The day Gene Autry came to town

Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I wanted to be a cowboy.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see the ten-year-old me, racing home from school on a Wednesday, rushing through my math homework, then sitting glued to the TV, with my sausage chips and beans, marvelling at the adventures of Rin-tin-tin and Annie Oakley.

On the TV I watched anything and everything to do with the wild-west because, when I grew up, the cowboy life would be the only life for me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering how I can still remember the meal I was eating on a Wednesday, nearly seventy years ago — you need to know this. We always had sausages and beans on Wednesdays. That’s just the way it was in our house. If you knew what day it was, you knew what you were getting for supper.

I watched so many Westerns, but the man in the white hat, the Lone Ranger, is the cowboy I desperately wanted to be when I grew up. Even though I had no idea how to become a ranger, “lone” or otherwise.

He was my hero.

Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Annie Oakley and Gene Autry all wore Stetsons, but it was the Lone Ranger who made the white cowboy hat famous.

When I was five, I went to one of Gene Autry’s cowboy demonstrations, held his six-shooter for a few seconds, then got roped and tied together with a bunch of other kids. He dressed all in white and sung us a song he wrote you might know – “You are my sunshine”.

It was the fashion back then for famous cowboys to visit the UK and give demonstrations of roping, shooting and singing.

Gene Autry was one of the most popular and successful entertainers of his time. He gained fame as a singing cowboy in movies and on television, captivating audiences with his charming personality and musical talent. He recorded numerous hit songs and starred in over 90 films, becoming one of the biggest box office draws of the 1930s and 1940s. So, even though he became one of the most beloved and successful figures in the entertainment industry, it was a bit of a disappointment really. It wasn’t the same as the Lone Ranger being there.

Gene Autry had a white hat, of course. It may even have been a Stetson. But it wasn’t the white hat the Lone Ranger wore. And the Lone Ranger didn’t sing!

The Lone Ranger TV series, which aired from 1949 to 1957, was the highest-rated television program on ABC in the early 1950s, and it probably explains why I feel such an affinity with a Texas Ranger, who fought outlaws in the Old West, together with his Indian sidekick “Tonto”.

Departing on his white stallion, Silver, the Lone Ranger would shout, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!” As they galloped off, someone would always ask, “Who was that masked man anyway?”

Tonto usually referred to the Lone Ranger as “Ke-mo sah-bee”, meaning “trusty scout” or “trusted friend.” These catchphrases, his trademark silver bullets, and the theme music from the William Tell overture are remembered by the millions like me, who came of age during the decades of the show’s initial popularity, or have viewed the television series.

The Lone Ranger served as a symbol of hope and justice for the downtrodden and oppressed. A good old-fashioned hero. He instilled a sense of optimism and idealism, inspiring audiences to stand up for what is right.

He has left a lasting imprint on society, shaping popular culture, promoting positive values, and inspiring countless individuals to be courageous and just in their actions. Thanks to the Lone Ranger, some started to learn these important life lessons as young boys, just as I did.

I had the extreme good fortune to have been born and lived on this planet during the most incredible years of its history. I’ve had a wonderful life where every day brought new challenges, but also new rewards. So I really can’t complain.

And I’ve owned more than one white Stetson in my time. But I never managed to become a Lone Ranger; not even a cowboy.

And now I never will.

”Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”

~ Lone Ranger

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