Monday, April 15, 2024

RIP Show Biz Legend Freddie Ross Hancock MBE, 92, PR and Marketing Genius, Founder of BAFTA NY, Widow of Famed UK Comedian Tony Hancock


It is with great sadness that I report the death today at 92 of a legend, Freddie Ross Hancock. Freddie was a larger than life member of the international show business community. A Brit, she lived in America for 50 years, brought BAFTA — the British version of the Academy Awards — to New York, received an MBE (presented by then Prince Charles), and counted dozens of celebrities and high profile companies as clients and friends.

In the UK some will recall Freddie as the second and final wife of a very famous British comedian, Tony Hancock. (From the mid 50s for a decade Tony Hancock was the number 1 star on British TV.) They were together for 11 tempestuous years until Tony’s death age 44 in 1968. The marriage part of it was only about three years at the end, as Hancock — who was like the Sid Caesar of England — was a raging alcoholic who could not find solace. A year after his death, Freddie published a bestselling memoir in the UK called “Hancock” with respected theater journalist, David Nathan.

Nathan wrote of Freddie in his preface: “One of London’s top show business PR experts, she was a familiar figure in the film and theater circles in which I increasingly worked. She was more respected than most of she told the truth about her clients, and if that was not always possible, she at least did not invent stories to get publicity for them.”

Freda Ross was born in London in 1930. Before going out on her own and managing Tony Hancock in the 1960s, Freddie worked for two years at the Holland America Line, learning public relations. She went on to become Assistant Head of Publicity at Universal Pictures’ UK offices where she worked with stars of the time like Shelley Winters and Rock Hudson. When she started her own PR firm she became the primary promoter of foreign films in England. She also began helping to promote British films in the US. Her clients included every well known star of the time, from Julie Andrews to Sean Connery, Sophia Loren and husband Carlo Ponti, Jim Dale, Topol (star of the film version of “Fiddler on the Roof’), and Theodore Bikel.

After Hancock died, Freddie moved to the US and began consulting for US movie companies exporting their films to the UK, and vice versa. When Miramax became very involved with British films, it was Freddie who gave advice how to position them, from Merchant Ivory films to ones like “Mrs. Brown”starring Judi Dench. In 1995 she brought BAFTA to the States, giving it a higher international profile. In 2002, she was thanked for her work by Queen Elizabeth with an MBE (Member of the British Empire). She worked on countless projects with big names including Masterpiece Theater’s Alistair Cooke (pictured here with Freddie), whose 80th birthday party in New York she organized with James Galway and Leonard Bernstein performing. She got then-president Ronald Reagan to send a video greeting, and Reagan responded with a thank you to Freddie.

Freddie filed for divorce and the ink was almost dry when Tony Hancock committed suicide in 1968. Although she was technically his widow she received not a dime from his estate. (She was portrayed in two different UK television movies.) She told an interviewer in 1996: . “When Tony was alive, people used to say to me: “do you have children?” I used to say: “yes, just one.” “How old?” “Quite old – 44.””

She never remarried. Instead she was a pioneer, a trailblazer as a woman making it on her own in show business. This was not easy, but her biting wit and insistent loyalty to clients stood her in good stead around the world. Others whom she counted as close friends ranged by British race car superstar Stirling Moss to Tony and Oscar winning composer Marvin Hamlisch.

Tony Hancock and Freddie Ross Hancock, 1964

In the 1990s and 2000s she also worked as Senior Vice-President of Acquisitions for the movie distributor American Video Films, where she was a beloved presence at the Cannes Film Festival. Besides founding BAFTA, she was also Vice-Chairman of the US wing of the Royal Television Society.

Freddie really had a brilliant mind. Even into her 80s she never stopped screening films for BAFTA, giving shrewd advice about how to market them. She also had a devilish sense of humor and knew, as we like to say, where all the bodies were buried. Thanks partly to a longtime friendship with gossip columnist Cindy Adams (and with whom she shared an exact birthday month), Freddie was current on every subject til the end. There was nothing I could tell her that she didn’t know. It was very frustrating!

Firmly ensconced in the US with no immediate family nearby, Freddie Ross Hancock wisely handpicked a group of younger friends whom she chose her adopted family. It was a wise move. This group on this side of the Atlantic is counted as her survivors, most especially CNN correspondent Richard Quest, who acted as a devoted surrogate son, and many others. (She was still linked in the UK to her beloved sister-inlaw, Shannie Ross, to whom she spoke every day for 50 years.) We could not have been luckier than to count her as our friend. She will be sorely missed and never forgotten.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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