Wednesday, 12 November 2014

James Milton Hayes, Manchester, soldier poet and the author of The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God

I have become interested in James Milton Hayes who was born in Ardwick in 1885 and died in France in 1940. 

The Lion and Albert
He was according to his own words an “entertainer and author” and if he is remembered it will be for his monologue The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God.

Now I grew up with the monologue, those long recited poems which were shot through with serious moral messages.

That said most of the ones I listened to were humorous delivered by Stanley Holloway and while there was a message there was much to laugh at.

So when Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom saw their son Albert eaten by a Lion at Blackpool the awful event was met by Mr Ramsbottom with

“I think it's a shame and a sin
To 'ave our son et by a lion
And after we paid to come in. "

But what I didn’t really appreciate was the rich source of serious monologues like The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God which opens with

“There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,
There's a little marble cross below the town;
There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down” 

Instantly you are drawn into the mystery of that broken hearted woman tending the grave of Mad Carew in faraway Kathmandu and the perhaps sinister part played by the one eyed yellow idol.

It would have been a story which intrigued its music hall audiences in the first decade of the last century.

The Ardwick Empire, 1910 
Here was a story of the Far East with its exotic setting and strange happenings set at a time when stories of our Empire were still guaranteed to capture the imagination.

Of course within a short while there were parodies like The Green Tie on the Little Yellow Dog which began

“There's a little sallow idle man lives north of Waterloo, 
And he owns the toughest music hall in town. 
There are broken hearted comics, there's a grave yard for them too. 
And the gallery gods are ever gazing down, 
He was known as Fat Caroo in the pubs round Waterloo 
And he wore a green tie with a diamond pin;”

Later still it became a source of humour for a whole string of comedians from the Goons and Morecombe and Wise to Danger Mouse.

All of which is a shame because in that pre television, pre internet world such monologues were entertainment relying on the public’s fascination and lack of knowledge about the East.

All of which brings me back to its author
Today he is pretty much forgotten, but he is a fascinating character.

Hyde Grove, 1969
In 1901 he gave he described himself  as an insurance clerk, but by 1911 was confident enough in his new occupation to record that he was an  “Entertainer Author.”  

1911 was also the year he wrote that monologue, but in the process of researching his life I came across others including one celebrating imperial trade and no doubt in time may unearth some war poetry.

According to one source he was commissioned in the Manchester Regiment in 1915, awarded the Military Cross in 1917 and was captured the following year. There is a reference to him in My Brother Evelyn and Other Profiles, in which Waugh describes him as “A North Country man, he was nearly forty; he was brisk, assured, purposeful with his eye on the main chance.”*

But this just adds a layer of confusion because Mr Hayes was quite clearly not 40 in 1918 and as an officer had fairly humble beginnings having been born in Hyde Grove close to Ardwick Green to a father who was a gas fitter.

Added to which he died in southern France in December 1940 after the Fall of France during the Second World War.

So that still leaves a lot to be explored.

Sadly Hyde Grove like much of this bit of Manchester was cleared in the 1960s, which leaves just a few pictures of the area before the demolition some official records and of course that monologue.

All of which is intriguing given that Waugh quite clearly gets his age wrong, and

* J. Milton Hayes,

Pictures; Ardwick Empire, 1910, m06406, Hyde Grove, Derelict houses no 2-8, W Kay 1969, m19732, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

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