Belfast Telegraph

Comedy legend Tony Hancock's school photos found in Northern Ireland

By Allan Preston

Previously unseen pictures of British comedian Tony Hancock have been discovered by the family of one of his old school friends in Northern Ireland.

The framed photographs from 1938, which had been forgotten about for decades, show a young Hancock, aged around 15, with his school football team and class.

Hancock went on to become a giant of radio and television in the 1950s and 1960s, especially famous for Hancock's Half Hour.

The pictures were taken at a difficult stage for Hancock, who was struggling with the death of his father at the time.

Victoria Gallop's late father James Thompson attended Bradfield College in Reading with Hancock, 12 years before he became a household name.

Although aware of the connection, she had no idea of the significance of the forgotten pictures in her Lisburn home until her husband Derek looked through them this year.

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Victoria Gallop

"My father was a year older than Hancock, in school years that makes a big difference," she said. "He remembered playing in the school football team with Tony and did say he wasn't particularly happy in Bradfield after losing his father.

"My mother was a big fan, so my dad would casually mention 'oh yes, I went to school with him'.

"I always knew my father went to school with Tony Hancock, but I never put two and two together until my husband Derek said these might be interesting."

Mrs Gallop added: "I did find Hancock's Half Hour very funny growing up, and this does give me an extra connection."

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Tony Hancock

After writing to the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, they discovered archivist Tristan Brittain-Dissont, who runs the group, lived nearby. He said the rare pictures of his comedy hero brought a tear to his eye.

"They're unique. Bradfield College where he went doesn't even have copies. Pictures of Tony Hancock before the war and before he became famous are very few and far between, so it was an extraordinary find."

He described the 80-year-old pictures as "beautiful framed objects" featuring "possibly the greatest post-war comedian we've ever produced".

"When I saw the picture a tear came to my eye. You're talking about a 14/15-year-old whose father had died a few years before to cancer," he said.

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Tony Hancock (2nd row down, 3rd from the left) and James Thompson (3rd row down, 5th person from the left)

"At that stage he had no idea what he wanted to do. Shortly after the pictures were taken he had to withdraw from the college as his mother and stepfather could no longer afford the fees."

He continued: "We're seeing him at a period when he was extremely unhappy, his future was extremely uncertain and became even more complex because of the war.

"It was also going to take him around 12 years to really make a mark as a comedian; those years were going to be extremely difficult.

"He left Bradfield, held down odd jobs while doing a little bit of entertaining through 1940-41. That was cut short when he was drafted because of the war."

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Victoria Gallop with her father James Thompson

While speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Brittain-Dissont shared some of his own most treasured Hancock items, including an impromptu autograph written by the revered entertainer on a cigarette packet.

Mr Brittain-Dissont said of the new discovery: "He spent years in poverty trying to make it as a comic. So these pictures are very emotional, because it's a young lad who is already very unhappy facing a difficult time and about to face a decade of real struggle.

"But what comes out of that struggle is that he becomes very famous in the 1950s and this young lad becomes a superstar of radio and television."

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