The Dream of Peter Finch

Peter Finch as the Sheriff of Nottingham

This is a section from the biography Finch Bloody Finch, written in 1980 by Elaine Dundy, about the film star Peter Finch (1916-1977). Peter played the part of the Sheriff of Nottingham for Walt Disney in The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952), a role by him that is often overlooked by film critics. But in my opinion, was a stand-out performance, like many actors in this Technicolor masterpiece. I am sure my readers will find this interesting.

Dundy begins:

“ Immediately after Captain Carvel closed, Peter worked forty-eight hours round the clock, learning a huge role in order to take over the lead from Dirk Bogarde in a mediocre Anouilh play, Point of Departure, in the middle of its run. Next he found himself bewigged and bearded as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Walt Disney’s film Robin Hood. For research, he went to Nottingham, studied ninth-century records [?] and roamed around its Sherwood Forest for days. Peter made such an impact on the early rushes that he ended up with a part three times its original size.
The filming of Robin Hood was noteworthy for Peter mainly because during this time he suffered a major artistic disappointment. “ Most actors want to play parts they are not suited for,” says Peter’s friend Alan White, “ but the parts that Peter burned to play, Till Eulenspiegel, Peer Gynt, Robert Louis Stevenson and Don Quixote - were all parts he would have been magnificent in. They were all, like him, seekers after the romantic quest.” To play Don Quixote had always been Peter’s most cherished artistic dream. He had often talked about it to John Kay during the Mercury days in Australia and to Olivier in England. Now he talked to the producers of Robin Hood. They listened to Peter with interest and, watching Peter’s work, they daily became more enthusiastic about the project. Beautiful colour stills were taken of Peter as Don Quicote in full costume and make-up with James Hayer as Sancho Panza. If it is possible for one to judge how good an actor is going to be merely by stills (and it is surprising how often it is), Peter would have been “brilliant” as Don Quixote.

The Sheriff (Peter Finch) displays the King’s ransom money

When the producers saw the stills they became more enthusiastic. Peter himself was now in a state of high excitement as his dream seemed to be taking the shape of reality. All the project needed to get underway was the O.K. of the great Walt Disney who was shortly arriving in England to view Robin Hood.

Peter Finch as the Sheriff

At last the all-powerful Disney arrived in London. He was given a special private showing of the rough-cut Robin Hood. And ... and ... he was observed to be drumming his fingers throughout! It was the Emperor’s thumbs down.

Don Quixote was abruptly cancelled. It’s death, still born, marked Peter’s first realisation that Australia did not have a monopoly on artistic frustration.

After chasing Robin Hood around Sherwood Forest for four months Peter, suffering from exhaustion and disillusionment  was fervidly planning on a long rest to catch his breath. Sir Laurence, however, had different plans for him which was equally fervid. He had managed to capture that elusive magic balloon Orson Welles and tether him down to appearing as Othello at the St James Theatre for a limited engagement for nine weeks. Peter Finch, Olivier had impressed upon Welles, would be his perfect Iago”.

(Finch Bloody Finch, A Life of Peter Finch by Elaine Dundy, published by Holt McDougal in 1980)

After Robin Hood ?

I recently discovered these two loose pages in what I believe was the Film Review. Unfortunately I do not have a date for the article, but it must have been around 1955, when Richard Todd (1919-2009) appeared as Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters. 

After Robin Hood by Richard Todd

“ In some ways I shall always regard my decision to appear for Walt Disney in Robin Hood as one of the most important in my life. At the time I was still living under the shadow of that dour and twisted Scot, Lackie of The Hasy Heart, and I wanted an escape.

Disney’s Robin Hood looked like being just what I was after as soon as it was first mooted while I was in Hollywood; but I was just a little anxious. I felt that I had to be doubly careful.

By this time you’ll have made up your minds about the picture and my performance. But I think you’ll agree that is different, that it has at last laid the ghost of Lackie. And now what?

Well, Ive taken a breather by playing opposite Merle Oberon in Twenty-four Hours of a Woman’s Life (1952), a rather unusual love story. And I’m most happy with my part of Guy Gibson in Dam Busters.

Can I go on finding such varied and interesting parts? I don’t know, but I can try”.
(Richard Todd)

This is a poignant piece. By the end of the 1950’s the the studio system was breaking up, his contract was not renewed, and ‘wheeler-dealing over individual films became the norm. While flirting with television, for which he did Carrington VC in 1960, he became a stage actor-manager by forming Triumph theatre productions and touring middlebrow plays’. 

The Guardian Obituary continues... “ He [Richard Todd] became a dairy farmer from 1957, leading to his appointment as president of the Henley and District Agricultural Association in Buckinghamshire. A very British perfectionist, he confessed to a dream that, despite the warnings of his friends and everyone else he talked to, there would always be a market for the best...His success as a businessman/farmer was a double-edged sword as his acting career receded. However, Todd retained his instinct for business. In the 1970s, actors – especially well-spoken and well-dressed middle-class actors who had slipped out of fashion – were having a lean time. An organisation was set up to use such players by touring them in the US and other parts of the world. Todd – the star of 50 films over 20 years – was one of the relatively few former high-powered stars who turned out to support the idea.

Physically small but sturdy, Todd was more of a realist than many actors. He said bluntly that when the film parts dried up and he had returned to the stage, he had been "absolutely dreadful" in a production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (1965) and had had to relearn the stage technique he had acquired at the beginning of his career. At that time, too, he sold his farm to support himself” .


This site contains over 70 pages featuring Richard Todd including various articles about his life and career. Please click on the links.

Richard Todd as Robin Hood

He will always be my favourite Robin Hood.

Elton Hayes attends the Cardiff Empire Provincial Premiere

Elton Hayes at the Cardiff Empire promoting Robin Hood

Down the years I have been able to publish a great deal about the making of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. Some of this information has come from my regular readers, including Geoff Waite. Geoff is a well respected authority on the life and recording career of Elton Hayes (1915-2001), who played the part of the minstrel ‘Alan-A-Dale’ in this Technicolor classic. 

Elton Hayes as Alan-A-Dale with James Hayer as Friar Tuck

Geoff contacted me recently regarding the ‘provincial premieres’ of Disney’s Robin Hood, something which, up until a few years ago, I did not realise had happened. 

Elton entertaining patients at the Cardiff Royal General Infirmary in 1952

Geoff says:

“ Going back to the question of the provincial premiere, or premiere’s, of Disney’s  The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, we know that members of the cast such as Joan Rice, James Hayter and Elton Hayes made personal appearances when the film opened at selected theatres around the country.  I am aware that Elton Hayes attended openings at the Manchester Odeon, the Cardiff Empire, and the Gaumont theatres in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester before he sailed for America on 6 May 1952 to promote the film for Disney.

Here are some photos from my private collection relating to the opening at the Cardiff Empire. As you will see, Elton was accompanied by two Maid Marian’s and one of the ‘Merrie Men’!!  The first has Elton demonstrating his prowess as a bowman (without an arrow). And earlier in the day, we find him serenading the two Maid Marian’s at Cardiff Castle. I think this is a splendid picture. He also entertained patients at the Cardiff Royal General Infirmary, and I will send these on to you.

Unfortunately, I do not know the Cardiff date, but it must have been around the time of the Manchester and Liverpool openings in April 1952. I hope you like the photos”.
(Geoff Waite)

Elton signs for a fan at the Cardiff Royal General Infirmary in 1952

I am sure my readers will agree that these are amazing images. Thank you Geoff for sharing them with us.

Elton with two Maid Marians at Cardiff Castle in 1952

This blog has 34 pages on the life of Elton Hayes (1915-2001). Included are details of his recording career, performances and a complete discography. Just click here to read a great deal more. 

Hal Osmond (1903-1959)

Hal Osmond

Many thanks to John, who has sent in this very early studio photograph of Hal Osmond. Regular readers of this blog will know that Hal appeared as Midge the Miller, in Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, released in 1952.

Hal as Midge the Miller

Hal Osmond was born on May 27, 1903 in Southwark, London, England as Hal Lowther. 

He is described by IMDb as a ‘diminutive, lean-faced character actor. Who often appeared in small roles, often of ferrety, nervous types. During his 12-year long screen career, he portrayed a succession of small time crooks, informants or professional men.’ 

His films and TV performances include:

Once Upon a Dream (1949)
Vote for Huggett (1949)
A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (1949)
Diamond City (1949)
The Spider and the Fly (1949)
Your Witness (1950)
Double Confession (1950)
No Trace (1950)
Last Holiday (1950)
There Is Another Sun (1951)
The Happy Family (1952)
The Brave Don't Cry (1952)
Death of an Angel (1952)
The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952)
Love in Pawn (1953)
To Dorothy a Son (1954)
Tiger by the Tail (1955)
The Gilded Cage (1955)
Bond of Fear (1956)
Hell Drivers (1957) - Ticket Clerk
High Flight (1957)
The Vicious Circle (1957) - Joe - Golf Caddy
On the Run (1958)
Tread Softly Stranger (1958)
A Night to Remember (1958) - Steward (uncredited)
The 39 Steps (1959) - Stage Manager
Jack the Ripper (1959)

Hal in a scene from Robin Hood

Hal passed away in Taunton, Somerset England in December 1959.

To read a lot more about the lives of the stars that appeared in Disney’s live-action film Robin Hood (1952), please click on the labels in the task bar.

Walt Disney with James Robertson Justice and a Mystery Man

Philip Glaister, Walt Disney and James Robertson Justice

Back in July 2018, I published this image showing Walt Disney with James Robertson Justice (1907-1975). This was my original post :

“ Neil has kindly shared this interesting image. It shows Walt Disney with James Robertson Justice (1907-1975). The photograph seems to have been taken sometime between June and September 1952, which coincides with the filming of Justice’s second movie for the Disney Organisation, The Sword and the Rose (1953). Justice is looking a lot more portly than when he appeared as Little John in The Story of Robin Hood (1952). This weight-gain was probably in preperation for his role as Henry VIII in the Tudor adventure”.

But who was the man, holding a bird of prey on the other side of Disney?

I recently received this kind answer to our question from Peter Tingey in April this year :

“ The third man is Phillip Glasier, the falconer, who took a minor part as the 'Royal Falconer' in The Sword and the Rose. His role involved flying falcons to add authenticity to the drama. James Robertson Justice later invited Glasier to be his personal falconer. Glasier was also responsible for the flying of falcons for the film Knights of the Round Table starring Ava Gardner and Robert Taylor”.

Many thanks to Peter Tingey for answering our question and also to Neil for supplying the original image.

If you are a fan of films from this period, don’t forget to visit Neil’s fantastic web site Films of the Fifties.

Joan Rice at the Golders Green Theatre

Joan Rice in 1973

It is always interesting to read your comments about my posts on this blog. Here is a message I received from Steve, regarding Joan Rice (1930-1997):

“ As a Grammar school boy I remember seeing her in Tea Sympathy at the Golders Green theatre which later became the BBC rehearsal theatre. We had seen her in Robin Hood the Disney film and were delighted to see a ‘ Hollywood Star’ on stage...from memory she was very sexy in a play which appealed to young men of a certain age. Just seen her in The Steel Key with Terence Morgan on Talking Pictures....always thought that they would have made a perfect Paul Temple and Steve”.

Golders Green Hippodrome 

The Grade II listed Hippodrome Theatre building next to Golders Green Underground station was built as a 3,000-seat music hall by Bertie Crewe, and opened on Boxing Day 1913.

Its capacity was reduced by half with the construction of a full theatre stage, and it began to be used for pre- and post-London tours, and has been used as a receiving venue for West End transfers.  

It would be interesting to know the year Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy was performed there? It must have been sometime between 1956 (because of a ban being lifted) and 1969 when the BBC took the theatre over as a television studio.

Joan Rice

Although Joan Rice’s acting ability was criticised by director Ken Annakin and actor Richard Todd, my research had shown that as her film stardom waned, she continued a successful stage career.

She had actually attended ‘The Company of Youth,’ often known as the ‘Rank Charm School,’ J. Arthur Rank's training institution for young film actors. It was established adjacent to Rank's experimental Highbury studio in a disused church hall, under the auspices of Olive Dodds, the Organisation's Director of Artistes. The school trained its pupils in everything from voice production to fencing and launched the careers of stars like: Christopher Lee, Dirk Bogarde, Patrick McGoohan, Donald Sinden, Honor Blackman, Michael Craig, Kay Kendal, Shirley Eaton, David McCallum, Joan Collins and Diana Dors.

The programme for A View From A Bridge 1959

Joan’s favourite stage-roll was Catherine in Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. The theatre program (above) shows her ‘ topping the bill’ in this production at the Savoy Theatre in Kettering in 1959.

During the summer of 1954 Joan's contract with Rank was apparently not renewed. But we know that in February 1955 she was photographed flying out to Dublin to appear in the play Welcome Stranger at the Gaity Theatre. And, in August that same year, Joan flew to the Isle Of Man to star in the comedy For Better Or For Worse.

Another highlight of her stage career was in 1972, when she appeared alongside Davy Jones of 'The Monkees', James Hayter and Dave King in Forget Me Not at the Leeds Grand Theatre. This production was later voted 'play of the year' and went on tour. 

This web site is dedicated to the memory of Joan Rice and to read much more about her life and career just click here.

Ken Annakin (1914-2009)

I recently received this from John, who wrote :

“ Saw this and thought of you”.

John sent me this signed picture of Ken Annakin (1914-2009),  the legendary director of Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). In 2009, shortly after his sad death,  I reproduced his obituary from The New York Times:

"Starting as a cameraman in Britain on training films for the Royal Air Force in World War II, Mr. Annakin went on to direct more than 40 feature films for the British screen and Hollywood.
His 1965 comedy about the early days of aviation, the full title of which is Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes, starred Stuart Whitman as an American flier racing for a prize awarded by a British newspaper. It intertwined romance, cheating and international conflicts with soaring flight scenes. It earned Mr. Annakin an Oscar nomination, with Jack Davis for best screenplay.

Comedies were Mr. Annakin’s specialty in his early directing days. One hit from those years was Miranda (1948), with Glynis Johns as a mermaid caught by a doctor on a fishing trip; her tail reappears whenever she gets wet. In 1948 and ’49 Mr. Annakin directed a series of films about a down-to-earth British family, the Huggetts.

One of the first live-action Disney movies was Mr. Annakin’s “Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men,” with Richard Todd as Robin Hood. Shot in England and released in the United States in 1952, it entered many more childhood memories when it was shown on television in 1955. Another Disney film directed by Mr. Annakin was the 1960 version of “Swiss Family Robinson,” with John Mills, Dorothy McGuire and James MacArthur.

Ken Annakin with Claudette Colbert at the premiere of Robin Hood

Some of Mr. Annakin’s work was more serious. In 1957 he directed “Across the Bridge,” in which Rod Steiger played a Wall Street swindler hiding in Mexico using the identity of a man he had murdered. Mr. Annakin’s daughter said “Across the Bridge” was her father’s favorite film.

In 1962 Mr. Annakin was one of the four directors of “The Longest Day,” the sprawling World War II epic about the invasion of Normandy. He directed the scenes involving British and French troops.

In 1965 he was the sole director of “Battle of the Bulge,” with Henry Fonda.
Among Mr. Annakin’s other directing credits are “The Biggest Bundle of Them All” (1968), a comedy heist movie set in Italy; “The Call of the Wild” (1972), starring Charlton Heston; and “The Pirate Movie” (1982), an adaptation of “The Pirates of Penzance” starring Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins.

Kenneth Cooper Annakin was born in Beverley, in Yorkshire, England, on Aug. 10, 1914. His daughter said he was an only child who left his parents as a teenager and never told her his parents’ names. Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Pauline Carter; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

After dropping out of school, Mr. Annakin traveled to Australia, New Zealand and the United States. He returned to England and sold insurance and cars, then joined the RAF.

In 2002 Queen Elizabeth named Mr. Annakin an officer of the Order of the British Empire.”

To read a lot more about Ken Annakin and his work for Walt Disney on The Story of Robin Hood, just click on the label here.

Production Memorabilia 3

Prop and Set-Dressing List

These are the final images available of the production notes for Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, made in England in 1951. The folder, containing many pages of fascinating detail has recently been sold at auction.

Above is a page from the Prop and Set-Dressing List, showing details from what appears to be the scene of King Richard’s departure for the Holy Land. Included with the main characters are 20 foresters, 15 bill or axe men, 2 acolytes with sensors, 15 crossbowmen etc.

Prop and set-dressing list

The next image (above) appears to be a continuation of the list, which includes, 21 bows for the bowmen, 15 crossbows, 15 quivers, a charger for King Richard and the Earl of Huntingdon, and the banner of England on a staff.

Patrick Barr (King Richard I) with some of the props

Robin Hood’s Costume

Above are details of Robin Hood’s costume, worn by Richard Todd who starred as the outlaw hero. Richard would have reached his 100th birthday last June.

Richard Todd as Robin Hood

Listed is his legendary bugle horn, green cloth hood, green cloth kirtle, short boots of soft brown basel and quiver and bow.

Short Bio on Richard Todd

On this page, we can view the short bio on Richard Todd. It describes how three years before his selection for the role by Disney, he had been an unknown repertory player. He had founded the Dundee Repertory Company and after his demobilisation from the Parachute Regiment he had been discovered in London by a director of Association British and given a contract. His first film was “ For Them That Trespass,” which so impressed the executives of the production company he was given the key role in “ The Hasty Heart,” alongside Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal.

These glimpses of the production notes from the making of this wonderful film, have been a real treat. Many thanks to John Nelson for sending them in.

More Production Memorabilia from Robin Hood

Various costumes

This is my second post about a collection of production memorabilia, recently auctioned, from Walt Disney’s live action motion picture the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. It was the last big-budget film to be made at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1951. We have seen on this website, the amount of research into the making of this movie and this is yet another example of the Disney production crew's huge attention to detail.

Various props

If you click on the labels Behind the Camera and Film Production you will find many pages dedicated to the research and making of this Technicolor masterpiece. Down the years, I have posted about the discovery of the original script, also the unique short film The Riddle of Robin Hood, (which showed the creative process during the making of the movie) and even Disney’s memo about the choice of Maid Marian’s costume. There is so much on this website about this almost forgotten film.

The design of Nottingham Castle

Regular readers of this blog will have also seen my many articles about Carmen Dillon. She was the award winning head of Walt Disney’s Art and Design Department and these documents (above) would have definitely passed through her hands. So many thanks to John Nelson for making me aware of this fascinating collection. More soon.