British Westerns Plus

Dacorum's Wild West (well it's in Western Europe)

By Alan French

I was not sure as to whether to edit out the central part of the following, which originally appeared in my blog spot for Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers, but as it is not long, I have included it in this submission.

When I meet someone who knows me, and I am sure I am not unique in this experience, the other person quite often asks how I am etc. Recently, whilst enduring this experience, I replied that we were making a western. The person concerned made the response along the lines of ”What? In England! or Hemel Hempstead!”  

This intrigues me. Oddly enough, a number of cinematic or television productions have been made in this country. As well as the continent. How about spaghetti westerns?  

In our history, a number of countries have been colonised by Britain. And some British westerns have reflected this and have been set in Africa, Australia etc. Even some American westerns have had international casts. Gone are the days of people like David Niven, who turned up for an audition for a Hopalong Cassidy film looking good in wild west gear, and then opening his mouth, revealing an English Accent, then told by ‘Pop’ Sherman, (Producer) to get out. Since then we have seen westerns with surprising stars such as Sean Connery, Honour Blackman, Brigitte Bardot, Percy Herbert, Roger Moore, Diana Dors and Niall McGinness, Lesley Howard, Vivienne Leigh etc. Even television has had success with Australian westerns such as ‘Whiplash’.  

On Children’s television in the 1950s the BBC made some westerns. Some of you may remember the different productions serialising a book called The Cabin in the Clearing’. There was also a short series that went out live, featuring genuine stories about, and featured real red indians/native Americans. At the end a red indian would come on our screens and say, ”But I, Jack Bill Long River, remember.” At least I think that was his name. I think that they came over with Tex Ritter for an event. Veteran Hollywood star, Tex Ritter, also had a one-off live programme, in which we heard him singing. This was all in the wake of seeing some of his old westerns on BBC, including the one in which made Rita Hayworth’s debut. 

My favourite British western hero was a ventriloquist dummy named Hank. He also had a talking horse called Silver King. He mainly appeared on a programme called ‘Whirligig’. He would ride up and after a while, tell us a story. The story was presented in the form of mobiles of the characters, who were animated by a complex system. Francis Couldrill, the ventriloquist, did the artwork, while a very clever man called Alfred Wormser attended to the complex animated system. Although, as a child, I thought the cartoons were being animated live, I gather they were actually filmed in Beaconsfield.

Englishman Ross Salmon was also a man who had been a real modern cowboy, and would appear in his own programme, and tell us children what it was like to be one.

I extend this segment to the sixties. Doctor Who also found himself, during his William Hartnell era, getting involved with the famous gunfight at the O.K. Coral. And towards the end of his Patrick Troughton era, some soldiers from the American Civil War appeared.  

Commercial television had a successful puppet series called ‘Four Feathered Falls’. The surrealistic series ‘ The Prisoner’, also featured a western story.  

BBC Radio had huge success in post war Britain, with ‘Riders of the Range’. The hero was named Jeff Arnold. His adventures subsequently appeared in the boys’ comic paper ‘The Eagle’. I could go on and mention Steve Larabee and Cal Macord, but there well could be other examples of British westerns.  

On the amateur scene, there was a British western featured in one of our ‘Ten Best’ presentations.  

Our counterparts in Boreham Wood, on one visit to us, also included a western they had made locally.  

Well, what about us? I suppose most of us have taken motion pictures of people with a wild west aura about them. Even if the westerners were in the local carnival. But has the club made any westerns? The answer is yes. At the end of reel one of Jubillee in Dacorum’, I had to cover an event at the Camelot Rugby Field in Chaulden. As well as the different activities, there was a wild west show presented by the Chiltern Cowboys. Their High Noon segment completed the super 8 cartridge that was allotted to me for the production. Having completed my assignment for the club, I decided to film, as best I could, for the rest of their show, with my own film stock and self. I made a western. Yippee! I entered my humble effort in a club competition, but it did not win.  

However, the super 8 feature length club production, Jubilee in Dacorum’, spread over three reels, had a serious knock on effect. So serious, that the club nearly folded up. During our successful struggle for survival, Chairman Norman Cutting, received a communication from someone. It was possibly the Movie Maker or the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, or someone of that ilk. They wanted to know more about the western film that we were making. Norman said that he would call them back. He did not know that we were making a western. Suspecting that our publicity man, Len Osman, might be something to do with it, he contacted him. His suspicions proved correct. Len Osmond was making a western film. It certainly got us publicity, even if we did not know we were making it. When it was completed, it was shown at a club meeting. However, prior to its projection, Len, broke it to those in attendance, that it may not be quite the rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ film, that we might have had in mind. The reason being, it was a documentary, about one of these wild west enthusiast organisations, which re-created the western way of life. I am not sure who owned the film as it might  have been financed by Len Osmond.  

How about video and DVD? The answer is yes. During our Leverstock Green era, we made, under the supervision of Dennis Patience, a very short western called, SCHOOL FOR BEGINNERS. It was about a card game in a western saloon. Some additional still footage, I recognised from a documentary by Brian Harris. In fact Brian Harris has made some productions which may contain wholly, or partially, material shot in the wild west. Including a documentary about the Klondike.

I also have, in my brief camcorder era, shot some footage of an American civil war group in the Ramsgate area. Unbeknown to me, Brian used to belong to this organisation.  

Currently, we are making a short western which started out as, ‘The Dodgy Horse’. Now it could be, ‘El Paso’. It should be completed for our new season. Work has already started. It was a good atmosphere on the set at Pix Farm. Apart from trains coming by, so some shots had to be retaken, and a fence which started briefly to come down on certain cast members, including me. It has an international cast and crew. Even the guitar was made in Japan. Some additional material was shot (if you pardon the expression) in the South of France.

So, maybe both on the professional and amateur scene, we Brits and some other countries have contributed to this genre, more than is realised. 

Useless information: Lengthy post script:

My mother’s step father, shook hands with William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill.  

Mick Jagger once acted as Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly. Despite antiques are officially at least one hundred years old, the earlier mentioned Hank, appeared in mechanical form riding his with Horse Silver King, in an edition of the ‘Antiques Road Show’. This was actually used in ‘Whirligig’.  

Circa 1952-3, a girl from Hemel Hempstead won a prize to visit and stay with Roy Rogers and his Wife Dale Evans.  

That a popular western book series originated by Oliver Strange and continued by Frederick H. Christian about a quick on the draw outlaw called Sudden, was British.  

A man who was British, once appeared on television, and during conversation, claimed to be the composer of the Gene Autry hit song, ‘South of the Border’.  

Although there is evidence of Elvis Presley having British ancestry, to be more precise, Scottish, he was on his mother’s side, part Cherokee Red Indian. Coincidentally, the only part of the UK Elvis set foot on was Prestwick Airport in Scotland. Native American Princess Pocahontas died in England.  

Are you aware that ‘The Magnificent Seven’, is based on a Japanese story which is also a film called, ‘The Seven Samurai?   Alan French 2009.

Special useless information for Herts Memories:

Are you aware that late 1950s or early 1960s, there were plans afoot to invite from Hollywood, the stars of Tales of Wells Fargo, Wagon Train and Cheyenne; Dale Robertson, Robert Horton and Clint Walker, as special guests to the Hemel Hempstead town carnival?

More people than realised, have acted as The Lone Ranger. One of them, had something to do with a cosmetics firm on a small industrial estate at Ebberns Road; which is between Apsley and Belswains Lane in Hemel Hempstead.

If anyone knows which one, please let us know. Meanwhile it is time to say, ‘Get’um up Scout!’ and , ‘Hi-Yo! Silver and away!’     

Copyright Alan French 2010

This page was added on 14/12/2010.

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