British Film Comedians

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Episodes

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01Will Hay20150413

As the columnist and historian Simon Heffer resumes his long-running series celebrating mid-20th century British film, he turns his gaze on comic actors.

With films such as Oh! Mr Porter, Boys Will Be Boys and The Goose Steps Out, Will Hay was, by popular consent, the greatest comic actor in films of the 1930s and '40s.

Simon Heffer traces the rise to fame of this music hall star, who became best known for his anti-authoritarian roles, whether playing a policeman, a fireman, a stationmaster, a barrister, a professor, or - perhaps most famously - an incompetent and morally dubious schoolmaster.

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

01Will Hay20150413

As the columnist and historian Simon Heffer resumes his long-running series celebrating mid-20th century British film, he turns his gaze on comic actors.

With films such as Oh! Mr Porter, Boys Will Be Boys and The Goose Steps Out, Will Hay was, by popular consent, the greatest comic actor in films of the 1930s and '40s.

Simon Heffer traces the rise to fame of this music hall star, who became best known for his anti-authoritarian roles, whether playing a policeman, a fireman, a stationmaster, a barrister, a professor, or - perhaps most famously - an incompetent and morally dubious schoolmaster.

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

02Alastair Sim20150414

Resuming his celebration of mid-20th century British film, the columnist and historian Simon Heffer turns his gaze on five hugely popular comic actors.

Alastair Sim is perhaps best remembered for a definitive interpretation of Scrooge, but Simon Heffer also recalls the run of classic comedies in which he perfected his role as a slightly ambivalent, often incompetent and occasionally threatening presence: The Happiest Days of Your Life, Laughter in Paradise, Captain Boycott and An Inspector Calls.

He concludes by revealing the little-known story of how Sim came to play the main role - or, rather, roles - in a film which has become a landmark of British cinema - The Belles of St Trinian's.

The inestimable Margaret Rutherford had been marked down to play the headmistress, Miss Fritton, but when Rutherford turned out to be unavailable, Alastair Sim offered to take on both his male part and the role of Miss Fritton, granting him the glorious lines: "In other schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world that has to be prepared."

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

02Alastair Sim20150414

Resuming his celebration of mid-20th century British film, the columnist and historian Simon Heffer turns his gaze on five hugely popular comic actors.

Alastair Sim is perhaps best remembered for a definitive interpretation of Scrooge, but Simon Heffer also recalls the run of classic comedies in which he perfected his role as a slightly ambivalent, often incompetent and occasionally threatening presence: The Happiest Days of Your Life, Laughter in Paradise, Captain Boycott and An Inspector Calls.

He concludes by revealing the little-known story of how Sim came to play the main role - or, rather, roles - in a film which has become a landmark of British cinema - The Belles of St Trinian's.

The inestimable Margaret Rutherford had been marked down to play the headmistress, Miss Fritton, but when Rutherford turned out to be unavailable, Alastair Sim offered to take on both his male part and the role of Miss Fritton, granting him the glorious lines: "In other schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world that has to be prepared."

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

03Terry-thomas20150415

The columnist and historian Simon Heffer resumes his series of Essays celebrating mid-20th century British film with a new focus on five popular comic actors.

In exploring five British comic film actors from the mid-20th century, Simon Heffer's gaze has never strayed far from the British obsession with class. The double-barrelled, single-named actor Terry-Thomas - with his monocle, his cigarette holder and the hallmark gap between his two front teeth - perfected the role of a particular type of British toff. Taking star billing in a series of films such as Private's Progress, I'm Alright, Jack, and Carlton-Browne of the FO in the mid-1950s, his timing was perfect too. Simon Heffer argues that whether playing a cad, a rotten bounder or a charmer, Terry-Thomas came to represent the louche and degenerate side of the upper classes at a time when the class system was coming under full attack. With his trademark mix of celebration and historical analysis, Simon Heffer sheds fresh light on a series of once hugely popular but now often forgotten or overlooked performances.

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

03Terry-thomas20150415

The columnist and historian Simon Heffer resumes his series of Essays celebrating mid-20th century British film with a new focus on five popular comic actors.

In exploring five British comic film actors from the mid-20th century, Simon Heffer's gaze has never strayed far from the British obsession with class. The double-barrelled, single-named actor Terry-Thomas - with his monocle, his cigarette holder and the hallmark gap between his two front teeth - perfected the role of a particular type of British toff. Taking star billing in a series of films such as Private's Progress, I'm Alright, Jack, and Carlton-Browne of the FO in the mid-1950s, his timing was perfect too. Simon Heffer argues that whether playing a cad, a rotten bounder or a charmer, Terry-Thomas came to represent the louche and degenerate side of the upper classes at a time when the class system was coming under full attack. With his trademark mix of celebration and historical analysis, Simon Heffer sheds fresh light on a series of once hugely popular but now often forgotten or overlooked performances.

Producer : Beaty Rubens.

04Tony Hancock20150416

Tragedy and comedy have often shared the billing in Simon Heffer's series on British comic actors in mid-20th century film, but never more so than in the case of Tony Hancock.

Hancock is warmy recalled for his embodiment on radio and television of a self-deluded failure, a man whose life has been an odyssey of constant frustration. His role in film was less succesful and Simon Heffer examines the reasons why.

After critics noted the contributions of both his gifted screenwriters, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and of his main sidekick, Sid James, Hancock refused to work with them. Then he fired his agent.

Simon Heffer considers the strengths but also the weaknesses of his two largely forgotten films - The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man - and the sad demise of a brilliant performer whose influences are still apparent today.

Producer : Beaty Rubens

04Tony Hancock20150416

Tragedy and comedy have often shared the billing in Simon Heffer's series on British comic actors in mid-20th century film, but never more so than in the case of Tony Hancock.

Hancock is warmy recalled for his embodiment on radio and television of a self-deluded failure, a man whose life has been an odyssey of constant frustration. His role in film was less succesful and Simon Heffer examines the reasons why.

After critics noted the contributions of both his gifted screenwriters, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and of his main sidekick, Sid James, Hancock refused to work with them. Then he fired his agent.

Simon Heffer considers the strengths but also the weaknesses of his two largely forgotten films - The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man - and the sad demise of a brilliant performer whose influences are still apparent today.

Producer : Beaty Rubens

05Sid James20150417

In the final programme celebrating comic actors from mid-20th century British film, Simon Heffer turns his gaze on a man whose priapic laugh alone merits an entire radio series. Sid James was at the heart of the phenomenally successful Carry On films and one of the best-loved and most easily recognised comic actors of his day.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the many roles he played were all, in essence, the same. As Simon Heffer puts it: "To say Sid had range as an actor would be to do him an injustice. Sid not have range. Sid was Sid. And it was as well he was, because the audience expected Sid in the full pomp of his Sidness, and would have been crushed with disappointment by anything else."

But Sid was not, by birth, the wise-cracking Cockney geezer whom he came to embody. He traced his roots back to Johannesburg, where he started life as Solomon Joel Cohen and began his working life as a gentlemen's hairdresser.

Simon Heffer traces his journey from a few years in rep to bit-parts in British comic films, his years of triumph in the Carry On films and his dramatic and unpredictable death on stage in 1976 - a somehow fitting end to a series on comic actors in their lives and on film.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

05Sid James20150417

In the final programme celebrating comic actors from mid-20th century British film, Simon Heffer turns his gaze on a man whose priapic laugh alone merits an entire radio series. Sid James was at the heart of the phenomenally successful Carry On films and one of the best-loved and most easily recognised comic actors of his day.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the many roles he played were all, in essence, the same. As Simon Heffer puts it: "To say Sid had range as an actor would be to do him an injustice. Sid not have range. Sid was Sid. And it was as well he was, because the audience expected Sid in the full pomp of his Sidness, and would have been crushed with disappointment by anything else."

But Sid was not, by birth, the wise-cracking Cockney geezer whom he came to embody. He traced his roots back to Johannesburg, where he started life as Solomon Joel Cohen and began his working life as a gentlemen's hairdresser.

Simon Heffer traces his journey from a few years in rep to bit-parts in British comic films, his years of triumph in the Carry On films and his dramatic and unpredictable death on stage in 1976 - a somehow fitting end to a series on comic actors in their lives and on film.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.