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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Entertaining the Navyicon for Recommended story

by Pamela Hunt

Contributed by 
Pamela Hunt
People in story: 
Ronald Sidney Hill
Location of story: 
Portsmouth
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2315648
Contributed on: 
19 February 2004

My uncle, better known as Ronnie Hill was quite a well known singer, songwriter in the 1930s. He used to broadcast quite a bit and my personal view of his claim to fame was that he wrote the music for the song "Here's Looking At You" which was used by the BBC to launch the television service in 1936.

After the war started, he was ordered to go to the BBC's wartime broadcasting centre at Woodnorton Hall near Evesham. He had been booked into a hotel in the town. He arrived in the evening and he was supposed to report to the BBC studios that night. There were no taxis and no bus, so he headed off to Woodnorton Hall. It is two miles out of town and in the pitch black of the blackout, he did find himself in the ditch a few times. Then he saw a warm glow in the distance and he saw that a building was on fire. His first thought was that the Germans had bombed the place, after all Lord Haw Haw had already sent 'greetings to his BBC colleagues in the Vale of Evesham'.

As he walked up the drive he could see that the whole of the upper floor was on fire. Then to his amazement he saw a harp falling apparently out of the sky, then another one, then another and another. For a moment, he wondered whether the heavens had given up and the angels were getting rid of their harps. But on arriving he learnt that the BBC had used the loft of Woodnorton Hall to store harps.

He had only been at the BBC studios for a few months when he got his call up papers. He wasn't a conscientous objector, he wanted to do his bit, but he was uncomfortable with the thought of killing people. So he joined the Merchant Navy and reported to Portsmouth. When asked what he did in civvy street, he told them he worked for the BBC. "Then we'll make you a Sparks." said the recruiting man. My uncle always told me that he never learnt the Morse Code. It wasn't long before someone recognised him and word got out who he was. He was then asked if he could organise stage shows for the entertainment of the Merchant navy men in places like Portsmouth and Liverpool. This he happily did and although he never admitted it himself, the shows were quite a success.

Then one evening an officer representing the Royal Navy's entertainment unit went to see one of Uncle Ronnie's shows and seeing that it was significantly better than their own productions asked him to move over to the Royal Navy and run their shows. He was very happy to oblige.

By the time that the war was drawing to a close, my uncle had talked the navy into agreeing to convert a couple of ships into floating theatres and with his troupe of naval performers they travelled around the world putting on shows for Navy personnel. I am not sure exactly which shows they were, but I have been told by another source that two of the shows actually transferred into the West End.

Sadly Uncle Ronnie died in 1991 and I wasn't able to find out more. But I would love to hear from people who worked with my uncle at that time, either in the Merchant or the Royal Navy. It's a story I would love to piece together.

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