Given how highly regarded Galton & Simpson’s final television series for Tony Hancock has always been, it’s no surprise that three episodes were adapted for series one of PM in G&S’s …. Possibly the only surprise was that they didn’t tackle The Blood Donor – maybe they felt that one was just too iconic.
The Radio Ham has always been inexorably linked to The Blood Donor though, by virtue of the fact that both were re-recorded by Tony Hancock for LP release. And because the only way to relive classic comedy performances in the pre-VHS days was via record or cassette, for decades the re-recordings of The Blood Donor/The Radio Ham were one of the few ways you could experience classic Tony Hancock.
So for a generation, or two, you can guarantee that many would know The Radio Ham virtually word by word – which means that a remake has to pass a fairly stern test ….
Neatly, there’s an explanation provided at the start to explain why Paul, in the mid 1990’s, is mucking about with equipment so antiquated that it requires new valves. It’s ex-Army surplus (which possibly was extracted from a WW2 Lancaster).
Apart from the odd cosmetic touch like this, the script remains pretty much as it was. So Paul has to run the gamut with his uncomprehending friend in Tokyo (“it is raining not here also”), carry on long-distance games of chess, poker and snakes and ladders, whilst organising trays of bread pudding for ex-pats in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s interesting that they kept the moment where Paul puts on a cod Japanese accent, all the better – he hopes – to get through to his friend in Tokyo. It wouldn’t have surprised me had it been snipped out, but no, it’s present and correct.
Merton seems a little stiff to begin with, especially when he’s by himself. Once he starts interacting with the voices on the radio, things pick up a little – especially when all his dreams come true and a May Day distress call starts broadcasting …..
Michael Jayston is suitably frantic as the misplaced mariner, but there’s still something missing here. It’s competent enough, but maybe because I’m so familiar with the Hancock original this version can’t help but feel a little second best. In an ensemble piece, like Twelve Angry Men, the load can be shared, but in The Radio Ham, where Merton is on-screen by himself for most of the duration, it’s impossible not to remember how skilled Hancock’s performance was in the same piece.
By comparison Paul Merton is competent, but somewhat lacking. Direct comparisons are invidious, but when you’re remaking a comedy classic they’re sadly inevitable.