I am indebted to Geoff for sending another fascinating article from the TV Mirror Magazine of the 1950’s. We have recently had an insight into the lives of Patrick Barr and James Hayter, this piece sheds more light on the early life and personality of Elton Hayes, it appeared on January 9th 1954.
"A friend of Elton Hayes owed him thirty shillings. But Elton didn’t press for the money-he accepted a small guitar in full settlement. It was an act he never regretted, for the guitar put him on the road to stardom.
That was before the war, when the now-famous guitarist was a young violinist and actor who also sang and danced.
One day. When walking through London’s Leicester Square with the guitar firmly under his arm, a stranger stopped him and asked if he would play some guitar music off-stage for a one-night play. Elton obliged, though he says now he couldn’t really play the instrument very well. Yet he seemed to please the producer. At any rate it gave him confidence, for he became proficient as a guitarist.
When the war came and he joined the Army he had to make a big decision. Which should he leave behind-his violin, which had made him a young prodigy, or the small guitar?
Elton took the guitar with him when he donned the uniform of a gunner in the Royal Artillery. He still had the instrument by him when he became an infantry major in the Far East.
But then near-tragedy befell the young musician. He contracted rheumatic fever and lay in hospital on his back. Elton foresaw the end of his dancing days, and with his fingers robbed of their flexibility, the end of his violin playing too.
Someone had heard
But what about the guitar? While in bed in hospital he kept himself cheerful by strumming it. He couldn’t clasp it in the proper manner, but had to hold it to his side. Lying on your back is not the most comfortable way of playing an instrument, but he persisted, and after a while found the tunes coming fairly easy.
Invalided home, he visited Broadcasting House to see a ‘Children’s Hour’ broadcast. He was still in uniform, and someone heard about his guitar-playing, the way he amused the patients in the hospital, and his battle to overcome his illness.
The result was an immediate invitation to take part in ‘In Town Tonight,’ singing to his own guitar accompaniment, and after the broadcast producer “Mike” Meehan suggested he should do a radio series.
Though he didn’t take the offer too seriously, Elton nevertheless typed out a rough schedule of just one ‘He Sings to a Small Guitar’ programme.
They wanted more
When the BBC accepted it and said they wanted more, he thought it was just their little joke. But of course, he was wrong. They meant it.
After the success of those first programmes there followed the late night series ‘Close Your Eyes,’ in which the Hayes charm and sincerity came strongly over the microphone.
With his fame spreading he broadcast in ‘Variety Bandbox’ and in other big shows. Then came television, proving that Elton’s personality was as important to his act as was his guitar. It was then that his gentle manner led him to greater success, for someone decided he was an easy choice for the part of Allan-a-Dale in the film Robin Hood.
As one newspaper columnist remarked after visiting the film studio:
“When the women see and hear him play his guitar and sing ‘Whistle, My Love,’ I reckon it’s the girls who will do the whistling.”
In fact so good was Elton in the role that although it started as a few lines, it grew into one of the film’s big parts.
In his London home Elton has filed away hundreds of ballads with his own guitar accompaniments. Friends who ask the modest, 38 year old singer how many songs he knows get the reply, “If I was an American I should probably say a thousand. So I just say ‘quite a lot.’”
An “ordinary chap”
Elton feels that if he likes a song it is worth working on, because “I’m an ordinary sort of chap, so there is surely somebody else who will like it too.”
When he is not playing the guitar he likes to slip away for the weekend in the country. He has a 350-year-old thatched cottage on the borders of Essex and Hertfordshire, which he restored himself. “It looks just like a tea cosy” is how he described it. In its four walls, surrounded by open fields, near the old coaching route between London and Cambridge, he can enjoy the country pursuits he loves so much."
To read more about the life of Elton Hayes, including a discography of his music, please click on the label below.