Will Hay: Wikis


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Will Hay

A publicity shot for the film
The Ghost of St. Michael's.
Born William Thomson Hay
6 December 1888(1888-12-06)
Stockton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire (now Cleveland, England)
Died 18 April 1949 (aged 60)
Chelsea, London, England
Cause of death Stroke
Resting place Streatham Park Cemetery, London
Occupation Actor, comedian, film director, astronomer
Years active 1933–1944
Spouse(s) Gladys Perkins (1907-1935) (divorced)
Children Gladys Elspeth Hay (b. 1909)
William E. Hay (b. 1913)
Joan A. Hay (b. 1917)

William Thomson "Will" Hay (6 December 1888 – 18 April 1949) was an English comedian, actor, film director and amateur astronomer.

He was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England to William R. Hay and his wife Elizabeth but moved to Suffolk at an early age.[1][2]



Hay was educated at Gardner Street Higher Grade School in Pendleton, a suburb of Salford — then in Lancashire, but now within Greater Manchester.

Film Career

Hay was trained as an engineer and joined a firm of engineers but at the age of 21 he gave up that profession for the stage, starting in Manchester, in 1909, as a juggler, self-taught after seeing W C Fields doing it in a film. Later, he took up acting. He had a relatively brief screen career: by the time he made his first film he was in his mid-40s and an established music hall artist, and his last role came less than a decade later. But between 1934 and 1943 he was a prolific and popular film comedian. He was credited on several films as a writer or co-ordinator, and was arguably the dominant "author" of all the films in which he appeared, in that they were built around his persona and depended on the character and routines he had developed over years on the stage.

He worked at the British film studios of Elstree, then Gainsborough, then Ealing; the Gainsborough period was the most consistently successful, particularly when he worked with the team of Marcel Varnel (director), Val Guest and Marriott Edgar (writers), and Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt (supporting cast) - as on the railway film Oh, Mr Porter! (1937), his most fondly remembered picture with its catchphrase, 'The next train's gone!', spoken by Marriott as the decrepit old deputy stationmaster. Hay decided to break up the partnership with Moffatt and Marriott and was never quite the same again. He brought in Claude Hulbert as his side-kick for The Ghost of St. Michael's (1941). The Goose Steps Out for Ealing (1942) was an effective anti-Nazi piece of slapstick, and, finally, My Learned Friend (1943), again with Hulbert, was a masterpiece of black comedy, which some regard as his best.

Radio career

The half hour weekly Will Hay Programme began in August 1944, and was broadcast live from the Paris Cinema, which still exists in a basement just off Piccadilly Circus. There, St. Michael's schoolmaster Dr. Muffin (referred to by his students as Old Crumpet) barely kept a kind of order from his desk, perched slightly higher from his unruly students, Charles Hawtrey who played the cheeky Smart (later to go on to the Carry On films), John Clark, a child actor who played the annoying swot D'arcy Minor (later to gain fame as Just William), and an air force recruit, Billy Nichols, who on his days off played the really dumb schoolboy, Beckett. The series lasted about four months, and was prematurely cancelled, owing, it was said, to a dispute with the BBC over scripts. But it found a continuing life on the music hall stage, at the top of the bill at London's Victoria Palace.

The cast was brought together one last time for an all variety anticipatory celebration at midnight on 4 May 1945 for the Royal Family and many military notables at a private function at the Life Guards barracks in Windsor, which featured the leading comics of the day. The war in Europe ended just four days later. This may also have been Will Hay's last performance prior to his illness, and his son Will Hay, Jr. carried on his father's act for a while.

Private life

Aside from his day job as a comedian, Hay was a dedicated and respected amateur astronomer. His personal observatory sat in his garden in Mill Hill, the dome very visible from the main Hendon Road. He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1932. He is noted for having discovered a white spot on the planet Saturn in 1933;[3] the spot lasted for a few months and then faded. He also measured the positions of comets with a micrometer he built himself, and designed and built a blink comparator. He wrote the book Through My Telescope in 1935, which had an impressive foreward by Sir Richard Gregory FRS, formerly Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at Queen's College, London. At Hay's death, a few items of his equipment were bequeathed to the British Astronomical Association.

He was also one of Britain's first private pilots and gave flying lessons to Amy Johnson. In 1942, as part of the war effort, he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, serving in the Special Branch as a sub-lieutenant. He was able to put his hobby to practical use when he later became an instructor in astronomy and navigation with the Sea Cadet Corps.

He was a polyglot and, before entering the acting profession full time, was an accomplished translator - fluent in French, German, Latin, Italian, Norwegian and Afrikaans.

As a favourite trick for his friends, he would write rapidly seeming nonsense on a blackboard, look at it thoughtfully for a minute with a puzzled expression, then turn the blackboard upside down and there would be a perfectly written statement of some kind. And he could take someone's dictation, and repeat the trick.

He married Gladys Perkins in 1907[4] but legally separated on 18 November 1935. They had two daughters and a son: Gladys Elspeth Hay (b. 1909),[5] William E. Hay (b. 1913),[6] and Joan A. Hay (b. 1917).[7]

In 1947, Hay suffered a stroke which left him physically crippled. He died at his flat in Chelsea, London after a further stroke in 1949 and is buried in Streatham Park Cemetery, London SW16.[8]


See also




  1. ^ 1891 UK census: RG12/1494 f.56 p.47 & p.48 - 192 Clapham Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk
  2. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1889 10a 49 STOCKTON - William Thomson Hay
  3. ^ MNRAS 94 (1933) 85
  4. ^ GRO Register of Marriages: DEC 1907 8d 287 SALFORD - William Thomson Hay = Gladys Perkins
  5. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1909 8d 83 - Gladys Elspeth Hay
  6. ^ GRO Register of Births: SEP 1913 8d 120 SALFORD - William E. Hay
  7. ^ GRO Register of Births: SEP 1917 8d 64 SALFORD - Joan A. Hay
  8. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1949 5c 251 CHELSEA - William T. Hay, aged 60

Further reading

  • Good Morning Boys: Will Hay Master of Comedy by Ray Seaton and Roy Martin, Barrie and Jenkins, 1978
  • Will Hay by Graham Rinaldi with foreword by Ken Dodd, Tomahawk Press, 2009

External links


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