Ray Galton was born in Paddington in 1930 and Alan Simpson in Brixton in 1929. The pair first met as teenagers in 1948 when they were both convalescing from tuberculosis in Milford Sanatorium. Prior to this, Alan had been working as a shipping clerk, and Ray had been employed at the Transport and General Workers' Union.
At the hospital, the patients had an amateur radio room as occupational therapy, and Ray and Alan decided to write some comedy shows together. The partnership continued upon their release, and their big break came in 1951 when comedian Derek Roy saw some material they had sent in to the BBC. Suitably impressed, he decided to hire them to write for his radio show 'Happy-Go-Lucky'. They went on to write for a number of BBC radio shows, including 'Calling All Forces' (1952), where they first wrote for Tony Hancock, and 'Star Bill' (1953-54), again with Hancock.
'Hancock's Half Hour' came to be after Ray and Alan approached Dennis Main Wilson with the idea of a half hour show featuring Hancock, but using only one storyline per episode, rather than sketches, which, up until then, was the usual format of radio comedy. The radio series ran from 1954 to 1959, and 101 episodes were written. The programme became so popular, that in 1956, it transferred to TV. The first TV episode was shown on 6 July 1956, and for a period of five years, it ran both on TV and radio.
After Hancock parted company with Ray and Alan in 1961, they went on to write for, amongst others, Frankie Howerd, helping to restore his career after a low ebb in the early 1960's. They created the sitcom, 'Citizen James' (BBC, 1960-62), for Sidney James (from whom Hancock had also parted company after the last series of 'Hancock's Half Hour'), and they also wrote a number of stand-alone comedies for their own series, 'Comedy Playhouse' (BBC, 1961-63). It was the fourth of these, 'The Offer' (BBC, 5/1/1962), about 2 rag and bone men, which led to the hugely successful and highly popular series 'Steptoe and Son' (BBC, 1962-74). The series won Galton and Simpson the Writers' Guild Award in 1962 and 1963.
Other major work includes writing for Leslie Phillips, Les Dawson, 'Dawson's Weekly' (ITV, 1975), and further Comedy Playhouses for ITV. They have also written for the stage, and have written numerous films, including 'The Rebel' (1960) for Tony Hancock, 'The Bargee' (1963) starring Harry H. Corbett, 'The Wrong Arm of the Law' (1964) starring Peter Sellers and Lionel Jeffries, and 'The Spy with a Cold Nose' (1966) starring Laurence Harvey.
In 1977, Alan Simpson decided to retire, but Ray Galton continued to work, writing with, amongst others, Johnny Speight and John Antrobus. More recently, this latter collaboration has led to the resurrection of the Steptoe characters in the highly successful stage play 'Murder at Oil Drum Lane'.
Between 1951 and 1961, Ray and Alan established themselves as one of Britain's most successful comedy writing partnerships ever, writing for nearly all the top comics of that era. They established the template for quality situation comedy with two of the most popular sitcoms ever broadcast in this country, 'Hancock's Half Hour' and 'Steptoe and Son'. It is only fitting therefore, that they won lifetime achievement awards from the Writers' Guild in 1997. In the 2000 New Year's Honours List, Ray and Alan were also awarded OBEs.