Obituary: John Hanson

WHEN JOHN Hanson met Eric Morecambe, the comedian was in cracking form. Bespectacled Eric looked Hanson up and down and said, "Left your camel in the car park, have you?" Everyone laughed; everyone understood, for John Hanson was the swashbuckling hero of The Desert Song.

He was born John Watts, in Oshawa, Ontario, in 1922, to English parents. When he was three the family moved to England, where John was educated at Dumfries Academy. His headmaster recognised his talent as a boy soprano and recommended him to the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation. It was there that he made his debut, at the age of 12. He was offered a scholarship to the Milan Conservatoire, but the Second World War put paid to that. For the rest of his life Hanson regretted losing that chance to become an operatic tenor.

During the war he served in the RAF but was invalided out. He sang for the troops and was offered a long-term singing engagement but his father insisted he follow another career path - a proper job. So he qualified and worked as an engineer.

His father was a test driver for Donald Campbell and thus close to the racing scene, Hanson acquired a love of beautiful cars, which he drove at high speed at all times. He gave his first professional performance at Birmingham Town Hall, in 1946. Two years later he featured in Variety Bandbox and Songs From The Shows.

In 1948 Hanson married Brenda Stokes (it was love at first sight), a petite and pretty blonde, with a twinkling laugh. Although by nature a very private man, as he became more famous he was persuaded by Brenda to meet the demands for interviews, which he hated, especially with the spectacular journalist Jean Rook of the Daily Express. (He described her as "lethal".) After that interview it was Brenda, as usual, who sent the journalist a bouquet of flowers and a note of thanks, signed "John Hanson".

Brenda arranged all his itineraries and always travelled with him. Together, they brought up two delightful children, Stella, now Head of Radio Two, and John Jnr, a brilliant lawyer. John Hanson loved his family. In summer seasons, during the school holidays, he would bundle them all (hamsters included) into the family car and take them to whatever resort he was playing. At other times, after each week's show he would drive all night in order to spend time with them and tend his beloved flowers and garden at their beautiful Weybridge home.

Hanson was best known for his performance as the Red Shadow in The Desert Song, which led to his being dubbed "the last of the matinee idols". He and his friend and fellow actor, Clifford Mollison, each put up pounds 2,000 to put The Desert Song on, and it opened at the Opera House in Manchester in 1957. It was a gamble for both of them. "Pop" had taken over and musicals had declined. The show, however, was an immediate success.

Although scheduled to run for only 12 weeks, their tour of the provinces lasted 10 months. After the success of the original Desert Song, Hanson toured with The Student Prince (1959), The Vagabond King (1960), Maid of the Mountains (1964) and The World of Ivor Novello (1965).

Always, he concentrated on the provinces where he formed his own company. In 1966 he starred in When You're Young, for which he wrote the book and lyrics. He revived the Desert Song many times but it wasn't until 1968 that this serious, ambitious man achieved every actor's dream. He took the show to the West End and, gambling again that it would succeed, invested his own money. It did; it was a huge success. "I've waited 20 years to get into the West End and it's very nice to arrive like this."

Coincidentally, Topol was playing in Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty's Theatre. The cartoonists had a field day with the "Arab Red Shadow" and "The Jew".

The Desert Song was succeeded at the Cambridge Theatre by The Student Prince. Again, the shows were presented, in Blackpool, for the summer seasons of 1969 and 1970. For the next decade Hanson toured in romantic musicals: Lilac Time, The Dancing Years and Glamorous Nights.

There were concert performances too, at the Festival Hall and the Albert Hall. He appeared many times in pantomime, usually as Robin Hood. He broadcast more than 1,400 times and made 21 LPs (winning a Golden Disc in 1977). The Student Prince alone sold more than 300,000 copies. His autobiography, Me and My Red Shadow, was published in 1980.

Hanson's career as a singer made him a household name. With his chiselled good looks, black hair and glorious voice, he always had a flapper following. Whenever he went shopping girls rushed from behind their counters to mob their idol. Even the middle-aged ladies queuing at the stage door went weak at the knees at the sight of him.

He lived as he drove, at full throttle. He was a highly strung, but compassionate man, who lived for his work and family. His last public performance was at St Paul's, the actors' church, at the service of thanksgiving for his long-time friend Clifford Mollison. He sang the "Goodbye" song from The White Horse Inn, a song which Mollison had sung in 1936 at the Coliseum and with which he was forever associated. The congregation were so moved that, unanimously, they rose and gave John Hanson a standing ovation.John Watts (John Hanson), actor and singer: born Oshawa, Canada 31 August 1922; married 1948 Brenda Stokes (one son, one daughter); died Shepperton, Surrey 3 December 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower