Carleton Hobbs (1898-1978)

Once more I’m en route to Farnborough.

The town has a certain coyness about its association with Carleton Percy Hobbs, the son of a Major-General based in Hampshire, who was born here. (It’s worth listening to the six minute clip from his Desert Island Discs recording with Roy Plomley, via the BBC Sounds app.)

Farnborough’s Wikipedia entry does not include Hobbs in its list, below, of notable residents:

  • French emperor Napoleon III, his wife Empress Eugenie and son Louis Napoleon are entombed in the crypt at Saint Michael’s Abbey, although it was only Eugenie who was a resident of Farnborough while alive. Their former house was turned into an independent Boarding school and convent set in 64 acres of ground, Farnborough Hill Convent

• David Mellor and Anne Robinson went to school in Farnborough.

• Former Middlesex County Cricket Club captain Shaun Udal, who also played for Hampshire and at international level for England, was born and raised here.

• Arthur English lived in Farnborough for a period, as well as Christopher Lillicrap, children’s TV presenter and writer. Fernand Cabrol, monk and scholar became Prior and, later, Abbot at the Benedictine abbey. (a curious conjunction…)

• In 1922 T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was posted to RAF Farnborough for a photography course, it is thought he lived in Farnborough for 6 weeks.

• Actress Janet Wright was born in Farnborough before moving to Canada as a child.

Following active service in World War I, Carleton Hobbs trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His first theatre engagement was in 1924, in London Life. As World War II broke out in 1939, he joined the newly formed BBC Drama Repertory Company. In what was considered the “Golden Age” of Radio, Carleton Hobbs rapidly became a household name. To his peers, he was affectionately known as Hobbo.

Hobbs worked on over 4,000 radio productions in his time. His most famous role was as Sherlock Holmes. This first appeared in 1952 in the “for older listeners” section of Children’s Hour, and by popular demand was moved to general services, where it ran for seventeen years. Episodes can still be heard on BBC Sounds.

Carleton Hobbs’s Radio style has been described as “less is more”, and he was famed for his use of silence, demonstrating that a thinking, feeling presence can be communicated with very few words.

Hobbs played a small part in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Thirty Nine Steps. One of the last parts in his fifty-year broadcasting career was Shakespeare‘s Justice Robert Shallow from Henry IV, Part 2.

The BBC’s Student Acting Prize, founded in 1953, was renamed The Carleton Hobbs Award upon his death in 1978, in commemoration of his achievements in radio drama. The Carleton Hobbs Bursary provides six-month contracts for young actors in the BBC’s Radio Drama Company.

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