Hubert Gregg

Hubert Gregg MBE played the ‘sneering’ Prince John in Walt Disney’s live action movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). As a student Gregg had studied at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art and his career started with a part in a production of Jean-Jacques Bernard’s Martine. After early appearances in light West-End farce, he moved on to revue and more high-brow performances in Shakespearean plays, including a season at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre. He started his radio career as a part-time announcer with the BBC Empire Service, a forerunner of the World Service and also made his TV debut in a dramatization of the life of St. Bernard at Alexander Palace.

During two seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre in southwest England, he played Britannus to John Gielgud's Caesar in George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. Gregg also appeared in Terrance Rattigan’s first long running Broadway and London success, French without Tears, along with parts in While the Sun Shines and Off the Record. He also both acted and directed William Douglas Home’s comedy The Secretary Bird. In this he played the part of Hugh Walford, a part that was to become his favorite stage part next to Hamlet.

His skill at directing found him working on Agatha Christie’s first theater success, The Hollow at the Fortune and Ambassadors in 1951. Then for three years, on Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest, later in 1953 with his direction, he helped gain,-for six years-the record breaking success of The Mousetrap. But he soon became fed up with both Christie and the play. "She was a mean old bitch," he would say. "She never even gave me the smallest gift." He later wrote a book about his experiences, Agatha Christie and All That Mousetrap (1980).

Hubert Robert Harry Gregg was born in Islington, North London on July 19th 1914. He came from a poor background. His father was wounded in the Somme and, with no income, sold toys in the street, but four miles away from his home so as not to shame his family. But Hubert later won a scholarship to St. Dunstan’s College in South East London. His parents couldn’t afford to send him to university so instead he enrolled at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art and between 1933 and 1936 he played a multitude of roles for the Birmingham Repertory Company and the Old Vic.

As a private soldier in the Lincolnshire Regiment during 1939, Gregg put pen to paper and wrote the words and music to his first song I’m Going to Get Lit Up When The Lights Go Up In London. But the musical-comedy star Hermione Gingold refused to sing it. "She said quite correctly that we couldn't sing about getting lit up when we didn't know who was going to win!" said Gregg.

The song was launched in 1943, when victory was on the horizon, and was recorded by Alan Breeze with Billy Cotton and his Band. But provoked concerns in Parliament over possible nights of drunkenness in the capital. Lady Astor asked if this was “the disgraceful way Britons were going to behave.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill replied that he was confident, “we shall celebrate a victorious peace in a way worthy of the British nation.” Gregg married the actress Zoe Gail in 1943.

His feature film debut came with Noel Coward, John Mills and Michael Wilding in David Lean's 1941 classic In Which We Serve and it was during World War II that he worked for the political warfare executive on the BBC German Service. Gregg’s ability to speak German so fluently led Goebbels to think he was a German traitor!

Over a hundred songs and lyrics followed his first success, like London In The Rain, I’ve Got An Invitation To The Royal Coronation, My Mother’s Ambitious For Me, Spring Is At It Again and Everybody Shines When The Sun Shines.

On one particular grim day, after seeing the German Doodlebugs devastating his native city he composed on the back of a theater program, what later became the folk anthem- Maybe it’s because I’m A Londoner. "It took me 20 minutes to write it before supper one night, Gregg said. “It's only got 16 bars, but people seem to like it."

In 1947 it was given to Bud Flanagan by impresario Jack Hilton and Flanagan literally made the song his own during a four-year run in the West End revue Together Again.

Apart from writing songs, including Elizabeth, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Gregg also turned his hand to writing plays and two novels. In 1951 his first book April Gentleman was published. Also at the beginning of this year he was chosen to play the part of the evil Prince John in Walt Disney’s second live-action movie, filmed at Denham studios, the Story of Robin Hood. A role he seemed to perform with relish. His cinema career continued with roles such as Mr. Pusey in the Alexander Mackendrick comedy The Maggie (1953,) Final Appointment (1954), Simon and Laura (1955)(with Kay Kendal and Peter Finch) and Doctor at Sea (1955) (which he also wrote the music for).

In 1958 he starred in his first musical Chrysanthemum at the Prince of Wales, along with his second wife Pat Kirkwood (his first wife was the singer Zoe Gail whom he married in 1943 and divorced five years later).

In 1962 his musical version of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme, the three men being Kenneth Horne, Leslie Phillips and Gregg himself, and it was in radio that he eventually found a more durable career.

With his relaxed style, velvety voice and endless show business anecdotes from his varied career, he became hugely popular with radio audiences. He started with the series I Remember it Well, Square Deal followed and then the show that he hosted on BBC Radio 2 for thirty five years-Thanks for the Memory. Playing ‘vintage records from the square chair’ he delighted his listeners with unashamed nostalgia. Lesley Douglas, Radio 2 Controller, said: “He painted pictures of a bygone era with wit and style.”

After 23 years of marriage Gregg divorced Pat Kirkwood and a year later he married Carmel Lytton, 30 years his junior. In 1981 he was given the Freedom of the City of London and in 2003 he was awarded an MBE for his services to music. In 1993, he celebrated 60 years of broadcasting by presenting 'Sounds and Sweet Airs', which he also wrote. 1994 was the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, for which he appeared on 'Hubert Gregg and The 40s'.
Hubert Gregg died on Monday 29th March 2004 at his home in Eastbourne, East Sussex. He is survived by his third wife Carmel and their son and daughter and a daughter from his previous marriage to Pat Kirkwood.

Time Bandits

Above is a still from the movie Time Bandits (1981) showing John Cleese as Robin Hood.

On the back of the success of Life of Brian producer Terry Gilliam was joined once again, by his former Monty Python colleagues John Cleese (above) and Michael Palin. This production, sponsored again by Handmade Films, is a dazzling fantasy ride through selected historical periods in European history. Which included an array of international stars, including Sir Ralph Richardson, Sean Connery and Ian Holm.

In a brief scene set in 13th century Sherwood Forest, we see John Cleese as an eccentric upper-class Robin Hood, known to his outlaw band as 'the boss.' He runs his outlaw camp like a twisted Victorian charity organisation, where individuals are given handouts but simultaneously abused by his men. John Cleese recalled:

"I was sent the script, pointed at Robin Hood, and read the stage directions-to be played like the Duke of Kent-and I thought it was very funny, and said I would love to do it. I enjoyed doing Time Bandits enormously, despite the fact that Terry made me shave my beard off. I did it in the morning of the shooting, seven a.m. in the forest."

Elton Hayes and The Beatles

Elton Hayes played the part of the minstrel Allan-a-Dale in Walt Disney’s live action movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). Hayes was very well-known to radio and television audiences of the 1950’s as ‘the man with the small guitar.’ 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 To Town With Terry, Eric Barker’s Just Fancy and occasionally Housewives Choice.

But it was for singing Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes on Children’s Favorites that he first became famous. Hayes’s version of The Owl and the Pussycat and many others were later recorded on the Parlophone record label. Elton Hayes published three 78-rpm records with Edward Lear songs, the first one in October 1950 (Parlophone R 3329) and containing The Table and the Chair and The Jumblies .

This was followed by Parlophone R 3602 (December 1952), containing The Broom, the Shovel, The Poker and the Tongs and The Quangle Wangle’s Hat, and Parlophone R 3692 (June 1953), with The Duck and the Kangaroo and
The Owl and the Pussy-cat.
All six recordings were finally collected in the EP For The Children, Parlophone (GEP 8551) in 1955.

Another recording artist who started his recording career on the Parlophone label was Paul McCarntney. In the book Many Years From Now (1997) (Barry Miles’s biography of Paul McCartney) Paul claims that the melody behind the line "I'm so sad and lonely" from the Beatles song Little Child, was inspired by Elton Hayes’s Whistle My Love, from Disney's live-action 1952 film The Story Of Robin Hood And His Merrie Men.

Little Child later appeared on side 1, track 5 of the Beatles 1963 album
With The Beatles.

Robin Hoode his Death

I have posted this for Adele Treskillard who has a strong interest in the Robin Hood legend and the site of his grave. The link to her excellent web site can be found amongst my favourite blog links.

In the eighteenth century, Thomas Percy (1729-1811), Bishop of Dromore, rescued a manuscript from a Shropshire house, which contained two of the most intriguing Robin Hood ballads, ‘Robin Hoode his Death’ and ‘Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.’ These are chance survivals. ‘Robin Hoode his Death’ appears to have been known to the compiler of the Geste and ‘Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne is connected with the dramatic fragment of the late fifteenth century.

This mid-seventeenth century copy of ‘Robin Hoode his Death’ is in a mutilated state with sections of the ballad badly torn away in three places.

The ballad begins:
‘I will never eate nor drinke,’ Robin Hood said,
‘Nor meate will doo me noe good,
Till I have beene att merry Church Lees,
My vaines for to let blood.’

‘That I reade [advise] not,’ said Will Scarllett,
‘Master, by the assente of me,
Without halfe a hundred of your best bowman
You take to goe with yee.

Robin will only take Little John to carry his bow. But John insists that Robin should carry his own bow and shoot for pennies, which they eventually do all day long.

They two bolde children shotten together
All day theire selfe in ranke,
Untill they came to blacke water,
And over it laid a planke.

Upon it there kneeled an old woman,
Was banning Robin Hoode;
‘Why dost thou bann Robin Hoode?’ said Robin

(Half a page missing)


‘To give to Robin Hoode;
Wee weepen for his deare body,
That this day must be let bloode.’

‘The dame prior is my aunts daughter,
And nie unto my kinne;
I know shee wold me noe harme this day,
For all the world to winne.’

Upon reaching Church Lees, Robin gives the Prioress twenty pounds in gold and promises her more if she needs it.

And downe then came dame prioresse,
Downe she came in that ilke,
With a pair off blood irons [lancing knives] in her hands
Were wrapped all in silke.

‘Sett a chaffing-dish to the fyer,’ said dame prioresse,
‘And strpp thou up thy sleeve:’
I hold him but an unwise man
That wil noe warning leeve [believe].’

Shee laid the blood irons to Robin Hoods vaine,
Alacke, the more pitye!
And pearct the vaine, and let out the bloode,
That full red was to see.

And first it bled, the thicke, thicke bloode,
And afterwards the thinne,
And well then wist good Robin Hoode
Treason there was within

‘What cheere my master?’ said Litle John;
‘In faith, John, little goode;’

(Half a page is missing)

Nine stanzas are now missing from the manuscript; next Robin appears to be talking to ‘Red Roger.’

‘I have upon a gowne of greene,
Is cut short by my knee,
And in my hand a bright browne brand
That will well bite of thee.’

As Robin tries to escape through a shot window, Red Roger thrusts him through the side with a sword. But Robin in return, strikes him ‘betwixt his head and his shoulders.’

Says, ‘Ly there, ly there Red Roger,
The dogs they must thee eate:
‘For I may have my houzle[ housel; receive the last sacraments], he said,
‘For I may both goe and speake.’

Little John asks Robin to give him leave to burn Church Lees to the ground.

‘That I reade not,’ said Robin Hoode then,
Litle John, for it may not be;
If I shold doe any widow hurt, at my latter end,
God,’ he said, ‘wold blame me;

‘But take me upon thy backe, Litle John,
And beare me to yonder streete,
And there make me a full fayre grave,
Of gravell and of greete [grit].

‘And sett my bright sword at my head,
Mine arrows at my feete,
And lay my vew-bow [yew-bow] by my side,
My met-yard [measuring rod] wi ………………………
(Half a page is missing)

Lyceum Theatre, September 1918

In this week of Remembrance for all our brave service men and women, I thought it would be appropriate to show this particular program from the Lyceum Theatre dated September 8th 1918. It reads:

Thanks to All For Their Support and Patronage


An Interview with Ken Annakin

"I was interviewed by Perce Pearce, who was the producer and we got on very well. I hadn’t met Walt till he came over and visited the set while we were shooting.

In the planning of our picture, they were very determined that ours should be very, very true. We went up to Sherwood Forest, to Nottingham and the script was written as actually as it could be from the records. I thought we were probably making a truer picture than had been made before.
Now we didn’t have Errol Flynn, but all the things we had in the picture, were very British and very true. I mean, he [Walt] was making his picture, his version and I think we came up –with Walt’s help and insistence on truth and realism-as near as makes any matter.

He [Walt] didn’t stay very long on Robin Hood. He had a great trust in Carmen Dillon, who was responsible for the historical correctness. Everything, from costumes to sets to props and he- I’m not so sure why he was so certain- but he was dead right at having chosen her. And she did that picture and Sword and The Rose too. And his reliance was 100%. A director can’t go into every historical detail and so I would check with her also, pretty well on most things. And she would quietly be on the set and if we used a prop wrongly, she would have her say. Mine was the final say, as director, but one couldn’t have done without her.

Now Walt really-I remember him on that picture- having set the overall key of what he wanted- and seeing it was going the way he wanted- he trusted Perce Pearce as the producer, he came to trust me as the director. And I must say, I have never had Walt looking over my shoulder at anything.

I had never experienced the sketch artists and sketching a whole picture out. Now, that picture was sketched out by and approved by him. My memories of Robin Hood are basically that he visited the sets, maybe half a dozen times. He stayed probably 2 or 3 hours, maybe, while we were shooting. Not often 2 or 3 hours (laughs). And I remember that he used to go off to a place very near Denham where we were shooting. He used to go off to Beaconsfield and spend hours with the guy that had the best model railway, I think, in the world. And this was the beginning of his thoughts on Disneyland. Beaconsfield was just a place where, this guy had built up his model railway. Beaconsfield also has a studio, but the studio hasn’t any connection with that.

Then the film went back to here [America] and the whole of the post-sync work and the post production work was done. And the director was never called in to have anything you do with that. It wasn’t until I had made my fourth picture with Walt, which was Swiss Family that I was ever really allowed to do anything with the editing (laughs) or to say about the music or anything. But once you had, shot it, that was your job as the director."

Son of Friar Tuck

I recently found this post on the excellent Robin Hood 2007 blog and obtained permission from its owner Robin Hood, to show it on here. I am sure you will enjoy it:

"Hello! A little trivia for you. My father James Hayter who played Friar Tuck in the 1952 Disney version had (eventually) 8 children.
When this film was made his youngest son was my brother Tim who aged 5 as a special treat was one day taken to watch location filming.

There is a scene in the film just after Robin and the Friar carry each other over the stream then begin to fight in earnest and are unaware that they are being surrounded by the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men.

During the ensuing battle where they fight back to back against the soldiers a man on horseback inflicts a mighty whack on Friar Tucks head with the flat of his sword. At this point a small but piercing shout rang out across the set, "don’t hurt my daddy"!

Although this raise a smile amongst the cast and crew it caused the entire scene to be reshot with perhaps 20 horsemen having to gallop into the shot and do it all again. Perhaps this is why I don’t recall being invited onto any sets when my turn came!!”

British Poster

I'm back again, refreshed and with a new template. I thought I would start my third year with a British poster I recently discovered from what could be the late 50's or early 1960's. Perhaps someone could date this more accurately for me.