Tracking the continuous influences of Peter Doherty’s unlikely hero
Peter Doherty would be the poster boy for living life on the edge, if such a thing were to actually exist, of course. He is a hell-raising icon of the 21st Century and arguably the most notorious figure in British music during a period of indie rock domination. However, behind all the tabloid caricature of Doherty hides an incredible poet, one who has a way of writing that intrinsically connects with people — just like his unlikely hero.
Doherty’s hero isn’t a fellow musician, or even a poet by the traditional sense, although The Libertine would undoubtedly disagree. Somewhat bizarrely, the inspirational figure that remains close to Doherty’s heart is the late comedian Tony Hancock. While this is, of course, a left-field choice, what else would you expect from the ever-unpredictable Peter Doherty? Hancock was both an incredibly talented man, as well as being an especially troubled one at that, an entertainer who tragically overdosed aged just 44 in 1968.
Whilst Doherty currently seems to be in a positive place in his life after years of tumultuous substance abuse, he can relate to the issues that eventually took Hancock to his grave. To put his character into perspective, Van Morrison once asked Hancock’s peer, Spike Milligan, to provide an insight into the late comedian’s personality in 1989, to which he damningly stated: “[A] very difficult man to get on with. He used to drink excessively. You felt sorry for him. He ended up on his own. I thought, he’s got rid of everybody else, he’s going to get rid of himself, and he did.”
In an interview with The Guardian in 2009, Doherty reflected on how his love of Hancock was something that was in his blood: “Me and my dad, we’re both quite nostalgic people. My love of QPR and my love of Tony Hancock came directly from him. He was a career soldier, he was in it for the long haul. And he was amazingly successful. That’s one thing he always told me: whatever you’re gonna do, be successful.”
Doherty has managed to squeeze Hancock references into his work on plentiful occasions, famously with The Libertines song ‘You’re My Waterloo’ in which he swoons: “But you’re not Judy Garland, Oh just like me you’ve never really had a home of your own, But I’m not Tony Hancock, baby.”
Even the title of The Libertines’ seminal debut album Up The Bracket is a pinched Hancock line taken from his catchphrase, “Are you looking for a punch up the bracket? I’ll give you a punch up the bracket”. Continuing the love-in, the album-opening track ‘Vertigo’ goes on to reference the television programme Hancock’s Half Hour and takes the line “lead pipes, your fortune’s made” from the episode ‘The Poetry Society’.
Later, in 2005, Doherty recorded the track ‘Lady, Don’t Fall Backwards’ for the BBC Two documentary The Unknown Hancock. The title of the song refers to another episode of Hancock’s Half Hour and the book which he was reading in the episode ‘The Missing Page’. Following the same path when tracing some of Hancock’s undeniable influences on Doherty, the not-so-subtle references continue to pop up. The musician, interviewed in a documentary, spoke about his memories of discovering Hancock. “When I was very young I think,” The Libertines man remembered. “Just as soon as I was old enough to rummage through drawers and pull out tapes – ‘The Unexploded Bomb’, ‘The Americans Hit Town’, ‘Sid’s Mystery Tour’ and ‘The Poetry Society’. It’s certainly a language of a long-gone era if it even existed in the first place. I don’t know whether it’s possible to be nostalgic for a time that didn’t exist, but I think I am,” Doherty quizzically said.
The similarities between the two British icons are staggering. Doherty, who has found himself living with the ‘tortured genius’ tag, has navigated similar personal and professional issues to those that plagued Hancock at times. Thankfully, it seems like Doherty’s darkest days are firmly behind him, and he will avoid the same fate as his great hero who tragically lost his fight with addiction. The aphorism that Doherty has infiltrated into most of his artist work proved that a large portion of his old-fashioned English charm comes directly from the irreverent Hancock, his comedic flare living on in the most unlikely of places.