669 Hazel Ascot.
Hazel Ascot was born into a show business family; her father ran a dance academy in London's Charing Cross Road where he trained her to be a remarkable champion tap-dancer. She had been spotted by British director, John Baxter, when looking for rehearsal rooms for his proposed film, 'Music Hall'.
At seven years old, Hazel starred in two films for Baxter, 'Talking Feet' (1937) and 'Stepping Toes' (1938), both of which were made at Sound City studios (the forerunner of today's Shepperton Studios). Such was the box office success of both films that, during the late 1930s, they were selected to open several of the Odeon cinemas opened by Oscar Deutsch at the rate of about one a week.
A third film in colour was planned for Hazel but was frustrated by World War 2.
For someone who made only two films, Hazel Ascot, now Hazel Banting, married to Peter and with three children, had a short but remarkable career. After the war, she was old enough to apply for a licence to work on the stage and appeared in West End shows and Revues. Despite critical acclaim, the war had really ended her film career.
Until 1970, Hazel Ascot believed that her past, kept secret from all but her family, was safe. Unknown to her, and in true 1930s Hollywood tradition, an ardent fan who had first met her in 1937 at the Paramount Theatre, Tottenham Court Road where she was performing live on the stage during the interval between films, (her own film, 'Stepping Toes' was the main feature), was determined that she should not be forgotten. Tony Willis started the Hazel Ascot Appreciation Society and turned his home into a shrine for the child star whose two films had helped Norman Louden, founder of Sound City studios, to avoid bankruptcy.
Hazel was unhappy with the label “Britain’s answer to Shirley Temple”, Hazel’s take on Shirley Temple was more direct:
'Shirley Temple was an all-rounder, pretty and cute. I wasn't. I was very ordinary but had very good feet - better than Shirley Temple's. I hated being compared to Shirley. I was dark and slim, she was short and fair, a very pretty child and she could act. I couldn't act like that. All my talent was in my feet. (According to Willis, Hazel Ascot could dance for an hour non-stop without repeating a step). Like Sonja Henie and Esther Williams, I had become a champion in my field - tap-dancing.
In 1978, Willis's hard work paid off when Hazel's two films were shown again as part of a season of British musicals of the 30s at the Lambeth Film Festival in south London. Ironically, Hazel's father used to live alongside the main subject of the Festival - Charles Chaplin. At a later interview, Hazel wondered what would have happened had she continued in show business:
'Perhaps I would have ended up like Judy Garland - all showbiz and no life'.