OLDER residents of Upton Grey might remember the time when Max Bygraves, the all-round entertainer, arrived in the village in June 1955 with a large film unit to make the film Charley Moon.

Max, 33 years old at the time, acted in scenes with Patricia Driscoll in the story of a music hall star who eventually returned to his home village to marry his childhood sweetheart.

One of the songs he sang in the film Out of Town became a hit record of that time.

A large group of local children took part in the film, especially when Max entered the village on an elephant, while the local fire brigade took a helping hand in filling up the village pond, which had partly dried up in the summer heat.

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Other scenes were filmed at Greywell Mill and at Alton.

Max Bygraves was born in October 1922 in Rotherhithe, London, and was one of nine children.

At the age of 13 he won a talent contest, and from then on he enjoyed a series of successful shows on stage, being in cinema films, singing on records, and appearing on the radio in such programmes as Educating Archie.

On television, he even had his own Max Bygraves Show, among other programmes, in which he was invited to sing, tell jokes, and sometimes dance. Of his records the most popular were his Singalong series, which began in 1971.

He also appeared in 19 Royal Variety performances.

He wrote several books about his life, and produced a novel called The Milkman’s on his Way.

His real name was Walter William Bygraves, but he changed his name after doing impressions of the comedian Max Miller while he was in the Royal Air Force.

During his years in the RAF he met his future wife, Gladys, whom he called “Blossom”, and they later had two daughters and a son.

When the film Charley Moon was ready to produce, it was decided to film the country scenes at Upton Grey, which was chosen because it typified the character of an English village with its cottages and pond.

The village dates back to the 11th century when it was called Upton, then in the 13th century the name Grey was added from the de Grey family who were the lords of the manor at that time.

The parish church of St Mary dates back partly to the 12th century with its Saxon stone work, while some of the fabric dates from the 18th century.

Another local building, Hoddington House, also dates from the 18th century, as well as the Hoddington Arms Inn.

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Hoddington House was the home of Sir Edmund Stockdale, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1960.

When Sir Edmund’s Lord Mayor’s Show took place on November 14, 1960, many of the village’s residents went to London to watch the procession, as arrangements were made for his employees at Hoddington Farm and their relatives to see the show.

A custom on every May 29 (Royal Oak Day) used to be observed at Upton Grey by ringing the church bells at 6am, then the bellringers would place a large branch of oak over the church porch and another over the lych gate.

Smaller branches were positioned in the gateway of every house to ensure good luck for the rest of the year.

The majority of cottages in the village are of 17th and 18th century origin and over the years there have been very few changes in the main street.

Some 60 homes have been built on the fringes of the village, but the area is a desirable place to live and retains its reputation as a typical English village.

(Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette November 28, 2003)