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News - Wednesday 8th February, 2017

It’s no secret that, for me, the work of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (pictured with the ‘Steptoe and Son’ book we wrote together for the B.B.C.) remains the benchmark for excellence in comedy writing. Actually, scrap that, it remains the benchmark for excellence in writing for television. Period. Alan has sadly died at the ripe old age of 87 and despite having pretty much retired forty years ago, he happily endorsed revivals and repackaging of his past successes, and regaled eager students of comedy with glorious nuggets of entertainment gossip. I was privileged to be one of those fascinated followers for well over twenty years. Whether for professional reasons, or simply over a few glasses of particularly good wine, tales of Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson, Leonard Rossiter and, of course, Tony Hancock, would enthrall me for hours and hours. This callow, nervous, comedy obsessive had a signed photograph of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson above his desk from around the age of twelve. Their work – first brought to me by my Dad, via his reel-to-reel tapes of radio ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ classics – hit me like Cupid’s arrow. This was real. This was timeless. And, above all, it was very, very funny. To this day, my iPad is stuffed with radio Hancock. It is a near-constant comfort blanket of reassuring and life-affirming comedy truth. I first met my heroes at the National Film Theatre. Back then, I was a gushing, fresh-faced devotee, having just witnessed some rare ‘Steptoe and Son’ for the very first time. You know, those fuzzy black and white videotaped copies of the early colour shows from 1970. The ones that Ray Galton had recorded off-air, just before the B.B.C. had junked the tapes. From that first meeting, Ray and Alan were interesting and interested, happy to chat about the heroes their comedy brilliance had shaped, fashioned, and enhanced. The last time I saw them was at one of the recordings for ‘The Missing Hancocks’ last year. They were still sharp, witty, and appreciative of the wave of love they got from that packed, smiling, and just plain awe-struck studio audience. Over the years, they helped with various books and projects, a friendship that reached fever pitch with our collaboration on the official history of ‘Steptoe and Son’. To say it’s a highlight of my career is to put it mildly. I couldn’t wait to get to work. That the place of work was Ray’s house, complete with his vault of scripts and bulging library of books, made the assignment all the sweeter. Always humble, always disarmingly cynical, and always grateful to be celebrated, Alan and Ray were quite simply the guv’nors. They always will be.

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