In Memoriam: Hugh Hancock

On Monday morning, I was swapping texts with an old friend, Hugh Hancock. The basic gist of those texts was “sorry we can’t catch up tonight, I’ll catch you in a few months”.

I never will. He died suddenly, that evening, of a heart attack, aged just 40.

To say he accomplished a lot in his far-too-short life is to undersell it. I don’t think he knew the meaning of the word “impossible” or “can’t”. Or anything like them. For as long as I knew him, he’d parked himself on the bleeding edge of technology and storytelling, and he was always doing something that no-one else was. It wasn’t always perfect. It wasn’t always polished. But no-one else was doing it. So he did.

His career took him all over the world, to speak and lecture. I’ve always been sorry that I never actually got to see him do that professionally, because I’m sure he was great at it. You only had to talk to him for five minutes before you saw his passion and heart, and it was bloody infectious. He poured it into everything he did, and he brought people along with him.

In the process of this, he named an art-form, Machinima, and made the first feature-length film in it, at a time when every else who was making Machinima thought they were doing well to make a five minute comedy short. When he concluded that one of the things that was letting his film-making down was the quality of the voice talent, he went out and booked Brian Blessed, Joanna Lumley, Jack Davenport and Anna Chancellor for his next work. I still don’t quite know how he managed it. I’m not sure he knew how he managed it.

I think it’s fair to say that Machinima wouldn’t look the same without him. And as if one art form wasn’t enough, in the last few years, he’d turned his attention to VR games, and storytelling. Lacking the equipment to do so, I haven’t played his effort in that field but from the reaction to it, and it sounds like he hit exactly the mark he was aiming for, and showed people that yes, you can use VR games as a narrative form.

I’ve read a bunch of the tributes to him, from his friends and from strangers who only knew him through his work, and of all of them there’s a comment on a facebook thread made by his close friend Johnnie Ingram (whose own tribute to Hugh is singularly perfect), noting “The number of people saying some variation of ‘he quite literally changed my life’ is extraordinary”. I think that’s very true, and is absolutely the measure of the man.

But as I remarked elsewhere, it’s not his achievements I’ll miss. It’ll be my my funny, warm, kind friend.

It’ll be the lunatic who decided he wanted to cook sous-vide at home, years before you could buy a home sous-vide device, so dragooned an engineer friend into helping him hack about with a slow cooker and an electric thermocouple, to create the monstrosity of wiring and water that he dubbed his “atomic crockpot”. (He did not know the meaning of the word “impossible”. He may sometimes have been hazy on the meaning of the word “safety”.)

It’ll be the man who reduced me to tears of helpless laughter describing the process of drying duck for a banquet between two computer fans.

It’ll be the man who I could (and did) talk about anything with, and be assured that he’d just get it. Whatever it was. The friend who I might not see for months or years at a stretch, but we’d meet, and five minutes later, it’d be like no time had passed.

On Monday morning, when he texted to cancel, I wasn’t upset. I was sure that I’d see him in a few months time, and it’d be like no time had passed.

It is so unfair that that’s no longer true, I don’t have the words.

He was 40. He’d done so much, and still I am sure his best work was ahead of him. The world has lost a brilliant and kind man, and many, many people have lost a dear friend. My love and sympathy goes out to everyone that knew him, most especially his partner, and the rest of his family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *