Daily Telegraph Obituary 29th September 2001
"ELTON HAYES, who has died aged 86, was well-known to radio and television audiences of the 1950s as "the man with the small guitar".
Hayes specialised in old English folk songs and ballads such as From Priggs that Snaffle the Prancers Strong and The Ratcatcher's Daughter. He sang to his own guitar accompaniments with an easy charm that came strongly over the microphone.
After making his radio debut on Children's Hour, Hayes occupied the guest star slot on every major radio variety show including In Town Tonight, Workers' Playtime, Variety Bandbox, Terry-Thomas's Top of the Town and Eric Barker's Just Fancy. He occasionally presented Housewives' Choice; and on Children's Hour, he sang Edward Lear's nonsense rhymes. Hayes's version of The Owl and the Pussy Cat was recorded by Parlophone and became a regular item on Children's Favourites.
In 1954 he was given his own series Elton Hayes - He Sings to a Small Guitar, a misquotation from The Owl and the Pussycat that became his catchphrase. This was followed by Close Your Eyes, a late night "bedtime" programme of light music, and Elton Hayes in a Tinker's Tales, in which Hayes, as an itinerant tinker, narrated a story which a cast of actors then dramatised as a musical play. Hayes also wrote the music and songs for the series.
On television he appeared in The Minstrel Show (forerunner of The Black and White Minstrel Show) and BBC Caravan Time, and sang and acted in several television plays.
Hayes was the obvious choice for the part of Alan-a-Dale in The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952), directed for Walt Disney by Perce Pearce. So well did Hayes fill the role that although it had started as a few lines, it grew into one of the film's biggest parts.
Elton Hayes was born at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, on February 16 1915. Both his parents were actors and he made his first stage appearance aged nine in the prologue of a pantomime at the Canterbury Theatre, while also employed as a call boy and assistant stage manager at a salary of five shillings a week. For years he treasured a presentation watch engraved "To Elton Hayes, the youngest call boy and stage manager 1925/26 from Cheerful Charlie Grantly", the actor who had played Buttons.
As a child, Hayes learned the violin and, in his early teens, won a scholarship to the Fay Compton School of Dramatic Arts, run by the Compton family of actor-managers. There he received an extensive theatrical education "from Shakespeare to operetta and from tap dancing to ballet and the mechanics of theatre production".
His first job was as assistant stage manager with the Old Stagers' Company at the Canterbury Theatre. In his spare time he sang as "Eltonio" at local social clubs, obtained small parts in theatre and pantomime, and took a small part as a dancer in the film The First Mrs Fraser. He also joined a tap dancing troupe on the cine variety circuit, and became part of a four-man musical variety act called The Four Brownie Boys.
Hayes took up the guitar shortly before the war when he accepted one as security from a friend who had borrowed 30 shillings. At the outbreak of war, he was invited by ENSA to put together one of their first mobile units.
Eventually, though, Hayes volunteered for military service and, after being commissioned in the Royal West Kent Regiment, was posted to South East Asia Command. After the Japanese surrender, he hitch-hiked to Bombay where he was appointed OC ENSA North West Frontier Province, based in Rawalpindi.
A few days after arriving back in Britain, he visited Broadcasting House, still in uniform, to watch a Children's Hour broadcast and was immediately taken on to write and perform a slot in the programme based on Edward Lear's Nonsense Rhymes, and given a slot on In Town Tonight. From then on, he was seldom off the air.
In 1949 the actor manager John Clements invited him to appear in The Beaux Stratagem, which ran for 18 months in the West End. It was his performance in this that caught the eye of Perce Pearce, who thought that he would make the perfect Alan-a-Dale in Robin Hood.
The success of the film led to a tour of America, where he made 113 television and radio appearances in eight weeks, including visits to Mexico and Canada. In 1952, he made a solo appearance in The Royal Film Performance and in 1956, appeared in The Sooty Show at the Adelphi Theatre.
Towards the end of the 1950s, however, Hayes found that he was becoming affected by nerves before his live performances. Believing that it would be stupid to continue, he decided to give up performing.
Hayes had already bought a small thatched cottage on the Essex-Hertfordshire borders and, after studying at a local agricultural college, he settled down to life as a farmer, breeding pedigree livestock.
In later life, he took up carriage driving and became a member of the British Driving Society. At the 1989 Lord Mayor's Show in London, he was to be seen dressed in a scarlet uniform, standing behind the team on a Post Office Mail coach blowing Clear the Road on a post horn.
After suffering a stroke in 1995, Hayes had to give up his farm and moved to live with friends, who cared for him until his death.
He married in 1942, Betty Inman, who died in 1982."
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