James Hayter

James Hayter was personally chosen for the part of Friar Tuck by the director of Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, Ken Annakin. Hayter had just played the role of a verger in Annakin’s last production, Trio (1950) based on three stories by Somerset Maugham. During the early days of filming in March 1951, Annakin began screen testing Hayter for the part of the merry priest, exploring the character’s various possibilities. But as they fooled around and generally went ‘over the top’, Annakin was stunned to turn around and see Walt Disney and the producer of the film, Perce Pearce standing behind him.

Disney was not impressed and took Annakin to one side.
“You seem to have a very-laid back relationship with your actor, Annakin", he said.
The embarrassed director tried to explain that they had just finished a film together and were exploring how much joviality they could get away with, in the role of Friar Tuck.
“He can be played in several ways ,” Disney interrupted, “I’ve always seen him quite clearly in one way. I’d like to see the stuff you have shot.”

As they turned to walk away, he said, “I hope your not going to be cynical about these fine old English characters Annakin, they’re classics, you know and I don’t want them spoofed. I see the character something like this.......”

Then Walt Disney sat on a ‘prop rock’ by the river and began to sing Friar Tuck’s song from the film, Come Sing Hi , including a conversation with an imaginary Robin Hood. He knew all the lines by heart and earned himself a round of applause from the film crew. James Hayter went on, of course, to become for many the archetype, Friar Tuck.

Jimmy’ Hayter was born in Lonuvla, India on 23rd April 1907, the son of a police superintendant. He began his education in Scotland and it was his school headmaster who spotted his obvious talent and encouraged him into becoming an actor. Hayter later graduated to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).

He made his stage debut in My Fair Lady as Alfred Dolittle in 1925, a part he played for five years in the West End and later on tour. Jimmy also went on to tread the boards in London in notable productions such as 1066 And All That and French Without Tears. After managing theatre companies in Perth and Dundee and appearing in various repertory theatre productions, his first film appearance came as the character Jock, in the mediocre Brian Desmond version of the play Sensation, in 1936. Hayter then went on to make five more movies before the outbreak of war.

After serving in the Royal Armoured Corps during the dark days of World War II, Jimmy made television history, when he was chosen to play the part of Mr Pinwright, the owner of a small multiple-store, in the BBC’s first recognised half-hour situation comedy series, Pinwright’s Progress in 1947.

His cherubic comedy style soon established him with a whole host of regular film parts and James Hayter became one of the busiest character actors in British film history. Notable early roles include, Nicholas Nickleby (1947) in which he played the twins Ned and Charles Cheeryble, The Blue Lagoon (1949) as Dr Murdoch, Morning Departure (1950) Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951) as Old Thomas, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, (1952) and The Crimson Pirate (1952) as Professor Prudence.

Apart from his memorable portrayal of Friar Tuck in 1952 (a part he would re-create in the 1967 Challenge For Robin Hood) James Hayter is probably best remembered, in that very same year, for his ‘perfect’ role as Samuel Pickwick in the adaption of the classic Charles Dickens novel, The Pickwick Papers. The success of the movie prompted a BAFTA nomination for him as Best British Actor in 1953. Alexander Gauge, who played Friar Tuck in 89 episodes of the hugely successful TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, also appeared in the film, as Tupman.

Hayter later joined Alexander Gauge and the rest of the television crew of The Adventures of Robin Hood, when he played the part of Tom the Miller in 2 episodes of that classic series.

Jimmy remained just as busy in the television studio as on the film set and appeared in a whole host of early productions. Including, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents, Fair Game, The Moonstone, The Avengers, Man From Interpol, The Flaxton Boys, Wicked Women and
Dr Finlay's Casebook.

With seven children to support, James Hayter continued to work phenomenally hard in the film industry and went on to appear in over 90 movies, some classics such as: Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951), The Big Money (1958), I Was Monty’s Double (1958), The 39 Steps (1959) and
Oliver (1968).

It was in 1970 that Jimmy re-joined Geoffrey Lumsden and Joan Rice; colleagues from Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, in The Horror of Frankenstein. This was the fifth in the series of Frankenstein films made by Hammer, but it is best described as a dreary and disappointing movie. Hayter’s television career was, on the other hand, far from dull, with continuing work in many popular productions of the time, including Doctor at Large, Hunter’s Walk and The Onedin Line.

Towards the end of his long and illustrious acting career, Hayter was chosen by comedy writer and producer, David Croft, to appear as a new assistant in his successful TV series Are You Being Served. Croft said:

"James Hayter had not worked for me before, but he was a well known featured player in movies over here,” Croft remembers, “ and as far as I was concerned was the only candidate providing he was available and willing to play the part."

So as the mischievous Percival Tibbs, Hayter appeared in 6 episodes of Are You Being Served. Unfortunately for many years, Mr Kipling Cakes had used his distinctly fruity voice, for their advertisements on British television and the company did not like the character he now portrayed in this series.

They thought the personality of the character he portrayed was unpleasant and had an air of indignity that might put the viewing public off buying their “exceedingly good cakes”!

Hayter at first argued that he was free-lance and could chose to play any character he desired, but when Mr Kipling Cakes finally offered him three times his BBC salary for the next series, not to do it and terminate his contract, he accepted.

The cast of Are You Being Served were very disappointed to see such a successful comedy talent leave, but he confessed,
“if they are prepared to pay me three times as much not to it, then I wont do it– at my time of life, I have no more ambition.”

James Hayter died in Spain aged 75 on 27th March 1985.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
(To see all posts about James Hayter please click on the label 'James Hayter' marked in the right-hand panel or below).

1 comment:

Clement of the Glen said...

James Hayter
Friar Tuck
Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood