H-H-H Hancock Help Pls - me no get joke

Hancock's Half Hour. Image shows from L to R: Sidney James (Sid James), Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock (Tony Hancock), Bill Kerr (Bill Kerr).

Hancock's Half Hour

Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock is a loser whose plans and aspirations are continually ruined by bad luck, Sidney Balmoral James or, more often than not, by his own pomposity and ambition

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Text Lexus

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 12:07am
  • West Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 122 posts

I can honestly say that I have only once had to have a joke explained to me, and that was when I was about nine.

However this little exchange between Hancock and Hattie in 'The Election Candidate' has me baffled.

Tony is arguing wiith Grizzly about local politics:

"'Honesty and intergrity'?!! What about that spiv you put in on the council? A right Arthur English he was; when they put the chain of office round him his shoulders fell down on each side."

Now. I know what a spiv is, I know who Arthur English was and I know what a chain of office is. I'm even more or less familiar with the construction of the upper human torso and the concepts of gravity and mass, and yet I don't understand this joke. As the wording seems rather odd I had a theory that Hancock had, to put it bluntly, f**ked it up - and the line wasn't meant to go like that at all - but it got a laugh, so the studio audience obviously grapsed it.

Any ideas?

Thanking you.

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Rood Eye

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 12:13am [Edited]
  • England
  • 3,635 posts

A person is said to have "sloping shoulders" if he is generally unwilling or unable to accept the responsibilities associated with a job or with life in general.

As soon as you put any weight on his shoulders, it just rolls off!

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Text Lexus

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 12:25am
  • West Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 122 posts

Thank you for the speedy response! I have never heard that expression in my life!

I reckon you've cracked the case :-)

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john tregorran

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 12:30am
  • mornington,victoria, Australia
  • 851 posts

I thought it was the padded shoulders thing.Spivs in them days were flashy dressers with colourful coats with wide shoulders.Cor blimey!

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Text Lexus

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 12:45am [Edited]
  • West Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 122 posts

Yus, I had sort of considered that angle, but then thought that the shoulder pads would, if anything, provide support to the weighty chain of office.

But it makes sense ... what with the fashionably wide jacket he would have to deliberately slump his shoulders to allow the chains of responsibility to fall away.

Or were there cheap shoulder pads that weren't sewn into the jacket properly or summat?

Also, what work do the words 'on each side' do in that sentence? I'm perfectly comfortable with 1950's idioms, but it seems odd.

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Hercules Grytpype Thynne

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 7:05am
  • England
  • 16,533 posts
Quote: Text Lexus @ 17th July 2019, 12:45 AM

Also, what work do the words 'on each side' do in that sentence? I'm perfectly comfortable with 1950's idioms, but it seems odd.

This is a G&S turn of phrase they slip in now and then and is a sort of emphasis they used. The best known of these is in the "Blood Donor" when The Lad says "very nearly an armful" when referring to a pint of blood. Ray and Alan explained this once in an interview when they said they thought long and hard about the phrase as they didn't want to use just "an armful" or "nearly an armful", it had to be "very nearly".

So, instead of saying just "sloping shoulders", they were highlighting it by saying "on each side".

I think it's a neat 'trick' and explains why they were such brilliant scriptwriters - it had to be word perfect, and TH was the man to interpret them. He knew what they wanted. Hence a classic sitcom.

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Paul Wimsett

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 10:06am
  • Folkestone, United Kingdom
  • 3,347 posts
Quote: Text Lexus @ 17th July 2019, 12:25 AM

Thank you for the speedy response! I have never heard that expression in my life!

Why would you expect to have heard it?

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Billy Bunter

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 10:27am [Edited]
  • The Sussex Coast, England
  • 1,142 posts

I'd always assumed that it was implying that he was hiding some ill-gotten gains on the chain (à la money belt or similar), thus making it a lot heavier than it should have been.

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Text Lexus

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 8:54pm [Edited]
  • West Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 122 posts
Quote: Hercules Grytpype Thynne @ 17th July 2019, 7:05 AM

This is a G&S turn of phrase they slip in now and then and is a sort of emphasis they used. The best known of these is in the "Blood Donor" when The Lad says "very nearly an armful" when referring to a pint of blood. Ray and Alan explained this once in an interview when they said they thought long and hard about the phrase as they didn't want to use just "an armful" or "nearly an armful", it had to be "very nearly".

So, instead of saying just "sloping shoulders", they were highlighting it by saying "on each side".

I think it's a neat 'trick' and explains why they were such brilliant scriptwriters - it had to be word perfect, and TH was the man to interpret them. He knew what they wanted. Hence a classic sitcom.

I can see what you're getting at, - clearly it's intended to provide emphasis - but it still sounds oddly clumsy to me. The perfectly measured 'very nearly an armful' is perhaps as much about rhythm as meaning. Clever stuff, I agree.

Quote: Paul Wimsett @ 17th July 2019, 10:06 AM

Why would you expect to have heard it?

If, as suggested, this is a commonly used expression it follows that I should, as someone who has spent their life reading, listening to and speaking English, have encountered it by now.

Quote: Billy Bunter @ 17th July 2019, 10:27 AM

I'd always assumed that it was implying that he was hiding some ill-gotten gains on the chain (à la money belt or similar), thus making it a lot heavier than it should have been.

Yes, I'd wondered about that as well but it doesn't quite seem to fit.

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Rood Eye

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 9:15pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 3,635 posts
Quote: Text Lexus @ 17th July 2019, 8:53 PM

I can see what you're getting at, - clearly it's intended to provide emphasis - but it still sounds oddly clumsy to me.

The beauty of spoken language is that it often contains what are technically redundant elements but which, in practice, add to the effectiveness of the communication.

"Jimmy fell into a threshing machine and lost his arms" is one way of telling the story.

"Jimmy fell into a threshing machine and lost both his arms" is, in my view, a better way of telling the same story even though it contains a technically unnecessary "both".

Similarly, in saying "When they put the chain of office round him, his shoulders fell down on each side", Hancock, in adding the technically unnecessary "on each side" in fact adds emphasis, adds drama, paints a more vivid picture and I believe improves the rhythm of the sentence/joke significantly.

Quote: Text Lexus @ 17th July 2019, 8:53 PM

If, as suggested, this is a commonly used expression it follows that I should, as someone who has spent their life reading, listening to and speaking English should have encountered it by now.

I don't believe it is a commonly used expression these days: it was probably common in the World War II era and for some years afterwards when having strong broad shoulders (physically) was almost essential for any man purporting to be a real man. It was only with the advent of the swinging 60s that stick-thin men became the object of every woman's dreams and musclemen became old-fashioned almost overnight.

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Text Lexus

  • Wednesday 17th July 2019, 10:42pm [Edited]
  • West Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 122 posts
Quote: Rood Eye @ 17th July 2019, 9:15 PM

The beauty of spoken language is that it often contains what are technically redundant elements but which, in practice, add to the effectiveness of the communication

Yeah, I know ;-) I just can't help feeling there's some further contemporary context behind the joke that's eluding me, though I'm familiar with 1950s / early 60s current affairs and colloquialisms.

I like the bit in The Thirteenth of the Month where Tony refuses to record the show and tells Bill he can do without his fee this once. "I can't, either - I'm broke!" replies Bill.

I like that 'either'.

Quote: Rood Eye @ 17th July 2019, 9:15 PM

I don't believe it is a commonly used expression these days: it was probably common in the World War II era and for some years afterwards when having strong broad shoulders (physically) was almost essential for any man purporting to be a real man. It was only with the advent of the swinging 60s that stick-thin men became the object of every woman's dreams and musclemen became old-fashioned almost overnight.

I suppose in the aftermath of WWI, and the bigger-budget sequel, most men who had been of fighting age would've been in no doubt as to their physical shortcomings as a military medical examiner would have issued a handy piece of paper to spell them out in black and white for all time: round-shouldered, pigeon-chested, flat feet / fallen arches / 'incipient bunions' - as in the Phil Silvers 'foot inspection' episode - a harsh reminder of what decades of malnutrition can achieve through no fault of the enlisted man!

According to the Urban Dictionary site, 'slopey shoulders' is the currently used expression. Well, you could've fooled me, mush.

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Dave O

  • Thursday 18th July 2019, 6:28pm
  • England
  • 15 posts

Arthur English played the character of a spiv just after WWII and his name became slang for a while. I didn't know that. I just read it. :)

I think the shoulders thing is a reference to the big padded shoulders of the spiv's zoot suit.

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Text Lexus

  • Thursday 18th July 2019, 8:45pm
  • West Anglia, United Kingdom
  • 122 posts

Yep. I found a great photo of him in character in his white suit with humongous padded shoulders set off with a flashy tie. Don't know how to post it here without hosting it somewhere but the googles, as they say, are your friend.