A newly-restored version of Tony Hancock’s celebrated film The Punch and Judy Man will offer a remarkable window on early 1960s Bognor Regis.
The film, which is being reissued by Network Distributing alongside The Rebel on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video, famously used Bognor for the exterior shots of the fictional seaside town of Piltdown.
Comedian and sitcom legend Tony Hancock appeared in only a handful of films. His first feature film-starring role was in the 1961 comedy The Rebel. Following its success and seeking a more international audience, Hancock split with writers Galton and Simpson over proposed feature film projects he thought unsuitable for him. Instead, The Punch and Judy Man (1963) brought him his second and final starring film role.
Content to scratch out a living in the faded seaside town of Piltdown, puppeteer Wally Pinner (Hancock) is unhappily married to Delia, a gift-shop owner with social pretensions. When Wally is invited to perform at the town’s anniversary gala reception, however, Delia scents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise the couple’s social standing...
Hancock gave a memorable performance in a bittersweet comedy of small-town snobbery and one-upmanship which co-starred Sylvia Syms and featured Barbara Murray, Ronald Fraser, John Le Mesurier and Hugh Lloyd.
Restoration colourist Jonathan Wood has been key in bringing the film back to its full glory – and it proved a fascinating task: “I do really like films that show off their location. Sometimes when I was doing this one, I would have a pause and look at a map and google some of the locations and see that they are still there. There is a bit where they are supposed to be going into some sort of swanky dinner, and they are obviously on the sea front. There is this building with large angled windows, and that’s still there now.”
Jonathan is confident the newly-restored version will make a big difference to our enjoyment: “People will have been watching versions which might have come from old masters – versions that are soft and not very defined and usually with the wrong aspect ratio, usually cropped on width and you have lost information at the sides. We have used the original aspect ratio. We have tried to cover as much of the picture area as possible. So I think it will be a revelation in terms of going back in time. It is in black and white, but it will still be like looking through a window at a time long ago in Bognor.
“The film is a black comedy really. It has got some fairly darkish tones to it. It is interesting as a period piece in terms of location, but also from Tony Hancock’s point of view. It treads a line between drama and comedy, and I don’t think it did terribly well at the time. People were expecting something more kin to his previous film outing which was quite light, but this has got those darkish overtones to it. It is portraying a man who is fed up with what he is doing, a man who doesn’t like the fakeness of it all. It is an interesting film, but you shouldn’t go into it thinking it is going to be a happy-go-lucky comedy.”
“But I like looking at old films and seeing the time capsule element of it. You see how the streets were, how the roads were without so much marking, and there are some great location shots within this film. You see the classic old British seaside town of the 1960s, with its quaint little shops. It looks charming – just as you would expect an old British seaside town of that time to be.”
For the restoration, Jonathan and his colleague worked from the original negative – “the first generation material is always the best that you are going to get. It should be pristine, but you learn from experience that you never really know what you are going to get. In this case, it did have some wear. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.”