As is well known, Sid James – as requested by Tony Hancock – played no part in Hancock’s final BBC series penned by Galton and Simpson. In some of the other episodes – The Bedsitter or The Radio Ham, say – it’s clear that Galton and Simpson were writing material which moved away in certain respects from their previously established formula.
It’s easier to imagine Sid taking part in The Lift though (no doubt he would have taken it in turns with Tony to antagonise all of their fellow lift passengers). So Sid’s absence does have the side effect of making Tony seem more irritating than usual – with no confidant to take the strain, he’s the sole antagonist today.
Many of Tony’s familiar character traits are present and correct. Such as his fumbling attempt to chat up the pretty young secretary (Jose Read) and his seething indignation when he has to watch her being sweet-talked by Jack Watling (the smooth BBC producer).
The Hancock character tended to berate those he believed were below him on the social scale (such as Hugh Lloyd’s liftman) and defer to certain people above him. Not all – the Air Marshall (John Le Mesurier) is treated with a level of contempt that Tony doesn’t even bother to conceal. The Vicar (Noel Howlett) is another matter altogether (witness Tony’s chumminess and delight that the Vicar’s first Epilogue went well).
Both Hancock’s Half Hour and Hancock were always so well cast. Not only regulars like Hugh Lloyd and John Le Mesurier, but also the one-off performers like Charles Lloyd Pack and Colin Gordon (who both feature in this one).
They all help to generate a combustible mix of personalities, who are all nicely stoked up when the lift gets stuck between floors. Tony – of course – decides that he should take charge. His first suggestion – that everybody jumps up and down – is logical, but it has a disappointing lack of success.
So they’re caught in a stalemate situation, which generates some wartime memories for Tony. “It’s just like the old days. Laying on the bottom, still, silent. Nobody daring to move. Jerry destroyers dashing about upstairs, trying to find us sitting there, sweating, waiting, joined together in a common bond of mutual peril”.
This moment is punctured by the Vicar, who recalled that Tony earlier stated he was in the Army! No matter, Tony – with the agility of a born fantasist – quickly rallies, weaving a tale about the Heavy Water plants in Norway (“very tricky stuff. A cup full of that in your font, blow the roof off it would”).
I do love Tony’s attempt to keep everybody entertained by playing Charades. Of course all of his mimes are guessed in double quick time by his nemesis, the producer (“it was simple”).
The twist at the end – having been rescued, Tony and the liftman become trapped once again – doesn’t quite work, but overall there’s very little fat on this one. Not quite the best that the final series had to offer, but that’s only because the competition was very fierce.