A blue plaque honouring comedy legend Tony Hancock was unveiled in London earlier today to mark what would have been his 90th birthday.
The accolade, which was granted by English Heritage, can be found outside the comic’s former London home in Queen’s Gate Place, Kensington, where Hancock lived from 1952 to 1958.
While property in the area often sells nowadays for several million pounds, the terraces of Queen’s Gate Place were a far more modest affair during Hancock’s lifetime. Born in Hall Green, a suburb of Birmingham in 1924, he moved to London in the late1940s before eventually settling in Kensington with his wife, the Lanvin model Cicely Romanis.
Scriptwriters Alan Simpson and Ray Galton (pictured, left), who worked with Hancock during his heyday on the radio show Hancock’s Half Hour, recall how the comedian would walk up eight flights of stairs to his rented “bachelor flat”, which is now Grade II listed.
Dennis Main Wilson, Hancock’s former BBC producer, remembered in an interview how the flat reflected the comedian’s lackadaisical approach to housework as well as his popularity at the height of his fame. “There was an old leather club armchair with the stuffing coming out, a few other odd chairs, and a put-you-up settee. There was an underfelt but no carpet. There was a mark where someone had been sick. There were piles of fan letters behind the lavatory pan.”
According to English Heritage historian Howard Spencer, who helped to set up the plaque,”[it] recognises a colossus of comedy. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Tony Hancock became one of Britain’s first comedy superstars, a radio and television phenomenon, and his influence is still apparent today.”
Hancock rose to fame alongside Sid James on his radio show Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran for seven years from 1956 when it moved to TV for a similarly successful stint.
“The lad himself” was a pretentious but ineffectual character whose airs and graces were regularly punctured by the down-to-earth James in a sitcom almost entirely confined to their shared flat.
It made Hancock one of the biggest, most recognised and wealthiest comedians in Britain and allowed him to launch a movie career of sorts, including films like The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man.
But in real life Hancock was a character even more troubled than his on-screen alter-egos and in 1968 his struggles with drink and depression culminated in him taking his own life with an overdose.