Anniversary of comedy legend’s visit to be marked

Tony Hancock during filming.

Tony Hancock during filming.

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Comedy legend Tony Hancock turned his attentions to Bognor Regis 50 years ago this year – an event which the town will be commemorating.

On Saturday, May 12, 1962 an advertisement went out in the local press, asking for extras to appear in Hancock’s film The Punch And Judy Man.

More than 2,000 people arrived at the Royal Norfolk Hotel, where they had to leave their names and addresses, for them to be contacted at a later time.

Jeff Hammonds, who organises www.tonyhancockarchives.org.uk, now wants to hear from them. Jeff is putting together an exhibition in Bognor Regis this June to mark the anniversary.

Based on Hancock’s childhood memories of Bournemouth, the film was set in the sleepy fictional seaside town of Piltdown. Hancock plays Wally Pinner, the unhappily-married Punch and Judy Man. Also in the cast was John Le Mesurier.

“I have the original Mr Punch puppet coming along. Finding someone who remembers speaking to Hancock would be the icing on the cake,” Jeff says. “Tony was filming in Spencer Street, Bognor, on Friday, May 18 1962. Hattie Jacques spent one day filming at the end of May 62.”

Jeff’s own interest in Hancock goes back to 1968, the year Hancock committed suicide in Australia: “He was doing a comeback series in Australia, but only made three episodes and was then found dead at the house of the producer/director of the show.

“But now, with the 50th anniversary of filming in Bognor, I am such a big fan that I felt I needed to do something. I have already been in touch with Bognor museum who are happy for me to use the venue as a meeting point for Hancock fans. I will run the film through. It will be an uncut copy.”

Why Bognor was used in the film, Jeff admits he doesn’t know. “But Hancock actually played The Esplanade Theatre in Bognor in 1947. It was a thing called Flotsam’s Follies.”

When it came to The Punch And Judy Man, Hancock stayed at the Royal Norfolk Hotel in Bognor, along with co-star Hugh Lloyd.

“When Hugh Lloyd arrived at the Royal Norfolk Hotel, he went up to run his bath before going down to the bar. Something went wrong with the waterworks because the tap didn’t turn on. But it must have started running. Hugh Lloyd remembers the bar ceiling caving in by the time he was down there!”

As for the film itself: “Hancock had already made The Rebel (1961), which was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. But Hancock really wanted to become international. He wanted to become known in America.

“I see a lot of Hancock and I remember the bad times. The Punch And Judy Man was made during one of the bad times. People don’t generally realise that it was not a good time for him. Out of ten, I would give it an eight, but that’s because I am seeing Hancock.

“By then he was having trouble with his own life and marriage. In the film, he and his wife are going through a rough patch – and that’s how Hancock’s own personal life was at the time.”

Anyone with any memories of Hancock’s time in Bognor Regis should get in touch with Jeff on jeff_hammonds@btopenworld.com

Phil Hewitt