THE black and white picture is not of Tony Hancock, the beloved and deeply troubled comic who died 52 years ago.

It is of James Hurn, the actor, impressionist and writer whose credits range from Dead Ringers to Band of Brothers.

He is the creator and sole cast member of Hancock & Co, in which he voices not just Hancock but other greats including Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques, and which comes to Swindon Arts centre on Sunday, May 26.

More than half a century after Hancock took his own life while working in Australia, interest in his work remains strong, and James puts this down to those old shows dealing with timeless themes.

“It’s the characters and situations,” he said.

“I think it’s because they represent something in all of us.”

James compares Hancock’s work to Only Fools and Horses in the sense that both have put-upon characters who are easy to empathise with, no matter our own circumstances.

As with Only Fools and Horses, a number of Hancock lines - such as: “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” - have become cultural points of reference.

“There’s always that element in that kind of character - that you can relate to,” said James.

“With Hancock, sometimes he used to convey a message in a look.”

James is far too young to remember the original radio and TV shows when they were broadcast, but remembers listening to repeats of the radio broadcasts with his dad from the age of about 10.

James was also an avid viewer when the TV series were repeated on Sunday evenings.

Hancock & Co consists of three episodes. One is a vintage piece by Hancock’s Half Hour writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

Called Sid James’ Dad, it was first broadcast more than 60 years ago. The story centres on Sid having to explain his frequent court appearances to his father.

“The original had been wiped. The only recording they could put together was one somebody recorded from the radio. It was extremely scratchy.”

The other episodes were written by James himself. The Inheritance sees Hancock left a painting, which he then tries to sell, while The Keep Fit Regime has him decide to get into better shape.

Both of the new episodes are set in the same time period as the originals, and James has no difficulty in voicing the entire cast.

“I feel it comes to me quite naturally. I have to rehearse, but ever since I was a kid, really, I always used to love acting out little scenarios - maybe from a sitcom the night before.”

James won many fans with impersonations of Hancock on social media and YouTube, and the positive response encouraged him to seek permission from the authors to write new episodes.

An initial 15-minute YouTube piece duly followed.

“People were asking me, ‘Could you write a full half-hour - all the fans will be so pleased.’ It went from there.”

James found out about the almost lost Sid James’ Dad from the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, which has given its full seal of approval to his interpretation of that episode and both of the new ones.

Tom Dommett, editor of the society’s magazine, The Missing Page, said in a review that some members of the audience were convinced that James’ episodes must be Galton and Simpson pieces they hadn’t heard of.

Tickets for Hancock & Co cost £16.50 with concessions available.

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