Hancock’s Half Hour reminds us what once united Britain: laughing at each other | Zoe Williams

In the 1950s radio comedy, implacable differences of opinion just create a society full of people it’s enjoyable to laugh at

Plenty of people will remember Hancock’s Half Hour from when it first aired in 1954, and then there is the generation who know it because it reminds us of our dads. As far as I know, the line stops there: at least, I’ve never been able to curate this comedy gold in such a way as to endear it to my own offspring. I’m talking about the radio version, of course, which is better, because radio is.

When it launched, Hancock had a silly, romping spirit, in the fashion of It’s That Man Again or The Goon Show. The postwar years were very gentle on themselves, comedically speaking; it often felt as though they couldn’t cope with much edge, which after the mid-century carnage is fair enough. By the show’s end in 1961, it was a completely different experience, a rumination on the human condition. I raise all this not to keep the flame alive at a sentimental time of year – well, that too – but because we have, for at least the past five years, and intensely during 2020, come to think of ourselves as a nation experiencing a sudden breach: always on the brink of a fresh culture war, inexplicably separated in our sensibilities and beliefs by chasms that cannot possibly be overcome by goodwill alone. And the more I listen to Hancock’s Half Hour, the more I think, that’s completely wrong. We’ve always been like this.

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