Missing Hancock's Half Hour with Harry Secombe discovered

Thursday 12th October 2023, 10:51am

  • A long-missing episode of Hancock's Half Hour has been found
  • Series 2, Episode 4, it was recorded on 8th May 1955 and has not been heard since a repeat three days later
  • The programme is the only to feature both Tony Hancock and Harry Secombe
Richard Harrison

Radio enthusiast Richard Harrison has discovered a second landmark missing episode of the original Hancock's Half Hour radio series.

The programme is the only to feature both the eponymous star and Harry Secombe, with the find coming a year after Harrison's recovery of the only edition of the series to feature fellow Goon Peter Sellers.

Audio enthusiast Harrison says: "I'm thrilled to locate such a key episode from an iconic programme. Hancock's Half Hour was the programme that ignited my interest in radio, so it's rather apt that the latest major find is from that series."

Entitled A Visit To Swansea, recorded on the 8th and broadcast on 10th May 1955, the fourth episode from the second series, it sees the star visit Wales to meet and thank Secombe for standing in for him over the previous three weeks.

In real life, Hancock had suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before the start of Series 2 and disappeared - later revealed to have flown to Rome - so Harry Secombe had stepped in to fulfil his star role. He returned to Britain shortly after the third episode, allowing the fourth to be sculpted around the event.

Not heard since its first and only repeat broadcast the next day, the episode is thus notable as the only one in which both Hancock and Secombe feature together.

A dedicated collector and researcher, Harrison regularly scours the likes of car boot and clearance sales for audio recordings in the hope of discovering such missing radio programmes. It was whilst sorting through one such set of acquired tapes that he identified A Visit To Swansea, hence the exact origin of the recording is unknown.

Unfortunately the first two minutes of the episode, ahead of Hancock's first lines, as well as the last few moments of the closing credits, are missing from the tape, which is otherwise in "excellent" condition. It is now being restored by audio specialists Radio Circle, who will return it to the BBC.

Harrison and Radio Circle theorise: "[We suspect] the person who recorded it was a big Tony Hancock fan. Having heard the first broadcast, he recorded the in-week repeat only from when Hancock enters. At least he has all the Hancock content and, more importantly, the Hancock and Secombe dialogue from near the end."

Harrison explains: "I wasn't looking for it at all...that chance element is the beauty of discovering anything for me. I was checking out some reels in the loft in terms of what was there and what I could transfer, when I came across an old reel. I didn't think anything of it at the time, as it was in a totally different box. With so many reels to transfer, it's sometimes more fun to choose something that's unlabelled - as it has that element of surprise (and also might be something like a copy of a record, which makes it easier in a way as I don't need to transfer it at all!)."

With not a single second of the episode otherwise surviving, the missing minutes could be filled in with new narration or spliced together with the 2017-recorded recreation of the episode from The Missing Hancocks. Recent advancements in AI-generated content could also help fill the gap.

Harrison's 2022 recovery, The Marriage Bureau, is now available to own.

Hancock's Half Hour - The Marriage Bureau

The first ever publication of a long-lost episode of Hancock's Half Hour, featuring Peter Sellers - plus bonus material.

Legendary sitcom Hancock's Half Hour ran for 102 episodes on BBC radio between 1954 and 1959. Over 20 shows were subsequently lost - but now one of the funniest and most sought-after, The Marriage Bureau, has been rediscovered. The penultimate episode of Series 1, it features a unique appearance from Peter Sellers, standing in for Kenneth Williams. Available for the first time since its original broadcast in 1955, it sees Hancock looking for a job - and a wife...

Alongside it is a fascinating documentary, Raiders Of The Lost Archive, in which Keith Wickham - the Indiana Jones of archiving - and fellow treasure-hunters discuss the thrilling, complex work of locating and restoring missing radio classics. Plus, there's a surviving extract from the lost Hancock's Half Hour episode, The New Year Resolutions, and a previously unreleased documentary, H-H-H-Happy Birthday Hancock, in which Andrew Sachs presents an affectionate tribute to The Lad Himself with contributions from Denis Norden, Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, John Freeman and Sid James.

First released: Thursday 1st June 2023

Not in the UK?

Fear not! Many items can still be ordered. Amazon in the UK delivers to many international territories, whilst their Australia, USA and Canada stores also supply many equivalent or imported items.

If you are in the North America, look out for US/Canadian flag icons on popular product listings for direct links.

If you order from a UK store, please note that the UK is in Region 2 and B, respectively, for DVDs and Blu-rays - check your player's compatibility, or look for multi-region products if you are located in another region.

If you are in Australia or New Zealand (DVD Region 4), note that almost all DVDs distributed in the UK by the BBC and 2entertain are encoded for both Region 2 and Region 4. The UK and Australasia are in the same Blu-ray region (B).

Share this page