R.I.P. Bill Kerr.
Been a bit slack in posting about Bill Kerr after he died last week, aged 92, shockingly slack when he was major part in one of my all time favourites. Hancock’s Half hour.
The boy from Wagga-Wagga, Billo the performing man, was one of the great characters of British comedy. Well after a time.
Kerr was one of the original cast members of “Hancock’s Half Hour”, along with fellow South African born Sid James and Moira Lister, as part of Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock’s antics at 23 the Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. Initially Kerr played the smart one, slightly received pronunciation Australian accent it doesn’t seem right when you hear the later shows.
After a couple of series Kerr’s character changed and by the fourth series the classic line up – Hancock, James, Kerr, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams – was in place. With Kerr in his rightful place as the idiot of the bunch, though he had competition from Hancock and one of Williams’ well known characters – stop messing about.
Kerr’s deadpan idiot, somewhat removed from his original character, closer to the downbeat style he put on for his “Variety Bandbox” monologues, was a real winner. Always a few beats behind everyone else, replying to things that had passed ages back, then say something stupid for which Hancock would berate him – “you poltroon” – and then have a change of heart – “he’s not wrong you know”.
Prime example of all this being episode 8 from the final radio series, 6, in 1959 – “The Waxwork” – where he replies to Hancock’s question minutes after Hancock himself has given the answer and then goes on to explain how his uncle suffered at the hands of someone with a voodoo doll.
A brilliant piece of writing by Galton and Simpson – well every bit of every episode was.
It all started with those lugubrious monologues on “Variety Bandbox” just after his arrival in the UK after the war, where like a lot of the comedy greats of that post-war time, writers and performers, he cut his teeth.
And he was only there for four minutes…
Yes he was in “The Wrong Arm Of The Law ” and later “Gallipoli”, amongst many others but he’ll always be Tony Hancock’s dimwitted lodger from Wagga-Wagga. The series are usually on BBC Radio 4 extra but aren’t at the moment, he’s the last of the original cast to pass, only Andrée Melly and Warren Mitchell really of the named performers along with Galton and Simspon alive.