J R Hartley Fly Fishing

If you're old enough to remember the 1980s, you must have seen the famous Yellow Pages TV advert that revolves around an elderly gent trying to track down a rare book - Fly Fishing, by J. R. Hartley. It featured during the ad breaks many times and viewers never seemed to grow tired of seeing it.

J R Hartley

Visibly disappointed when he fails to find it in a number of second-hand book shops he perseveres doggedly, ringing countless more, until eventually he unearths a copy with the help of the Yellow Pages.

Of course, the twist at the end reveals that the delighted senior citizen, who asks the bookshop to reserve him a copy, turns out to be J. R. Hartley himself!

Bearing in mind this was 1983 and long before the days when you could simply Google it or find a copy on eBay, the advert possessed plenty of nostalgic charm. A Channel 4 poll named it as the 13th best advert of all time and J. R. Hartley became a household name. In fact, the advert created such great intrigue that many anglers began enquiring where they could buy a copy of the book.

What many people may be surprised to learn, is that J. R. Hartley is a fictional character invented by the Yellow Pages advertising executives - but a character so realistic that almost 35 years later, he still rings true.

So many people enquired about Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley that a spin-off book of the same name was published in time for Christmas. It was written by author Michael Russell under the pseudonym J. R. Hartley and was so popular that it was reprinted eight times and became a bestseller in its own right.

It used the expertise and knowledge of leading fly fishermen to cover a range of techniques and locations. It even led to a further best seller, J. R. Hartley Casts Again - More Memories of Angling Days in 1992.

So, who was the actor that portrayed J. R. Hartley so realistically in the famous advert? Norman Lumsden was a veteran singer and actor, who at 77 achieved national fame by playing the fly fisherman.

During his long and distinguished career, Mr Lumsden was one of composer Benjamin Britten's favourite singers, with the roles of Superintendent Budd in Albert Herring and Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream written especially for his bass voice.

He performed at every cathedral in Britain, singing the bass solo in Handel's Messiah more than 200 times, including on a BBC recording marking the bicentenary of Handel's death.

As an actor, he appeared in several popular TV series, including Jeeves and Wooster, One Foot in the Grave and The Sweeney, as well as having a role as a butler in the 1990 Clint Eastwood film, White Hunter, Black Heart. However, he will forever be remembered for his role as J. R. Hartley in the famous commercial.

Mr Lumsden actually took up fly fishing in 1985 following the success of the advert. He died aged 95 in 2001, following a short illness. The advert was broadcast again in his memory.

The intrigue of J. R. Hartley lived on long after his death, with a news story in the Daily Mail in 2013 suggesting the nostalgic character was based on 19th century fishing tackle dealer and angler William Blacker. His book, Art and Angling: Complete System of Fly Making and Dying of Colours, was full of designs and patterns for flies.

It was originally sold with 33 pre-made flies and was credited with transforming angling from a gentleman’s pastime into a nationwide phenomenon for people from all walks of life.

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