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The Rebel

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Mayfair, London, 1961
(price: 2/6; 160 pages)

The blurb on the back:

He was a rebel against conformity. He didn't want to catch the eight-thirty-two to the City each morning all his life. He had talent, artistic talent, and he pined for the Bohemian life of an artist.
A hilarious sequence of events sends him off to Paris, where the glib patter of his native London captivates the artistic fringe of Montparnasse, who acclaim him (not always soberly) as a genius. And soon it is believed.
Then follows a joyful life, with the wildest of parties with Existentialists who sleep in diving suits, dye their hair green, paint their pianos like Scottish tartans ... and do everything except catch trains for a living.
Overwhelming? Not for a rebel who has fought for an existence in the primitive wilds of London's Suburbia. Like a duck taking to water, the Rebel takes to the new life and riotously makes it his own.

The divine IreneThe Rebel wasn't Tony Hancock's first film, of course, nor was it his best (those were Orders Are Orders and The Punch & Judy Man respectively), but it was the only one that he made as the most successful comedian in Britain, and it's the one that remains most closely associated with him.

By 1960 Hancock's Half Hour dominated both radio and TV comedy, with the team of Hancock, Sid James and writers Galton & Simpson seemingly inseparable. The Rebel separated them. Galton & Simpson stayed on board to write the story and screenplay, but Sid - already a big film star in his own right - was dumped, and the focus placed firmly on The Lad Himself.

Hancock plays an officer worker in the soulless world of the corporate state who dreams of being free to indulge his artistic creativity. Unfortunately he has no talent, but - refusing to let this stop him - he decides to abandon his life and run away to Paris in pursuit of his dream.

It's not a bad film, but it's not that good either. An earlier radio show - 'The Poetry Society' - had done a send-up of artistic pretension far more effectively, and the whole thing feels a bit like a TV play extended beyond its natural limit: at an hour you couldn't have argued; at 100 minutes the pace suffers. Hancock, however, is terrific, there are appearances by Dennis Price and John Le Mesurier, and there's a characteristically superb performance by Irene Handl as his Philistine London landlady Mrs Crevatte. ('I don't hold with naked women that haven't got any clothes on. That's bein' lewd!') Less celebrated, there are also very early minor roles for Oliver Reed and Sandor Eles.

As a book it obviously suffers from the absence of Hancock, his beautiful eyes and his wondrously expressive face. Allowing for that, it still works okay, and some of the jokes are still lovely. Try Hancock's account of a Buddha in Suburbia:

Anyway, this Pundit Mohatma, the famous yohgurt, one day decided to prove mind was greater than matter. So he was wrapped in a sheet, chained so he couldn't move, put into a lead box which was sealed and lowered into a hole twelve feet deep. The hole was filled in by experts. Then they put a twenty-five ton rock on the hole, and he had no food and no air and he stayed like that for six weeks. When they finally dug him up, to everybody's amazement he was ... dead. You know, a lot of people said it was a trick. A trick! They said he was dead when he was put in.' (p.102)

I seem to remember Paul Merton doing that routine on his Channel 4 show virtually word-for-word without acknowledgement.

A nice day at the office
before the rebellion

Reed you know, of course, but in case Mr Eles has slipped your mind: he went on to give us his Hans in Evil of Frankenstein, to star opposite Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula and - most famously - to portray Paul Ross in Crossroads.


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