Thursday, 21 February 2013

Thursday 21 February 1963

Tonight's Hancock (The Craftsman) is the second programme I've gazed on this week featuring the writing talents of Dennis Spooner.  Here he's co-writing with Richard Harris - not the film star but another writer who'd loom large in the action-adventure series boom of the later 60s.

The Craftsman has its moments (all down to Hancock's sheer brilliance as a comic performer) but for the most part it's pretty ordinary.  Like most of the other ATV episodes it begins with Hancock hanging out in the street, waiting for this week's situation to come along and entangle him.  He stops by one of those electronics shops with a bank of TVs on in the window playing all night that are so conspicuous by their absence from today's world.  The programme showing's a DIY programme, a spoof of Barry Bucknell's hugely popular BBC shows.

Hancock is, of course, unable to miss this opportunity to boast to his fellow passersby of his own skills in the field of DIY.

But as Hancock gleefully informs the world how much deeper his appreciation of the construction of a door frame is than theirs, the shadow of gloom appears over his shoulder, in the form of Brian Wilde.

Wilde's character, Stan Lovegrove, believes DIY programmes are ruining his marriage by giving his wife unrealistic expectations of what he can do around the home.  Hancock, flattered by Stan's description of him as a craftsman (he's spun a cock and bull story about how he's carving the proscenium arch for the new town hall), kindly but over-ambitiously agrees to help the poor henpecked simpleton construct a fitted wardrobe.

The best part of the episode is Hancock's visit to the hardware shop to buy the necessary items to fix up Stan's wardrobe.  His first impulse, like any child who's ever visited a DIY store, is to test out the doorbells.

This being Hancock, his second impulse is to engage in a chippy argument with the shop's proprietor (Thomas Heathcote): "I am a working man and proud of it, so don't come any of that capitalistic chat with me!" (the era when fervent left wing politics and being working class went hand-in-hand seems a long way distant now).  The extent of Hancock's exaggeration about his DIY expertise is made horribly clear when he's unable to even name the tools he requires, and has to mime them:

"One of those...
one of these...
a couple of these...
a few of those...
one of those...
...and a great big thing to bash it in with"
The inevitably sorry drama of putting up the wardrobe unfolds beneath the gaze of our old friend, Tretchikoff's Chinese Girl (probably the same print that appeared in the first episode of the series).

Hancock's keen to communicate some of his expert knowledge to his new pupil, though Stan's more awkward questions meet with the response, "there are one or two facets of my craft that must remain totally clandestine", to which there's not really any answer.

"Screwdriver! Screw-drive-er!"
"Timber, beautiful stuff, timber <sniff> 1954, I'd say"
Chaos follows, exactly as you'd expect.  It's all right, but I can't help feeling that it really should have been funnier.  Hancock's blithe indifference to the fact that he's destroying someone's house in a ridiculous attempt to show how skilled he is at something he's clearly never done before is beautifully performed, however.  And the episode ends with an especially satisfying punchline: Hancock stops again at the same shop window, this time with a gardening programme being shown.  You can see what you think for yourself, as some considerate person's uploaded The Craftsman to Youtube.

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