Galton & Simpson: Honoured by BAFTA – Finally!
In May 8th 2016 comedy writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were honoured with a BAFTA fellowship. The two were writing pioneers in the format of sit-com creating classics such as ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Steptoe and Son’.
The BAFTA tribute was introduced and led by Paul Merton who said ‘Writers of all shapes and sizes have been inspired by these giants of comedy. Without Ray and Alan the British sit-com as we know it might look a lot different. Galton and Simpson we thank you’. Paul also reminisced ‘In recent years I’ve been lucky to work with the pair myself. That’s why I have a tie on’. Merton performed updated versions of fifteen of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s old scripts in 1996 for an ITV series, Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson’s…. Six of these scripts were previously performed by Tony Hancock.
Anne Morrison, Chair of Bafta, said it “comes as no surprise” that the duo were being honoured as they had “created some of the most iconic characters and programmes over the past few decades”.”Alan and Ray have had such successful careers, spanning over 60 years, with credits such as Steptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half-Hour, two hugely popular sitcoms. They are rightly considered the trailblazers of the situation comedy format,” she said.
In their acceptance speech Ray mentioned how the two first met while being treated in a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1949, and started writing for the hospital’s radio station. Simpson, 86 said: ‘There is no way Ray and I would have dreamt of being writers if we hadn’t met there. ‘We were there from the ages of 17 to 20 while everyone else was doing their National Service. We used to read and read avidly… three books a day. During the first year we didn’t move out of bed, we just lay there educating ourselves.’
The pair went on to create the template for situation comedy with their popular series Hancock’s Half-Hour, which started as a radio show in 1954. It later transferred to TV and was aired on the BBC from 1956 to 1960. They were invited in 1962 to write ten shows of their choosing under the title ‘Comedy Playhouse’ one of those episodes turned into Steptoe & Son’ going on to make 58 episodes in 8 series (1962-1974) and two films. It also was remade in America under the title ‘Sanford & Son’ played by two black actors. The ‘Comedy Playhouse’ slot is used to this day to showcase new work and writers.
Alan Simpson said they were “extremely delighted” to receive the Fellowship in honour of their 60 year career. “We always wanted a Fellowship, even though we did not know what a fellowship was. Not the sort of thing one associates with a couple of Cockney lads, apart from Alfred Hitchcock of course,” he said. Ray Galton added that they were “happy and honoured” to accept the award “on behalf of all the Blood Donors, Test Pilots, Radio Hams and Rag and Bone Men of the 20th Century without whom we would probably be out of a job. Thank you all”.
The pair were awarded OBEs in 2000 and in 2013 had a blue plaque unveiled in their honour at Milford Sanatorium in Guildford where they first met. They are often credited with bringing social realism to British comedy which helped lay the foundations for modern day classics like ‘The Office’.
Alan Simpson 1929-2017 & Ray Galton 1930-2018
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.