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'Scots' actor Justice outed as Londoner

THE booming voice and commanding manner helped make him one of the nation's most famous character actors, starring in classics such as Whisky Galore! and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

James Robertson Justice matched his professional achievements with his love of Scotland, habitually donning a kilt, adopting a Gaelic name, and beating Sean Connery for the job of rector of Edinburgh University.

And the star of the Doctor In The House film series was equally proud of his Scottish birthplace, usually given as Wigtown, although Justice himself said he was born on Skye.

But research for a new biography on Justice has revealed the actor was a "huge liar" whose real birthplace was distinctly un-Scottish: a London borough.

Writer James Hogg examined Justice's birth certificate and was astounded to discover his subject was born at 39 Baring Road, Lewisham.

He also discovered his name at birth was James Norval Harold Justice. Hogg believes he may have dropped his original middle names and adopted a new one to justify his habit in later life of wearing the Robertson tartan.

Hogg believes Justice invented his Scottish birthplace because he had a difficult relationship with his Scots-born father and suspects the actor spent the rest of his life trying to compensate.

Whatever the reason, it has become universally accepted that Justice was Scots-born. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) is among hundreds of respected sources which recorded his place of birth as Wigtown. It very recently changed its listing, but only after Hogg sent them a copy of the birth certificate.

Hogg told Scotland on Sunday: "He was a huge liar. He used to tell all kinds of stories."

In James Robertson Justice: What's The Bleeding Time? Hogg interviews several guests at a dinner party attended by the actor. Justice regaled guests with a colourful account of how he was not only born on Skye, but specifically "underneath a distillery".

Embarrassingly for Justice, his mother was also present and claimed a clearer recollection of the occasion, placing it in London. According to guests, Justice ordered her to leave the room.

Justice claimed to have been born in Scotland long before he became a film actor in his late thirties. He cared little for the profession, being much more interested in falconry and Scotland, which for many years was his home as an adult.

Hogg is convinced Justice's spurious claims are rooted in his passion for the nation, but also in a complex and difficult relationship with his father, who was born in Scotland but cared little for his country and left as soon as he could. His father wandered the world as a mining engineer before settling in Kent, by which time his son was off at boarding school.

Hogg said: "He had a love-hate relationship with his father. James Justice Sr was very demanding and they clashed on many issues, including his wish that his son would join the Foreign Office. Justice even emigrated to Canada for a while to escape the pressure, describing himself as "Scotch" on documents at the time.

"His father detested the Scots, absolutely hated them," said Hogg. "I honestly don't know why, but that went some way to James being so pro-Scots."

But surely Justice could justifiably claim Scottish heritage and origins without lying about his birthplace?

"I think more than anything it was a love of the country," said Hogg. "I would say the reason he always told people he was born up there was because that's what he genuinely wanted."

During the Second World War, Justice served in the Royal Navy. He was seemingly wounded, and it is not clear whether he was a serviceman or civilian when he went to Lossiemouth to work on runways at the Royal Naval air base.

Subsequently he moved to Wigtown, where he ostensibly made his living shooting geese, though it was rumoured he worked for military intelligence and even went on an undercover mission to Germany. He was a regular at both the Grapes Inn and the RAF officers' mess.

He was a distinctive figure, driving round the countryside in a Rolls-Royce. When asked how that fitted in with his socialist principles, he insisted it would be converted into an armoured car come the revolution. He was the Labour Party election agent for Galloway in 1945. He eventually did a "midnight flit", leaving a stack of unpaid bills.

He ended up in movies by chance, beginning with a tiny part as a military officer. He was a close friend of Peter Scott, which helped land him the role of Petty Officer Evans in the film about his explorer father, Scott Of The Antarctic (1948), and he played the doctor in the Ealing classic Whisky Galore! (1949).

As Sir Lancelot Spratt, the bombastic chief surgeon in Doctor In The House (1954), he shared the gag that is sometimes cited as the funniest single joke in British comedy. He explains the concept of "bleeding time" to his students, turns to the inattentive Dirk Bogarde and demands "You - what's the bleeding time?". Bogarde replies: "Ten past ten, sir."

Birth of the great pretenders

David Niven presented the image of the archetypal Englishman on screen, though his birthplace was always cited as Kirriemuir in Angus. His father was Scottish and Niven served in the Highland Light Infantry, but his birth certificate shows he was born in Belgravia in London, which came as a surprise even to his children.

Donald Crisp built a career playing Scottish characters in Hollywood. He insisted he was from Aberfeldy and retained his Scottish accent throughout life. But after his death, it was revealed that he was a cockney with no Scottish connections.

Errol Flynn was born in Tasmania, but initially claimed to be from Ireland because it seemed more romantic.

By contrast, Merle Oberon, above, claimed to be from Tasmania, although she was born in India. She maintained an elaborate pretence to hide her mixed-race origins.

 
 
 

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