The man said to be the visual inspiration for Aloysius “Nosey” Parker, Lady Penelope’s chauffeur in the TV puppet series “Thunderbirds”, was once the landlord of an historic pub in the very attractive East Sussex hamlet of Blackboys.
Not that Ronald Shiner was overly noted for “wooden” acting in a long career that saw him feature in hundreds of films and stage and radio plays spanning some three decades. Indeed, in 1952 Shiner was voted Britain’s most popular male cinema star. At the same time, the BBC radio series, “Educating Archie”, in which he played a leading role along with Tony Hancock and Sid James, won a national award as the “Year’s Most Entertaining Programme”. Pretty good going for a radio show based around a ventriloquist’s dummy!
Ronald Shiner had an incredibly prolific acting career but by 1953 he was slowing down and had an eye on retirement. This was the year he decided that running a pub was a good idea. He took on the 14th Century Blackboys Inn, an impressive establishment located beside the road from Halland to Heathfield.
His new landlord status created quite a stir. “Guv’nor Shiner” is the title of a British Pathe News item from early 1954 that was shown in cinemas nationwide. In it comedian Jimmy “Whack-O!” Edwards pops into the pub for a convivial pint and chinwag with Ron. War hero Jimmy himself lived at Fletching not far from Blackboys.
Cockney Ronald Shiner was born in 1903. He went to Canada in 1920 to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Looking older than his 17 years, it is thought he lied about his age in order to enlist. Perhaps the reality of life in the Mounties didn’t live up to his expectations because just two years later he returned to England. Subsequent jobs included three years in the British Army and also working variously as a farmer, greengrocer, milkman and clerk in a betting shop.
Roles in military concerts had revealed Ron’s talent for the stage and this most likely explains his restlessness on the work front as he struggled to get a break in the theatre. In 1928 he secured a West End role in “Dr Syn”, an adaptation of Russell Thorndike’s swashbuckling tale of Romney Marsh smugglers. His first cinema appearance was in “Wild Boy” made with Flanagan & Allen in 1934. Dozens of parts in films followed including a tranche of wartime morale-boosting flicks.
Shiner’s career took off with his appearance in the West End hit “Worm’s Eye View” which ran from 1945 to 1947 and saw him on stage over 1,700 times. Playing a drill sergeant in the comedy “Reluctant Heroes” in 1951 turned him into an enduring screen favourite. His 1952 “top male star” award was followed up a year later with a vote that placed him third with just those giants of cinema Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness ahead of him.
By this time Ronald Shiner had established close ties with Sussex. In 1947 he acquired Perry Farm in West Park Road, Felbridge, near East Grinstead. Whilst living there he went on location on the South Coast to play a lookout in the controversial gangster film noir “Brighton Rock”.
In his time, Shiner worked with most of Britain’s biggest showbiz names including Richard Attenborough, George Formby, Dora Bryan, Eric Sykes, Norman Wisdom, John Mills, Donald Sinden and Bob Monkhouse. At the height of his career he insured his prominent “Parker” nose for a reputed £20,000 on the reasoning that "it's me beak which made 'em larf".
Whilst he was landlord at the Blackboys Inn, Shiner could not always be present so he employed a manager to run things. Even so, his high showbiz profile ensured the pub became popular with celebrities and it attracted the patronage of many well-known personalities who dropped in even when the landlord was absent.
Anthony Steele was one. He’d made his name playing a POW in the popular 1950 film, “The Wooden Horse”, had a hit record with “West of Zanzibar” in 1954 and made headlines when he married sultry Swedish actress Anita Ekberg in 1956.
Australian Alf Rogers recounts the story: “One Sunday evening when I arrived, part of the bar was occupied by Anthony Steele and a group of admiring starlets. The locals took little notice and continued with their dominoes and “Ringing the Bull” games in the bar.
“As evening fell, the local cricket team and their opponents for the weekend arrived and the bar became a little crowded.
“Amidst the general banter, a well-rounded voice was heard to remark about the 'local yokels and their game of pat-ball’. One of the visitors drew himself up and enquired if the 'star' knew who he was. The response was swift and roughly along the lines, 'I don't know, but some local squire's son with nothing better to do I suppose.'
“At this the visitor produced with a flourish, his card. Upon it was inscribed the name, David Sheppard. This was at the time in the Fifties that Shepherd, the future Bishop of Liverpool, had been captain of Sussex and had led the England cricket team.
“A certain gentleman and his satellites departed in some disarray.”
I believe Ronald Shiner had the Blackboys Inn until around 1964. Suffering poor health in his later years, he went to live in Eastbourne, having been advised the sea air would be a tonic. He died in June 1966 at Hellingly Hospital, East Sussex.