Memories of James Hayter and Roger Livesey
Two distinguished actors
By Alan French
Memories of James Hayter and Roger Livesey.
I had better explain that, when I first moved to Hemel Hempstead, it was to Belswains Farm House. The house was part of some property that stood at the junction of Belswains Lane and Oliver Road. More than one set of people lived there. It was owned by relations who ran a demolition business. Items from the said demolition contracts were stored and subsequently sold at Belswains. Another of the firm’s premises in Breakspear Road, Abbots Langley did the same.
A number of interesting people would frequent the premises, as potential customers. For example, Peter Sellers, who lived at the near village of Chipperfield, once sent some men down for something. Whether they bought anything, I do not know.
There was one occasion, in 1961, when I came home at lunchtime from my work, I had a surprise. My mother stated that there was a man studying some oak beams for sale. She could not think of his name, but thought he was an actor. I quickly went near him. He looked up and asked, “Are you enjoying the nice weather that we have been having lately?” I recognised his voice immediately. In fact, it was his trade mark. I returned to the house and announced that it was the distinguished actor, Roger Livesey. I obtained his autograph shortly afterwards.
I cannot recall the humorous details connected with this story, but he did return during the evening, saw my father and used our telephone. Apart from his theatrical career, he is best remembered for appearing in such films as THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. He impressed me as a thorough gentleman. He lived at Sarratt.
However, some years before, in fact 1953, another surprise awaited me. My cousin, who lived in another part of the house with her family, had a cat which had kittens. The cat, together with kittens, my mother, and cousin, were in our garden. Some men came on the terrace and, whilst peering at our garden, queried was there someone they could see? They were directed to the back, where my father was working.
My mother held up one of the young felines and asked, “Do you want a kitten?”
The man who seemed to be the leader replied that he had X-amount of children and one on the way.
As the men went up to find my father, my mother said to her niece that she thought she recognised this man. My cousin was not certain.
I gather my mother’s conversation continued in the style of the following:-
“Yes! I know him!”
“He’s an actor! I am sure he is!”
“Yes! I have seen him in films!”
“Oh! What’s his name?”
“Oh! It is him!”
“I am sure it is!”
“Oh! He was in that submarine thing with John Mills!”
“Can’t think of his name!”
“He was Friar Tuck in that film with Richard Todd about Robin Hood!”
“Oh! I only know him as Friar Tuck!”
“Never mind. Alan will be home from school soon. He will know.
Not long after this, I merrily arrived home. My mother explained that could I have a good look at the men talking to my father and did I recognise one of them?
I gazed across and exclaimed, “Oh! It’s Friar Tuck!”
My mother shouted, “Yahoo! Are you Friar Tuck?”
He raised his voice and replied, “Yes! I am!
I shortly after that went up and spoke to him and acquired his autograph. It read as follows:-
LOTS OF LUCK FROM FRIAR TUCK.
On the Saturday, my father, the driver, who was my cousin’s husband, and myself went along to James Hayter’s house to deliver his order. We eventually arrived. James Hayter then pressed some tree back. The reason being that there were coronation buntings posing a problem for the green lorry to enter his driveway. Someone had given reference to them, as we did not wish to ruin these decorations. However, James did remark that it did not matter, as the coronation was now over anyway. As we came in, I espied children at the window waving.
Over the next several years, James Hayter every so often would visit to buy something. I gather the talk between him and my father was sometimes amusing.
On one occasion, my mother was doing some hand-washing, when he put his head quickly in the open window frame, and said, “Hello, my lovely!”
I also once, with my friends, came out from school and visited a nearby sweetshop in Bennetts End. Surprise of surprises! James Hayter was doing something with some bubble gum machines. I heard at a later date that he was an agent for these machines and had often been seen in the Belswains Lane/Nash Mills area as well. A painful reminder that show business is not always a lucrative occupation.
Many years later, he appeared briefly in ARE YOU BEING SERVED? But of course he was the voice for Mr. Kipling in adverts for cakes.
Sadly, Peter Sellers, Roger Livesey and James Hayter are no longer with us. But with passing, they have left a legacy of entertainment that is still with us.
James Hayter did reprise his role as Friar Tuck, in a Hammer Film with Barry Ingham as Robin Hood.
Although Roger Livesey was noted for his voice, he did appear in FUTTOCK’S END with Ronnie Barker, in which no dialogue was spoken.
Peter Sellers was an excellent drummer.
It is not certain whether Friar Tuck was a fat jolly friar. The earliest descriptions say that he was wide of girth. He was an excellent swordsman, and had a sadistic sense of humour.
My advice to anyone wishing to investigate Robin Hood is don’t. It will drive you mad. But you will learn a lot about English History.
For local historians:-
The lower part of Oliver Road adjoining Belswains Lane was re-named Oliver Rise.
Belswains Farm House was also known as Belswains Farm. Some of the surrounding area had belonged to it. Much of this land was built on. The portion which remained where these stories take place, together with the house, was subsequently sold during the mid 1960s. It is now called Oliver Close.
The family-run business was T. Bishop and Sons (LTD). One of the sons at one point started his own demolition business, which is best known for its skip hire service, Bishop Skip Hire.
According to some 1930s editions of The Hemel Hempstead Gazette, Belswains Farm was also utilised for dog racing meetings and is described as Hemel Hempstead’s first dog racing track.
The racing track is referred in a July 1951 edition of The Hemel Hempstead Gazette, in an article by Winifred Grover. The article’s title is HEMEL HEMPSTEAD GHOSTS.
Was it haunted? It would not surprise me.
According to an Easter edition of the parish magazine for St. Mary’s in Apsley, the farm may have been visited by Queen Elizabeth 1st. At the time, Belswains Farm might have been named Belswick.
This article is also to be shared with Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers, Herts Memories and Our Dacorum websites.
Copyright Alan French 2014.
Since submitting this article, Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers has acquired a new website:- www.hemelmoviemakers.org
Alan French 2016.