Elton Hayes by Evelyn Branston

Geoff Waite has kindly sent me a very detailed obituary of Elton Hayes. This was written by Elton's close friend, Evelyn Branston for the online Freefolk Magazine.

Geoff Begins:

“ I refer to the message you found about Elton on the Mudlark CafĂ© website from Evelyn Branston. When Elton died in September 2001 Evelyn, who personally knew him, wrote his obituary for the now defunct Mike Raven online Freefolk Magazine. I am attaching a copy which is probably the fullest account of Elton’s life you will find. Evelyn mentions Elton’s second film where his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. This was ‘The Black Knight’ released in 1954 which starred Alan Ladd. However, Elton can still be seen in the opening credits as the minstrel on horseback riding up to the castle as he sings the title song (released on Parlophone 78rpm as ‘The Bold Black Knight’) Elton then rides right out of the film!

According to Evelyn, Elton told her that he sang the part of the maiden in Friar Tuck’s little ditty ‘Come sing low, come sing high’ in the Robin Hood film ……Is it in sport you pay me court with such low words as these?”

And this is Evelyn Branston’s wonderful Elton Hayes obituary:

"At the age of 86 Elton Hayes died peacefully in his sleep at the West Suffolk Hospital after a long illness borne with great courage.

As soon as you met Elton you realised that he was a man who would always keep a promise. There was an old-world courtesy about him. A smart dapper man with a penchant for bow ties: "The real thing not these clip-on or elastic things." With a twinkle in his eyes and his charming easy going manner he won many friends wherever he went.

A lifelong fan of Elton, I was indeed fortunate to make contact with him again about six years ago. We corresponded for a while; then, following the stroke, which made writing difficult for him, we continued our friendship by telephone.

The seriousness of his last illness was known only to his closest friends, so the news of his death was quite a shock. Elton left me his own 'Short Biography' and his friends, Bill and Sallie Walrond, who cared for him until his death, have entrustred me with his personal collection of photographs, press cuttings and other memorabilia, including 3 bow ties!

Born of theatrical parents on 16th February 1915 at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, Elton faced the footlights at a very early age. The curly-haired, blue-eyed little boy first sang on stage when he was four. Aged not quite 10 years (illegally, being under age and having no permit), he appeared in the prologue of a pantomime at Canterbury, Kent in 1925/26, whilst also employed as a call-boy and stage manager, at the all-in salary of 5/- a week.

He was also studying music under Professor Fritz Keinly of Austria with a view to becoming a serious musician and concert violinist.

In his early teens he won a scholarship to Fay Compton's Academy of Dtamatic Art where he received an extensive theatrical education, from Shakespeare to Operetta, tap dancing to ballet and theatrical production. Not being prepared to sit around waiting for 'the big break' into theatre, Elton returned to the family tradition of variety, plus juvenile character parts in rep and chorus dancing in musical comedy. He demonstrated his amazing versatility with a speciality act, singing, playing the violin and tap dancing all at the same time.

As ''Eltonio' he entertained at one night venues such as social clubs etc. He then joined three brothers in a musical variety act, 'The Four Brownie Boys'. Elton said that he was very fit in those days. He needed to because in Cine Variety he sometimes gave five performances a day, plus late night cabaret, finally getting home after dawn. He toured Cornwall in 1937 with 'Musical Cheers Co' where he met his wife Betty Inman (ex Stuttgart Ballet). At the outbreak of war all theatres immediately closed, so driving a delivery van around the home counties became the means of paying the rent until ENSA invited him to put together one of their first mobile units.

He enlisted into the Army in October 1943. His decision to take his guitar with him was to influence the whole of his future career; within 6 weeks of army life he was entertaining his companions at army concerts. He was first a gunner in The Royal Artillery and later gained a commission in the Royal West Kent Regiment.

He was posted to South East Asia Command, and, while serving in India, contracted severe rheumatic fever and spent many months in hospital. Elton foresaw the end of his dancing and guitar playing days. With typical courage and determination, in his hospital bed he would lie on his back painfully strumming his guitar. Eventually, his fingers grew more supple and he found the tunes coming fairly easy. At Rawalpindi he formed a trio with a trumpet player and a pianist. They played as 'Bugs Rutter and his Rug Cutters.'

The Commanding Officer of ENSA India and SEAC, Col Jack Hawkins, requested that Major Hayes should join his Command and Elton became O.C. ENSA N.W. Frontier Provinces, India. Eventually he took over Jack's job and had the task of closing down all the troops' entertainment centres in Central Provinces India before demobilisation.

Shortly after arriving back in England, Elton visited Broadcasting House to renew his acquantance with the Children's Hour Dept. He was asked to write and perform a short series of programmes based on Edward Lear's Nonsense Poems and a spot on 'In Town Tonight' was arranged. The favourable reaction to the song he chose to sing, 'The Jumblies,' led to a guest appearance in the Carol Lewis Show. During the rehearsal of the show, Elton suggested to the BBC an idea for a one-off programme. To his great surprise it was not only accepted, but came with a contract for 13 weekly programmes of Elton Hayes 'He Sings to a Small Guitar.' The opening refrain began: "Sweet music and a small guitar, bring joy no matter where you are."

After the success of those first programmes there followed the late night series, 'Close Your Eyes', in which Elton invited you to close your eyes and listen to some music to start you dreaming. These two series alternated and ran for more than 10 years. This was in addition to spots in all the popular variety programmes of the day - Midday Music Hall, Worker's Playtime, Henry Hall's Guest Night, Top of the Town, Just Fancy, etc. etc.; also Housewives' Choice, both as presenter and popular choice, the most requested being 'Whistle My Love,'
'Greensleeves' and 'The Spinning Wheel'. On Uncle Mac's Children's Choice it was usually 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat' or 'The Jumblies.'

Yet another series was 'A Tinker's Tales' in which Elton, as an itinerant tinker, narrated a story which he and other actors dramatised as a musical play. Interspersed with radio came TV, both light entertainment and drama. Television proved the Elton's personality was as important to his act as was his small guitar. He took over the 15-minute period originally scheduled for 'The Harding Interviews' during Gilbert Harding's absence. He also introduced and sang in the 'Centre Show', was a frequent guest on the Leonard Sachs' 'Good Old Days' olde time music hall, appeared in the series 'The Minstrel Show' and travelled with the BBC Children's Caravan for three summer seasons, composing and performing special original material. Surprisingly to some viewers, he was cast in a straight acting role in Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' for which he also wrote the music.

In 1949, afetr seeing Elton in the play 'Maya' (with Freda Mayne) at the Arts Theatre, the actor manager, John Clements invited Elton to join him in the revival of the Restoration Comedy 'The Beaux Stratagem.' The production was a huge success and ran for 18 months, first at the Phoenix Theatre, Charring Cross Road, then the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. The last night was as big a sell-out as the first. Elton said that he had just one small regret: "On the corner of the theatre, high above the entrance was a huge poster which could be seen from way along the street. On the poster in yellow letters two feet tall was a single name. Mine! How I wish I had taken a photograph."

When Walt Disney's 'Treasure Island' was made Elton had the task of arranging the old sea shanties sung on board the Hispaniola. This was followed by the job of researching ancient ballads for their forthcoming production of 'Robin Hood.' The producer, Perce Pearce asked him to assist in another actor's screen test, then sprang the surprise that it had been Elton on test and the part of Alan-a-Dale was his! So good was he in that role that, although it started as a few lines, it developed into one of the main parts in the film.

The success of the film led to a nineteen-city tour of the USA and Canada, making 113 radio and TV appearances in 8 hectic weeks.

Sadly his second film did not enjoy the same success. One of the film 'extras' inadvertently wore Elton's costume and was conspicuously killed in an early scene. Continuity failed to notice. Consequently all Elton's scenes were later consigned to the cutting room floor.

He sang in the Light Music Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Film Performance at the Empire, Leicester Square, innumerable other concert appearances, private functions and then trips to the continent for recitals of higher academic standard to music societies, universities, international musicians etc. The nervous tensions of the concert platform began to take their toll and Elton realised that it was time for a change of career. Being a confirmed country lover the choice was easy; he became a farmer.

He bought a 47-acre farm at Hartest, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk and soon built up a prestgious herd of pedigree pigs. He now found time to return to his youthful hobby of horses. This brought him into contact with the members of the British Driving Society and the art of Carriage driving. Like everything else, Elton threw himself into this new interest with enthusiasm and was soon skilled enough to win awards for driving tandem (two horses, one behind the other).

This led to him learning to play and compose music for the Post and Coach Horns. Sadly a severe stroke in 1995 put an end to these activities and Elton had to give up his farm and move to live with friends at nearby Cockfield. With characteristic courage and determination he overcame many of the difficulties associated with the stroke but lost the brave battle he had with his final illness.

His funeral took place at the West Suffolk Crematorium, Bury St. Edmunds, on 3rd October [2001]. The sun was shining and the chapel was filled with friends and family who had come not just to mourn, but to celebrate the long, interesting and fulfilling life of ELTON HAYES: He Sang to a Small Guitar."

© Evelyn Branston
October 2001

For more information on Elton Hayes please click on the Elton Hayes Label.

The BBC's Robin Hood-Series 3

The third series of the BBC’S Robin Hood begins on Saturday 28th March at 1850 GMT. Some new characters will appear amongst the Hungarian glades of Sherwood Forest, including Guy of Gisbourne’s sister, played by Laura Pulver and Joanne Froggatt, who will join the outlaw band as Kate; Robin’s new love interest. There is also the much publicised arrival of David Harewood as Friar Tuck.

This year the show in ‘much darker’ reckons Jonas Armstrong who plays Robin for the last time. How he leaves at the end of the last episode is a tightly kept secret, but there are rumours that the series will continue without him. They have already killed off Marian! So a fourth series? Hmm!

As I have said many times before, I have felt the series has been a big disappointment, considering the multi award winning costume dramas the BBC has achieved in the past. But I will give Jonas and his politically correct group of activists, a third chance.

Joan Rice and the Rook

In January, I emailed Burnham Beeches for any information they might have on the filming of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood in 1951. I eventually received this response from Jeremy Young, one of the keepers at Burnham:


I work at Burnham Beeches and one of my responsibilities is to manage all the filming activity on the site. I have been here for over twenty years and seen many film units come and go but unfortunately 'Robin Hood and his Merrie men' was a little before my time! I do however have several stills from the film and can identify at least two of the locations for you as the middle pond and Mendelssohn's slope.

I also have a fantastic picture of a local boy standing watching the filming with his pet Rook (bird) on his arm, this attracted the attention of Walt Disney and his daughter who were on location this day and both are pictured leaning over stroking the bird.

Unfortunately I don't remember the Archie Duncan scene or the tree you actually refer to but if you have a still from the scene it may help me to identify it?

There have been many other films over the years that have featured our ancient pollards and other trees. They are to name but a few………..Great Expectations (1946), A Town Like Alice (1956), Goldfinger (1960), The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner (1962), Agatha (1979), Company of Wolves (1984), The Princess Bride (1987), Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1990), The Crying Game (1992), First Knight (1994), King Arthur (2004), I Could Never Be Your Woman (2005), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2006), Eden Lake (2007) and Creation (2008)I hope this may be of some help to you. When you are over visiting, and if I am available, I would be happy to give you a guided tour to these and some of the other locations used over the years.

Kind regards Jeremy”

I am waiting to hear back from Jeremy for some more information. Obviously I would like to see those pictures of Disney and his daughter with the Rook, but I do have a lovely picture of Joan Rice taken with what appears to be the same bird.

The Caged Oak at Burnham Beeches

Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, was chosen by Walt Disney and his production crew for the out-door scenes of his live-action movie the Story of Robin Hood in 1951. This ancient woodland is one of the finest in England and was the perfect choice as the stand-in location for Sherwood Forest.

The wonderful ‘Caged Oak’ (pictured above) is remarkably similar to the gnarled tree used in a scene from the film, in which Red Gill shoots an arrow into the back of Robin Hood’s father. Could it be the same one? I am not sure. But I shall try and find out.

April 26th 2009

Horace Ward and Woodsy Lady have both kindly informed me that Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood will be available to purchase on DVD across the USA and Canada from 26th April 2009. Previously it was only available through the Disney Club.

This is taken from the Disney website that is advertising the release of the DVD at : http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/the-story-of-robin-hood.html#/?page=Rescue

“At last...the best of Sunday night TV is back! It's the legendary TV show popular with audiences for 29 years. The longest-running prime-time series in television history (1954-1983). The winner of numerous awards, including seven Emmys. It's THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY! This rousing tale of England's renowned rebel to the rich and patriot to the poor is brimming with Disney's storytelling magic. The whole family will love going bow-to-bow alongside Robin, Friar Tuck, Little John, and Maid Marian in this classic adventure full of gallantry, romance and adventure!”

The Disney website contains two clips from the movie and also five stills.

Sadly the DVD has no extras and is
not available worldwide.

Denham Studios, June 16th 1951

This interesting magazine picture, was posted to me a while ago by Neil. It shows the cast in the studio filming one of the final scenes at Denham Studios of Disney’s Story of Robin Hood. King Richard has just made Robin Hood (Richard Todd) the Earl of Locksley and the Merrie Men look-on as Maid Marian (Joan Rice) embraces her future husband. Both Robin and Marian are out of the picture.

These last scenes were shot at Denham on June 16th 1951.

Neil says, “Just look at the set with the silver birch tree to the left of the enormous camera and note the camera on short distance 'rail' type lines for limited movement. Also the forest set behind them that doesn’t seem to have the depth to it that the film would indicate.”

Pictures like this give us a very rare glimpse of film production in the early 1950's. Thank you Neil.

Ivanhoe Postcard from 1906

Siegmund Hildesheimer & Co were originally based in Manchester during the mid 1800's. By 1881till the early 1900's they were also working from London, printing various types of greeting cards.

Some of their out-put was unusual and often unique, including this colourful postcard (1906)with illustrations of some of the characters from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819).

The Wedding of Joan Rice and David Green

These beautiful pictures of the wedding of Joan Rice and David Green were very kindly sent to me by Horace Ward. Horace was a freelance photographer for the film industry during the 1950’s and these images form part of his remarkable collection.

Some of the photographs from over half a century ago have no negatives; others are gradually working loose from their glass plates. But thankfully Horace managed to carefully scan these and send them to me, along with some very important details:

Monday February 16th 1953:
Screen star, JOAN RICE and film salesman, DAVID GREEN, marry at Maidenhead Register Office.
The bride wore a silver gown of Brussels lace, a headdress of orange blossom and a flowing white veil. The reception was held in the Gables Lodge, just outside Maidenhead. Amongst the many guests was film star, RICHARD TODD.

“Looking back,” Horace says, “I suppose I grate crashed Joan’s wedding....perhaps good job I did-because we now have evidence.”
I would like to send out a very big thank you to Horace for taking the time and trouble of finding and restoring these pictures for me. All three images are strictly under copyright.

Was that gentleman in the first picture Joan’s father?

If you attended Joan’s wedding and would like to get in contact, please email me at: disneysrobin@googlemail.com.

For more information on Joan Rice, please click on the Label below.

Denham Film Studios in 1977

Herbert Smith (1901-1986) started sweeping the floors at Denham Film Studios in Buckinghamshire when he was 13 years old. He eventually became controller of the premier British studios from June 1945 until 1950. Above is a picture of Herbert (pointing towards his old office) taken on his last visit there in 1977 (the picture is strictly copyright Barrie Smith 2004). Shortly afterwards a golden era of film history ended, when those once famous studios (built by Sir Alexander Korda in 1935) were demolished by British Land, for construction of an industrial park.

Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) was the last major motion picture to be produced at that massive film complex.

Herbert’s son Barry has produced a website dedicated to his father’s long career at Denham Studios, with some fascinating personal pictures and rarely seen behind -the -scene photographs of the film stars that he met. The site is at http://www.frenchpix.com/herbert.html

I would like to say a special thank you to Barry Smith, for kindly allowing me to use the picture of his father at Denham Studios in 1977.

To read more about Denham Film Studios, please click on the Denham Studios Label.

Martitia Hunt as Queen Eleanor

This fantastic still of Martitia Hunt elegantly posing as Queen Eleanor, was kindly sent to me by Mike. There are more to come!

Robin Hood's Archery Instructor

Above is a picture of Richard Greene (1918-1985), star of the classic long-running British TV series the Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960) on the set of the 1960 Hammer movie Sword of Sherwood Forest. Anna Fraser of the Adventures of Robin Hood Appreciation Society kindly informed me that the archery instructor alongside him is the famous Hollywood stuntman and Master of Arms, Jack (Jackie) Cooper.

Cooper’s long career in television and films include Captain Horatio Hornblower RN (1951), The Son of Robin Hood (1958), The Guns of Naverone (1961), The Longest Day (1962), Cleopatra (1963), Alfred The Great (1968), TV’s Arthur of the Britons (1973), Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Superman II (1980) and Willow (1988).

Sword of Sherwood Forest was directed by Terence Fisher for Hammer-Yeoman Film Productions and starred Richard Greene as Robin Hood, Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Niall MacGinnis as Friar Tuck, Sarah Branch as Marian Fitzwalter and Nigel Green as Little John. The movie was produced by Sidney Cole and Richard Greene