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Ray Galton OBE

17 March 1930 to 5 October 2018

As one half of comedy writing duo Galton and Simpson, Raymond Percy Galton helped create the television sitcom genre as we know it.

And yet it was almost never to be: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson first met in a Surrey tuberculosis hospital in 1948, both having been given just weeks to live. The pair quickly bonded after discovering a shared love for US entertainers Don Ameche and Jack Benny, and filled their days writing skits for the sanatorium’s in-house radio.

After making a remarkable recovery, the pair decided they would continue their writing partnership and wrote to various big comedy names of the day asking for a job. They were eventually hired to pen jokes for Derek Roy on his BBC radio show, Happy-Go-Lucky. The series was short lived, but their innate talent was spotted by Tony Hancock, who asked them to write a sketch for him for Workers Playtime.

Soon after, Hancock’s Half Hour was born, written by Galton and Simpson and starring Hancock. Debuting on radio, the hugely popular series moved to television in 1956 and is widely considered as the blueprint for the British sitcom. Galton and Simpson were much in demand, so when their relationship with Hancock broke down in the early 1960s, the pair chose to write single episode comedies for the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse (1961-1963). One of these, ‘The Offer’, would seal their reputation as the UK’s premier comedy writing partnership.

It was Galton who suggested the idea of two down-on-their-luck rag and bone men, a concept that would eventually be developed into Steptoe and Son (1962-1974). The series was an immediate hit and, at its peak, would draw an unprecedented 28 million viewers. The series was so popular it spawned two feature films, and was sold to various international territories for remake.

Simpson retired in 1978, but Galton continued to write on; notably, he penned 1997’s six-episode Get Well Soon (with John Antrobus), which he based on their life in the sanatorium 50 years earlier.

In 2016, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were given a BAFTA Fellowship in celebration of their incredible 60-year career, which also saw them win a BAFTA in 1960. The pair were appointed OBEs in 2000.

Read Ray Galton's Guardian interview here.