The most graphic approach to Hook Norton’s history in the last hundred years is through the rich treasures of film and sound recordings. These vary greatly in character even more than in quality, and some did not even pretend to historical accuracy! For them, humour and entertainment are the object.
The earliest radio series which appeared to refer to Hook Norton began in 1931 starring “Gillie Potter” (in reality Hugh William Peel, 1887-1975), a comedian whose programmes regularly included skits on Hogsnorton, the most common of the ancient versions of the village’s name. The programmes (and the skits) continued intermittently until 1953, when they concluded with “Coronation at Hogsnorton”. During the war the Ministry of Information even made a brief propaganda film in which Potter read a letter from Hog’s Norton that underlined the wartime need to save fuel. Many listeners assumed that Potter’s Hogsnorton was our Hook Norton, though the evidence suggests that probably Peel never intended it to be.
Later radio programmes were more factual. In 1971, and again in 1986, Radio Oxford broadcast programmes modelled on the BBC Radio 4’s Down Your Way, in which the Oxford station’s roving reporter, John Simpson, interviewed a selection of locals; unfortunately, we cannot at this time provide a copy, though we can of almost all the following. In 1980 the popular Ray Gosling broadcast an engaging programme based on a visit to Hook Norton which, in fact, followed up a television film he had made some years earlier. Ten years later Gardener’s Question Time came to Hooky, to give advice on issues raised by seven locals. The most unusual recording is that made in 1980 of Hooky’s own poet, George Dumbleton, reciting his verses about old country ways in a North Oxfordshire dialect. The distinguished presenter, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, described it as “rich country music in a voice.”
Of the films available, the first remains the most striking in many ways. 24 Square
Miles was made at the end of the Second World War specifically to reveal the deprivations of rural life in the heart of England. The focus was on a rectangle of farm land southwest of Banbury in which Hook Norton lay, though it is never named. It is difficult to be sure of the precise locality in which each particular rural scene was shot, but the pub and the parish council meeting were surely here. Later films echoed this documentary approach. The best is Ray Gosling’s A Village for Christmas (made about 1970), which is now expensive to get hold of; he followed it up some years after with the radio programme mentioned above. Also worth seeing is a second film named 24 Square Miles (1992), which was designed to see how far (or how little?) things had changed in forty-five years.
This sort of journalistic inquiry was soon matched by amateur film makers whose approach was more consciously historical, who purposefully recorded the past and the process of change. In particular, John and Beryl Gibbs followed their frankly rather amateurish film Hook Norton Past and Present (1984) with the irreplaceable The Outskirts of Hook Norton (1993) and the important documentary Hook Norton in Days Gone By (1995). The last exploits the many striking contemporary photographs taken of the village and its people to recreate life in the parish between 1890 and 1950.
Village life received a more deliberately humorous treatment in two notable ventures of these years. In 1996 the Hook Norton Film Society created an entertaining film called Bare Bones, a comic murder mystery set in “Spoof Norton” which cast a sardonic eye on the village of its time. Still worth watching and fun! Even more original was the piece of processional theatre that members of the village had produced, with outside help, in 1993. Deliberately designed as a passion play reflecting key experiences of the previous hundred years, the audience had to move along the old railway line from Park Farm to the tunnel, chancing upon isolated but linked dramatic scenes. We possess a video of one performance, but it is incomplete and of too poor a quality to be reproduced here. Fortunately Patrick Groome has provided his memories of writing, performing and watching some scenes of a production that was intended to provide A Passion for the Countryside.
These productions of the 1990s were part of an outburst of cultural creativity which included not only the last two Gibbs films but the creation of Hooky Players and other organisations and events that are still with us. Most notably, in 1997 an open-air folk, rock and blues concert was organised under the title Folk in a Field which became an annual fixture. In 2001 it celebrated its fifth birthday by producing a CD starring regular performers, which we are able to reproduce below. In that same year, the Foot-and-Mouth crisis made its continuance unlikely but it survived by moving to non-farming land next to The Gate Hangs High pub, and still survives under the new name it quickly gained: Music at the Crossroads. Together with the Beer Festival, this annual music festival has made possible generous contributions to local and national charities over the last twenty-five years.
For full details of these recordings, see the entries under “Radio” and “Film and Television”, and the separate item on the “Entertaining Creations of the 1990s”.
 The point is discussed in “The Bad Reputation of Hooky Folk” in the Approaches section. A link to the wartime propaganda film is available under “Radio”.
 For Gosling, see “Film and Television” as well as “Radio”. For Dumbleton and his verse, see “The Nostalgic Verse of George Dumbleton” in the Era of Total War section.