Elton Hayes

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Elton Hayes (16 February 1915 – 23 September 2001) was a British actor and guitarist.

Hayes was born in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, England. Both his parents were actors and he made his first stage appearance aged nine. He too wanted to be an actor, but he also learned the violin and the ukelele. In his teens, he won a scholarship to the Fay Compton School of Dramatic Arts. There he received an extensive theatrical education. His first job was as assistant stage manager with the Old Stagers' Company at the Canterbury Theatre and he sang in his spare time at local social clubs.

Hayes took up the guitar shortly before World War II when he accepted one as security from a friend who had borrowed 30 shillings. Guitars would cause his later fame, accompanying him while he sang old English folk songs and ballads. Hayes volunteered for military service in 1939. He was commissioned in the Royal West Kent Regiment and was posted to India. After the Japanese surrender, he hitch-hiked to Bombay where he was appointed Officer Commanding ENSA in Rawalpindi.

Despite contracting rheumatic fever, which caused his fingers to stiffen, he continued playing. A few days after returning to Britain, he visited the BBC, still in uniform, to watch a broadcast of Children's Hour and was immediately taken on to write and perform a slot in the programme based on Edward Lear's Nonsense Rhymes. Soon after he was given a regular slot on the BBC Radio show "In Town Tonight" in 1946. From then on he performed on radio and television frequently in Britain. On an eight-week tour of North America, he made 113 appearances.

One of his best-loved songs was his recording of the Victor Hely-Hutchinson setting of Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat. This recording was one of six song recordings he made of Edward Lear's nonsense verse, the others being the Dudley Glass settings of The Duck and the Kangaroo, The Table and the Chair, The Broom, the Shovel, the Poker and the Tongs, The Jumblies and The Quangle-Wangle's Hat.[1] It was regularly requested on the BBC radio programme Children's Favourites, as was The Whistling Gypsy. Later he had his own television shows called:

  • 'Elton Hayes - He Sings to a Small Guitar'. (A slight misquote from "The owl looked up to the stars above and sang to a small guitar").
  • 'Close Your Eyes'
  • 'Tinker's Tales'

As an actor he appeared in

  • 'The Beaux Stratagem' Lyric Theatre for 18 months from 1949
  • 'The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men' 1952 Walt Disney film as Alan-a-Dale, for which he composed some of the music
  • 'The Black Knight' 1954, a variation on the King Arthur story produced by Irving Allen and Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli and starring Alan Ladd. He can be seen very briefly at the start of the film as a minstrel singing a few bars of The Whistling Gypsy/The Gypsy Rover.

He was highly nervous before live performances and so retired from show business in the 1960s. He bought a small thatched cottage on the Essex-Suffolk border and, after studying at a local agricultural college, became a farmer, breeding pedigree livestock. He took up carriage driving and became a member of the British Driving Society.

After suffering a stroke in 1995, Hayes had to give up his farm and moved to Bury St Edmonds to live with friends, who cared for him until his death in 2001. He married in 1942, Betty Inman, who died in 1982.

Selected filmography[edit]

Reference[edit]

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