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Obituary: Ray Galton – ‘Titan of radio and television comedy’

Together with his writing partner Alan Simpson, Ray Galton was a titan of radio and television comedy with the era-defining Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

The pair wrote 160 episodes about Tony Hancock’s dour suburban fantasist across both mediums (and took him on to film in 1961’s The Rebel) and almost 60 episodes detailing the fraught relationship between an aged scrap dealer and his permanently exasperated son in London’s Shepherd’s Bush between 1962 and 1974.

The rag-and-bone men were also seen in two films, on American television as Sanford and Son and spawned Simpson’s last theatre venture, Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane. Co-written with John Antrobus, and with Harry Dickman and Jake Nightingale in the roles created by Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett, it toured the UK after a successful run at the Comedy Theatre in 2005. In 2012, Kneehigh Theatre adapted four original television scripts for a touring production.

Galton and Simpson had ventured into theatre, assisted by Eric Sykes, with the 1966 revue Way Out in Piccadilly at the Prince of Wales Theatre, starring Frankie Howerd and Cilla Black.

The pair reunited with Howerd for the “indoor western” The Wind in the Sassafras Trees at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre in 1968. It transferred to Broadway, for only four performances, as Rockefeller and the Red Indians, and was revived, with Harry Worth as the eponymous pioneer, at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke in 1987. The same year Simpson and Antrobus returned to Theatreland with the farce When Did You Last See Your Trousers? at the Garrick Theatre.

Later television credits with Simpson included 1972’s Clochemerle, about the efforts of a rural French town to erect a public urinal, Casanova ’73 with Leslie Phillips, and his small-screen swansong, a one-off resurrection, with Antrobus, of Steptoe and Son in 2016. With Johnny Speight, he co-wrote Spooner’s Patch (1979-82) and, with Antrobus, Get Well Soon (1997).

Twice a BAFTA recipient, he and Simpson received its fellowship in 2016. He was awarded an OBE in 2000.   

Raymond Percy Galton was born in Paddington, London, on July 17, 1930, and died on October 5, after a prolonged battle with dementia. He was 88.