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Hanley, Jimmy (1918-1970)

Actor, Presenter

Main image of Hanley, Jimmy (1918-1970)

Jimmy Hanley is perhaps best remembered as the new police recruit being taken through his paces by Jack Warner's avuncular PC George Dixon before young thug Dirk Bogarde kills the latter in the 1949 manhunt thriller The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden).

Born in Norwich on 22 October 1918, the rising young actor went to the Italia Conti stage school and made his debut at 12 as John Darling in Peter Pan at the London Palladium. At 13 he was a circus bareback rider, and by the age of 16 he was working in films.

During his four-decade career he appeared in more than 60 films and worked for some of Britain's most industrious studios: British National (where he appeared in Thorold Dickinson's Gaslight, 1940, and Maurice Elvey's Salute John Citizen, 1942), Two Cities Films (for Leslie Howard's The Gentle Sex, 1943, Olivier's Henry V, 1944, and Carol Reed's The Way Ahead, 1944), Ealing Studios (in Dearden's The Captive Heart, 1946, and The Blue Lamp, 1949, and Robert Hamer's It Always Rains On Sunday, 1947), and Gainsborough (Ken Annakin's Holiday Camp, 1947, Here Come the Huggetts, 1948, The Huggetts Abroad, 1949, and Montgomery Tully's Boys in Brown, 1949).

Hanley also played on the stage in London and on Broadway and in the early days of ITV he appeared in the police thriller 'The Guv'nor' (tx. 19/1/1956) for London Playhouse (ITV, 1955-56) and in the comedy-sketch-and-song series Alfred Marks Time (ITV, 1956-59).

His most memorable work for television, rather curiously, was as the genial host of Jim's Inn (ITV, 1957-63), an advertising magazine series. The peculiar TV phenomena known as 'admags' were series of short programmes (in 15-minute segments) designed to represent the small advertiser and were presented in the guise of a domestic TV serial (a sort of mini soap opera). Other admag formats (selling furniture, holidays, etc.) came and went but Jim's Inn proved to be the most durable and popular with viewers.

The Jim's Inn format revolved around a cosy village pub run by Jimmy and Maggie Hanley who, with their regulars - played by Roma Cresswell, John Sherlock, Jack Edwardes, Diane Watts, Dennis Bowen, Ken Howard and Victor Platt - discussed the merits (and prices) of various household products.

The Associated Rediffusion-produced series ran for some 300 (live) editions until Parliament in 1963 banned all advertising magazine programmes. Jimmy and Maggie continued their amiable-couple-with-good-advice characters in a series of TV commercials for Daz soap powder.

Hanley also chaired the quiz show Dotto (ITV, 1958-60) for a while before he became one of the presenters of the children's slot series Five O'Clock Club (ITV, 1963-66). He later presented the early-evening Futurama (ITV, 1964), a children's science magazine showcasing new inventions in a style that would later be adopted by the BBC as Tomorrow's World (1965-2002).

A Christmas season 'special', Deep and Crisp and Stolen (ITV, tx. 21/12/1964), saw Hanley in an all-TV-star comedy play about a bumbling gang of thieves robbing a West End department store on Christmas Eve; the audience-pleasing focus of the play being the guest appearance of Detective Chief-Superintendent Lockhart (played by Raymond Francis), the hero of ITV's popular police drama No Hiding Place (1959-67).

In another rare TV appearance during the 1960s, he played a slightly tarnished dancing instructor in David Turner's charming comedy-romance 'Way Off Beat' (The Wednesday Play; BBC1, tx. 8/6/1966), about an ambitious father (Sydney Tafler) smoothing the championship path for his ballroom-dancing daughter (Helen Fraser).

One of Hanley's last appearances on television was in Johnny Speight's controversial comedy If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have To Invent Them (LWT, tx. 4/8/1968), an allegory on discrimination in which he played the Backwards Man, a character that believes (as written by Speight) that it's "better to be what we believe we are, and not look at each other any closer".

His first marriage to actress Dinah Sheridan (which produced actress Jenny Hanley and former Conservative MP Jeremy Hanley) was dissolved in 1953, and in 1955 he married Margaret Avery. He died on 13 January 1970.

Tise Vahimagi

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Blue Lamp, The (1949)Blue Lamp, The (1949)

Classic Ealing police drama that introduced PC George Dixon

Thumbnail image of Boys in Brown (1949)Boys in Brown (1949)

A progressive Borstal governor tries to reform his boys

Thumbnail image of Captive Heart, The (1946)Captive Heart, The (1946)

Ealing POW drama, made only a few months after the end of WWII

Thumbnail image of Gentle Sex, The (1943)Gentle Sex, The (1943)

WWII drama about seven women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service

Thumbnail image of Henry V (1944)Henry V (1944)

Laurence Olivier turns Shakespeare into rousing propaganda

Thumbnail image of It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)

Robert Hamer's bleak portrait of life in London's East End

Thumbnail image of Way Ahead, The (1944)Way Ahead, The (1944)

Inspiring propaganda film following the making of an Army unit

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Thumbnail image of Sheridan, Dinah (1920-)Sheridan, Dinah (1920-)