Tony Hancock – The Rebel - A Pilgrimage to Paris

Written by Simon Wells
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© Words Simon Wells

I suppose it’s a question that anyone who appreciates something gets asked a once in their career of fascination. For me, my turn onto Tony Hancock began with “The Rebel”. I can’t tell you how much the film became a source of inspiration to me over the years. I dare say anyone who has done the commuting lark will connect with that classic scene with Hancock at the beginning of the film.

During my “time of hell” (as I like to refer to it) I can recall images of each and every one of the poor sods who inhabited the carriage I had the misfortune to catch each morning. As the voices in my head tried to ascertain who they were and where they were going, it was only The Rebel that confirmed to me that I was not going mad!

Ironically, I lived for many years in Lingfield, a stone throws from Tony’s Surrey property. I also used the very train line that hosted parts of the filming of the “The Rebel” for years without actually knowing of its celebrity.

Anyway, back to the future. I had scheduled a few days away in Paris with some mates who are equally interested (though not as obsessed) with Hancock and the film. As is my style, I had done considerably research into where the locations Hancock visited in the movie might actually be. After a while I had a possible list of points of sites that would accompany our otherwise de-rigeur tour around town.

Tony Hancock The Rebel 3Although we eschewed a cross channel ferry for our trip, we soon arrived at the Gare De Nord, courtesy of Eurostar. As you will note from the film, Hancock alights from his “chauffeur driven” cargo train into a classic Parisian scene- replete with fountains. This is in fact, the Place De La Concorde, at the base of the Champs-Élysées. Notorious as it was for scores of executions that took place during the 18th century, it has a somewhat gentler ambience these days. I doubt few (if any) people have made a pilgrimage to the spot where Hancock hovered around with his suitcases, but as we wandered around, there was a distinct feeling that we had properly arrived in the French capital. As we passed the fountains that gushed litre upon litre of water into the nearby pools, it wasn’t hard to feel the same sense of wonder that Hancock did as he took in the beauty of the scene.

Over on the other side of the Seine is Notre Dame cathedral. Despite its dark exterior, is as equally impressive as Sacré Cœur. For Rebel aficionados, this is where Hancock wandered alongside before moving on in search of accommodation. One can easily imagine a summer’s day painting one’s impression of the cathedral (well, at least before some fella comes up and puts his own daub over it!) By the way, the impressive steps Tony wanders down from before his sourourn along the Seine, forms part of the Alexandre lll Bridge, a little further down the river from Notre Dame. Equally it hasn’t change
d one jot over the years, and given Pairs’ commitment to classic architecture, probably won’t ever either.

Over in Paris’ busiest district, the Champs-Élysées, one can easily find the spot where Hancock met with his artistic destiny. I’m talking about the scene where an innocent moment of painting is ruined by some guy rushing past in a Rolls Royce. For this scene, Hancock literally took it to the street to commit his own, rather idiosyncratic view of the Arc de Triomphe monument.

This was filmed on the north side of the Champs-Élysées at the junction of Rue de Tilsett . I can only presume that the scene was shot very early on in the morning, as the street is permanently blocked with traffic in varying states of chaos. The action continued as George Sanders’ Rolls turned off into the Avenue de Friedland before drawing to halt. It was fun to retrace this particular movement, as the Sanders alights into a genuine gallery. Remarkably (or not) it is still a gallery - some forty-five years on! I was mightily chuffed at my sleuthing of this- although I’d doubt anyone around me had a slightest idea at what I was jumping up and down about

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Next up was an attempt to find the studio that Hancock and his fellow artisan Paul Ashby shared during the film. Now as you may have already gathered, a lot of the interiors were shot in the studio back in London, but there were a few select locations that required some genuine exterior locations in Paris. In retrospect, it seems highly appropriate that the artisan quarter of Montmartre was chosen, as it was (as now) the centre for painters, both established and aspiring. Although the little streets that make up the district are dominated by legions of portrait artists, it still retains a somewhat bohemian feel. Sadly, there has been an invasion of tacky, souvenir shops into the district, so to really experience Montmartre as it was, one has to delve behind the main square and wander down the narrow backstreets. One such street is –Rue St. Rustique, and it was here that Hancock and his co-star once wandered down in search of refuge. Thankfully, the street has barely changed since filming and at night-time the illuminated spectre of Sacré Cœur sparkles beautifully in the background. With a little imagination, one can easily conjure up a few images of Hancock hurtling down the street with his easel under his arm. It’s very special, and if anywhere in Paris still retains the true spirit of The Rebel, it is here.

If one wanders back into the main hub of Montmartre, you’ll find the Place du Tertre. It was here that George Sanders’ character, Sir Charles Brewer first emerged in his Rolls Royce in search of Hancock’s flat. I presume that the film crew managed to alight up the upper quarters of the nearby chapel to capture some shots of the Rolls as it meandered through Montmartre and onwards towards Hancock’s quarters. It’s a typically frenetic place, and crowded at all hours. I made a few trips here during my stay, and I recommend either an early morning visit, or late at night to taste the true flavour of the area.

Tony Hancock The Rebel 2.jWherever you are in Montmartre, one cannot escape the presence of Sacré Cœur (Sacred Heart) cathedral that dominates over the skyline. A quaint scene in The Rebel preserves Hancock’s presence in the shadow of the church, as he daubed his own version of it. Obviously nothing has changed here, and it is as beautiful and busy as it’s probably always been. One thing that seemed out of place on my trip was the absence of anyone committing the scene to canvas as Hancock did- although the ever present click of cameras is never far away.

There were two other locations I couldn’t track down. One was a very ordinary looking lake where Hancock is pictured painting, and the exterior of the house where Hancock, Paul Ashby and the gloriously; enigmatic existentialist Josie, wander up to before their audience with Dennis’ Prices remarkable alter ego.” I’d be delighted to know if anyone ha tracked these down, as it would complete the list of Hancock’s busy itinerary around Paris.

As and my hardy comrades bade farewell to this beautiful city- I felt excellerated. I’d retraced the steps of my favourite actor in one of my favourite films. Paris is a remarkable, wonderful city, and I would recommend it at any time of year- Hancock aofficaiancdo or not. Eurostar is quiet cheap if you book far enough ahead, and the accommodation is plentyful and affordable- even to budding artists from East Cheam.

Bon Voyage mush!

Reproduced by Kind Permission of Simon Wells and Tony Hancock’s Rebel BlogSpot

Original Article From Tony Hancock’s Rebel BlogSpot

Read 7168 times Last modified on Tuesday, 01 June 2021 18:33
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Simon Wells

Simon Wells

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