In the mid-1960s, Joan, not long married to comic actor John Le Mesurier, meets and is mutually attracted to comedian Tony Hancock, married to the long-suffering Freddie. Hancock's most ...
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In the mid-1960s, Joan, not long married to comic actor John Le Mesurier, meets and is mutually attracted to comedian Tony Hancock, married to the long-suffering Freddie. Hancock's most successful period is in the past and he has become depressive and alcoholic, recently emerging from a stay in a rehab centre. Joan tells him that if he can remain sober for a year she will leave John for him. Hancock goes to Australia to film a comedy series there but it does not work out and he commits suicide. Joan stays with John until his death in the 1980s.Written by
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[Tony and Joan have just made love; in a panic at his forthcoming stage performance, Tony rushes to the toilet, suffering from a sudden attack of diarrhoea]
What am I doing? My arse has exploded and my teeth are chattering.
Joan Le Mesurier:
When I was living in Ramsgate, my friend Sheila worked on the dog track. She said when you see the dogs on parade before the race, if one of them has a hard-on or has just had a crap, put your money on it. I'd back you on both counts tonight.
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By the time Joan Le Mesurier got together with Tony Hancock, he was already long past his brief heyday, which had started with a radio series, so good it could empty the pubs, later adapted for TV, and still selling videos wherever English is spoken.
But his descent had been swift and steep, following the impulse-sacking of all his most talented colleagues, leaving him lonely and lost among the confusing signs of the 60's, a decade that somehow wasn't his, and whose end he would not live to see.
So this is a minor-key drama, based around two alcoholics who were also best friends: John Le Mesurier of the languid, lazy charm, and Tony Hancock of the wild drinking-bouts, alternating with bitter introspection. And caught between them is Joan.
Alcohol does not make a very good topic for drama, quite dreary and repetitive to the sober spectator. Not everyone is amused by smashed bottles and foul language, or riveted by diagrams of a swollen liver. What really steals the show is Ken Stott's uncanny gift for replicating Hancock's voice - if this is not too patronising to a Scots actor whom I had found unremarkable as Edinburgh detective Rebus. Not many people actually spoke like Hancock, surprisingly well-educated, with a few "Yeah mates" and "Flippin' kids" thrown-in for demotic effect. Yet both in accent and in tonal register, his delivery is astonishingly faithful to the original. On top of this, he and his lighting-team even manage to capture the facial expressions, both the hopeful smile and the weary resignation. Stott simply is every inch The Lad Himself.
As for Maxine Peake, she is able to convey the basic ordinariness of Joan's character and background, further pointed-up by Tony's embarrassing visit to her strict petty-bourgeois family. Since it is unlikely that this dramatised documentary could have gone ahead without Joan's assistance, we can't quite tell how much of it is her own unconfirmed story. She admits that John was the decent and responsible husband, sandwiched between two of the bad-boy types who really got her heart racing. We know that John was surprisingly understanding about being cuckolded, (but as a double divorcée, he might have been). What we can't judge is her claim that Tony would still be alive, but for the postal strike that deprived him of her letters in Australia. Even in those days, a top TV star would have been able to establish a telephonic link home; still, we hear extracts from their correspondence, presumably historical, including his own lament (after the silence he thought was deliberate): "I gather you don't share my feelings any more" - supposedly triggering the overdose. But we can believe her agonised outburst on hearing the news: "I'd rather it was John who'd gone, not Tony."
At any rate, both parties seemed to sense that Australia would be the end. He can be heard trying to bluff it out: "We'll bring back the old Hancock - Homburg hat and all!" It would prove a hollow boast. A press review (again, presumably historical) had presciently called his one-man show 'a form of suicide'.
Directors often demand a lot of laughing and giggling to signal a close relationship, but there is altogether too much of it here. Tony's mother is well-played by Lesley Nicol, although just one year older than Stott. Alex Jennings resembles John physically, but not in character or personality. Julia Deakin is triumphant in cameo as a Ramsgate landlady. Finally, we didn't need that year's Eurovision winner 'Puppet on a String' as an establishing device. The whole story covers less than two years.
How many of us managed to achieve so much by 44?
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