James Robertson Justice

James Robertson Justice as Little John

James Robertson Justice (1907-1975) will always be remembered for his booming voice, bushy beard and the larger than life characters he played in movies, such as his portrayal of Little John in Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952) and as the bombastic head surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doctor in the House (1954).

After getting his big break into the movies (at the age of 37) through the help of Peter Ustinov, Jimmy gained a two year contract with the Rank Organisation and went on to become one of Britain's most recognized screen personalities, appearing in over eighty films. His early ones included:

The Black Rose (1950)
David and Bathsheba (1951)
Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951)
Les Miserables (1952)
Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952)
Rob Roy (1953)
Sword and the Rose (1953)
Doctor in the House (1954)
Land of the Pharaohs (1955)
Moby Dick (1956)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

James Robertson Justice, Richard Todd and James Hayter in Robin Hood

The film producer Ken Annakin made several movies with James Robertson Justice and in his autobiography described how the big man could always be relied upon to add verisimilitude to any 'larger than life' character that he played. Annakin also recalled how the film crew would eagerly look forward to lunch-time breaks during the filming to hear more about Jimmy's exploits.

James Robertson Justice told of many amazing adventures that he had experienced during his early career. Tales like how he had joined the International Brigade against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War (where he gained a price on his head), or fled from Arabia on a camel after penetrating a Sheikh's harem. When the Germans marched into the Rhineland, Jimmy described how he had dropped his gun in front of Hitler. He also told how he had attended Bonn University and gained a doctorate in philosophy and a science degree at the University College London. He could speak three languages (later he increased it to twenty) -  and boasted about the fact that he was born under a distillery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

In fact JRJ seemed to have done more in a year than most of us do in a life time. He claimed to have become a professional racing driver, professional ice hockey player, worked for British Intelligence during WWII, was twice elected Rector of Edinburgh University, became friends with several members of the Royal Family taught Prince Charles how to fly falcons and was a notorious womaniser.

But how much of this was true? 

James Robertson Justice

Regular contributor Neil, runs a fantastic web site of his own, called Films of the Fifties, in which he often looks at stars of that golden era of movie making. This week he has included an article on James Robertson Justice  and using information from a latest biography on this larger than life character, reveals how behind Jimmy's mask there was a deeply contradictory and troubled man.

Although James Robertson Justice claimed he was Scottish (apparently he even played the bagpipes) his birth certificate shows he was actually born in the London borough of Lewisham and brought up in Bromley, Kent. At the age of 30 he added the 'middle name' Robertson to sustain the myth of his Scottish ancestry. Neither did he receive a doctorate in philosophy at Bonn University or a degree in science at University College in London.

So Neil's website Films of the Fifties unearths some of the truth behind those stories that JRJ loved to tell - and we learn a little more about the unrepentant socialist that drove a Rolls Royce and was a friend of the Royal Family. He was certainly a colourful character - one of a kind - and I am looking forward to reading the biography of our Little John.

To visit Neil's website please click here.


Clement Glen said...

I am looking forward to reading the bio about JRJ. He was surely one of the most multi-skilled personalities in the history of the silver screen. The bio is called 'What's The Bleeding-Time' written by James Hogg, Robert Sellers and Howard Watson.

Neil said...

James Robertson Justice was probably a harmless fantasist who enjoyed trying to impress everyone with his tales and exploits, many of which were just plainly untrue but he was larger than life and maybe acting gave him the outlet he needed. I first became suspicious of his Scottish claims because his accent as a scot in Rob Roy seemed so poor. I thought then that this was odd. He also had great sadness in his life after losing his only son in a drowning accident at his home. I thought he was very good as Little John though.

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Aged parent said...

One of the great character actors, to be sure.

Back in the 1970s I was banging on the doors of several London-based film producers trying to interest them in a good remake of Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD. One of the names I pitched at them, for the leading role of Professor Challenger, was James Robertson Justice because there is no doubt whatever that he was born to play that part. Alas, none of them were interested in making the film (which was recently remade, and abominably).

A great shame.

Clement Glen said...

I agree, he would hve been perfect! What a shame your movie was never made.