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Alan Simpson OBE

27 November 1929 to 8 February 2017


Screenwriter Alan Simpson was a giant of British comedy, widely credited alongside his writing partner Ray Galton for having pioneered the modern television sitcom, bringing social realism with sympathetically drawn working class characters to British screens for the first time.

Galton and Simpson met in 1948 as young men recuperating from tuberculosis at Milford Sanatorium, Surrey, where they began to write sketches for the hospital’s radio station. By 1954 they were scripting Hancock’s Half Hour for BBC radio, which would later become the hugely successful television series of the same name. Starring Tony Hancock, Sidney James and Kenneth Williams, the show ran for seven series and at its peak was watched by over 20 million viewers.

After winning a BAFTA in 1960, Simpson continued his partnership with Galton by creating the anthology series Comedy Playhouse. It was during one of those standalone episodes that rag-and-bone men Albert and Harold Steptoe were first introduced to British audiences and, buoyed by the public response, Steptoe and Son was born. The series would run for 58 episodes, attracting audiences of 28 million people and inspiring generations of comedy writers that followed – including Paul Merton who would revive Hancock’s Half Hour during the late-90s.

Later working extensively with Frankie Howerd and returning to the anthology format in 1977 with The Galton & Simpson Playhouse, Simpson formally retired from screenwriting in 1978. Simpson remained close with Galton and their long-time manager Tessa Le Bars, and in the 2000 honours list the pair were awarded OBEs for their contribution to British television.

At The British Academy Television Awards in 2016, Galton and Simpson were awarded with a BAFTA Fellowship – the highest honour the Academy can bestow. Although unable to attend, Simpson recorded a filmed message alongside Galton to be played at the ceremony, during which they toasted their incredible 60-year career together.

Read more about Galton and Simpson's BAFTA Fellowship here