Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sunday Night is... Gawd, I've got a winner here, mate!

Tony Hancock, Irene Handl in The Rebel (1961). Writers: Galton and Simpson.

Oh, you temptress!... I created you! I'm your master! (mwahahahaha!).... The Barbarians are at the gates of Rome!.... I know I'm hammering again, you turbanned fool!.... Great ugly thing?! -That's Aphrodite at the waterhole!.... I did that from memory. That is women as I see them..... I call that 'Ducks in Flight!'

The delights of art, even when the art is utterly terrible. Hancock, transformed, dedicated! This was still the heyday of Picasso, who represented everything puzzling in modern art, none of it to the taste of the landlady, Mrs Cravat. The sculpture is presumably part-Picasso, part-Jacob Epstein on a very bad day.

It reminds me of the dialogue in The Glums when gormless Ron tells his father, Mr Glum (Jimmy Edwards), that he has finally got a job. The trouble is that it is as an artist's model. Edwards is scandalised. You mean to say you are modelling in the nude? Ron replies that the nudity is only symbolic. Edwards rages back: I am not having my son in front of a lot of people stark symbolic naked!.* The writers, Muir and Norden.

Somehow the world that nourished them has not really dated. That is to say, yes, of course it has dated, but it has dated just enough. It has become a classic age, a classic age of surreal sitcom writing. Everyone knows what they are up against. Everyone knows what they yearn for. Everyone knows what they can't have.


*It occurs to me now that the joke may be lost on some. 'Bollock naked' is the common term being punned on - i.e. symbollock naked [GS guffaws]. I know this looks like Dudley Moore trying to explain the lyrics of 'Mama's got a brand new bag, yeah' to Peter Cook, but let that be. I am a fellow of infinite patience.


Anonymous said...

I love the layers of irony. Hancock plays an artist manque' who produces derivative rubbish - and thus, in portraying hopeless delusions of art, Hancock creates a genuine work of art. My favourite lines were: 'That's a self-portrait.' And the landlady's response,'Who of?' And, in real life, how often could one offer the same response to supposedly semi-autobiographical fiction. Hemingway immediately comes to mind. No, Papa, you weren't like that at all.

George S said...

And yet the self-portrait does bear a modicum of resemblance to Hancock.

What Hancock gets very well, inch-perfect, is the longing to be an artist, to escape from the mundane into a world of visions. That he has to do this according to the much used dramatic template of the rejected tortured genius is even better. Not that he is not tortured of course. It's just that he's not a genius.

I think of Joyce Carey's 'The Horse's Mouth' and Somerset Maugham's 'The Moon and Sixpence' as part of that template. I bet the Hancock character had read all about Gulley Jimson in Carey.