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Tony-hancock
image credit: Tony Hancock in about 1963, source, wiki

Tales of the fifties at the Bay Hotel are coming back to life as a register of visitors has been rediscovered.—Bay Life, 20 February 2018

Tales of the Bay Hotel in the fifties in Pevensey Bay are about to come back to life, as a register of the people that stayed there between 1954—57 is about to be published

Talking to Bay Life today (20 February) Lynda Leventon, daughter of Stan and  Muriel Love, the publicans at the Bay Hotel between 1954 and 1971, who lived at the hotel as a child, told us that her sister would be able to supply the register of people that stayed at the hotel between 1954—1957.

We are hoping to piece together the register as a way of finding the name of some of the famous people that stayed at the hotel at the time.

In a recollection today, Lynda told us that she can remember coming home from school aged about 10 and finding Tony Hancock, together with his wife and two large poodles, drinking in the bar with her father. In June 1950, Hancock married Cicely Romanis, a Lanvin model.

She said, “sometimes when we came home from school father asked us to recite poems to some of the people that were at the bar and I can remember reciting Daffodils by William Wordsworth for example, although I do not think I ever recited any poems to Tony Hancock”.

She added,”what I can remember is that at about 4:00pm Tony Hancock would go for a swim in the sea at Pevensey Bay, even when it was October, which seemed a bit mental”.

She suggested, he would come and stay for a few days, possibly as long as a week, maybe it was a way for him to get away from the pressures of being in the limelight”.

Tony Hancock in the 1950s and early 1960s, became a national celebrity. He had a major success with his BBC series Hancock’s Half Hour, first broadcast on radio from 1954, then on television from 1956. His last BBC series in 1961 contains some of his best remembered work including “The Blood Donor”.

Working with scripts from Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the show lasted for seven years and over a hundred episodes in its radio form. From 1956, teh show ran concurrently with an equally successful BBC television series with the same name.

The show starred Hancock as “Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock”, living in the shabby “23 Railway Cuttings” in East Cheam. Most episodes portrayed his everyday life as a struggling comedian with aspirations toward straight acting. One famous episode ‘Sunday Afternoon” has been described as “Brechtian’ in the scope of the delivery of the comedic lines written by Galton and Simpson about boredom on a Sunday afternoon in East Cheam.

The original French text of ‘Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett was composed between October 1948 and January 1949. Comparisons have been made between the script of “Sunday Afternoon’ performed by Tony Hancock with the suggestion that Galton and Simpson were giving more than a comedic nod to the playwright, Samuel Beckett, in their script.

At the time, as Lynda recalls, it seems likely that Tony Hancock was ‘resting;’ in some way with his visits to the Bay Hotel in Pevensey Bay.

Perhaps it was the case that the pressures on him as such a star at this point in his life, and the speed with which this recognition was reached on a national and international basis was acute.

The view offered by Lynda today, that he was probably utilising the Bay Hotel as a way to get away from everything, seems to fit, particularly since Hancock’s Half Hour began in 1954 and came to be such a huge success.

Hancock committed suicide, by overdose, in Sydney, in June 1968. He was found dead in his flat with an empty vodka bottle and a scattering of amylo-barbitone tablets.

In one of his suicide notes, he wrote: “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times”. His ashes were brought back to England by satirist Willie Rushton, and were buried in St. Dunstan’s Church in Cranford, west London.

Spike Milligan offered the wry comment in 1989: “Very difficult man to get on with. He used to drink excessively. You felt sorry for him. He ended up on his own. I thought, he’s got rid of everybody else, he’s going to get rid of himself and he did.”

The work of Tony Hancock, along with the scripts of Galton and Simpson are now seen as being at the pinnacle of British comedy. In a 2002 poll, BBC radio listeners voted Hancock their favourite British comedian.

“What an extraordinary face he had”, Lynda remembers.

The memories of the Bay Hotel in the fifties are to form an exhibition that will be presented at the Bay Hotel . Organisers are hoping to include a celebration of the Goon Show, as part of a pilot arts and literature festival this year, which will also be held at the hotel.

Talking to Lynda today, Simon Montgomery, editor of Bay Bay said “we known that Peter Sellars and Spike Milligan were both here in the summers of the fifties, as Peter Sellers had a holiday home here and later bought a house for his mother in Coast Road.

“What would be wonderful, if we see the register of people that stayed at the Bay Hotel between 1954 and 1957 is to discover whether any of the other cast of the Goon Show were here and possibly stayed at the Bay Hotel. We do know, for example that Michal Bentine was here

“If anyone has seen any still of this TV production of the Tellygoons, a puppet show, (1961), they will see that some of the action takes place in a stationmaster’s House that is named the Pevensey Bay Halt.

“We think that there is a likelihood that other famous comedy names from the fifties days of radio were here and, very likely that some of them either visited or stayed at the Bay Hotel.

“The home video shown in the BBC2 series of Arena about Peter Sellers, shows his ‘home footage’ recorded in 1961 and a scene in which he turns the corner of the Bay Hotel filming from a car as the scene changes. He obviously held Pevensey Bay in great affection.”

With Peter Sellers here, and Spike Milligan here, the fact that we know now that Tony Hancock often stayed at the Bay Hotel, leaves the intriguing possibility that some of these iconic heroes of radio comedy were staying here at the same time.

Did they ever bump into each other on the corner of the Bay Hotel? There is a play about comedy legends in Pevensey Bay waiting to be written is there not?

Whatever the stories of the Bay Hotel in Pevensey Bay in the fifties, we hope to he able to discover documents and records and registers of some of the years at the hotel.

We would like to thank Lynda Leventon for all the help in putting pieces of the story together.