gag to gag with such efficiency that there is no time to doubt the enterprise; and the scene with a precocious child channelling Kenneth Williams was enough to justify the entire 30 minutes.

I could say much the same about The Importance of Being Earnest (Radio 4, Saturday), part of the “Born to be Wilde” season on Radio 4. There seems little more one can do with this play other than speed it up; and this new production did it in less than 90 minutes. Hardly time for the hammiest of Lady Bracknells of yesteryear to draw breath.

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