Hazel Ascot

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10 Jan 2015
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'Hazel Ascot was born in Manchester, England 10th May 1928.Both her parents were music hall artistes performing with a brother and sister as 'The Four Ascots.They were clog and tap dancers and toured the world from 1904 to 1916. When in England, they played the music hall number one circuit which included The London Palladium. Hazel inherited her parents dancing genes and as a child she began to win awards including eight medals for dancing.Her father ran a successful dance theatre studio in Charing Cross Road in London's West End and from where Hazel's film career was launched..


Film producer, John Baxter, hired her father's studio for rehearsals for his new film, 'Music Hall'. Baxter spotted Hazel rehearsing for a competition; he was impressed and asked her father for permission to star her in a film. To accommodate Hazel, Baxter rewrote 'Music Hall' to become 'Talking Feet' (1937)  Hazel's second film ,'Rhythm of My Heart', was retitled, 'Stepping Toes' (1938), when Baxter discovered that Bing Crosby was making a film with the same title.A third film (in colour) was planned for Hazel, but the outbreak of the Second World War forced its cancellation. Hazel was just seven years old when she made 'Talking Feet' at Sound City Studios, later to become Shepperton Studios in 1946.


Hazel was uneasy with being compared with Hollywood's Shirley Temple. However, she could tap dance faster than Shirley, but accepted that Shirley was the better actress.Hazel's talent she maintained, was below her knees.


Such was the popularity of Hazel's films with family audiences that they were selected .to open some of the new Odeon cinemas during the late 1930s. During the war, an American director, Earl Hammond, visited England with his wife, met Hazel and asked her to go to America with them to perform in his new film.  Regrettably, Hazel declined, preferring to stay with her family. Hammond's film eventually starred Hollywood's Margaret O'Brien.


After the war, Hazel continued to dance, but she felt lost; she was neither child nor adult.She performed in a show in London with Sydney Howard, Cyril Fletcher and Graham Payne who lived with Sir Noel Coward until Coward's death in 1973. Hazel auditioned for the show, 'Strike a New Note'  with the comedian, Sid Field. Someone else got the part! Hazel was disillusioned but agreed to perform in cabaret at a film industry function at one of the major film studios. She was not fit enough and struggled through her encore, but her legs were giving way. That evening, Hazel finished dancing professionally.She did, however, continue in show business for a further two years singing with her sister in a trio 'The Vocal Tones' for radio broadcasts such as for the comedy radio programme, 'The Navy Lark'.David Jacobs introduced the show.Hazel married her husband Peter Banting in 1951; she had three children with Peter and spent fifteen years bringing up her family. She then decided to become a primary school teacher.and worked as a school secretary for one year followed by three years teacher training at college. Ironically, her entire teaching experience has been at one primary school close to Shepperton Studios where a young female tap dancer first found fame in 1937..In 1977, during an interview with 'The Daily Express', Hazel was asked what did she think would have happened to her if she had carried on dancing?   

She replied: 'I would have ended up like Judy Garland'.


Note: Further information about Hazel Ascot can be found in the book: 'Shepperton Studios - An Independent View' by Derek Threadgall and published by the British Film Institute in 1994.


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'.