Will Hay was born on the 6th December 1888. With his supercilious
sniff and overall air of pompous ineptitude, Will Hay was one of the
great British character comedians of his time. A former bookkeeper,
Hay began his music-hall career in 1909, performing a sketch in which
he impersonated a seedy, incompetent schoolmaster.
was a genius who created a genuinely original persona which worked on
a number of variations including the tattered shifty teacher, barrister,
prison governor or stationmaster which was perhaps his masterpiece.
In whatever circumstances, he was always required to deceive both superiors
and inferiors, the latter proving sharper at detecting the radical incompetence
beneath his seedy dignity. Accompanied by fat boy Graham Moffitt and
toothless old codger Moore Marriott he created a comic oeuvre as endearing
and enduring as any in British cinema.
1931, Will was elected 'King Rat of the Grand Order of Water Rats',
which gave him great pride and a opportunity to acquaint himself better
with like-minded fellow artistes within the exclusiveness of the club.
The club was a charity organisation who fund raised for the less fortunate.
In 1933, Hay applied his astronomical skills and discovered a white
spot on Saturn. He published his findings in his 1935 book Through My
Telescope. For this achievement, he was made a fellow of the Royal Astronomical
Society. He even gets a mention in Patrick Moore's biography.
second in popularity only to George Formby at the British box office,
in 1940 Hay put his film-making on hold. During the war, his specialist
knowledge was so good that he gave up acting to teach astronomy and
navigation to the Royal Navy Reserve Special Branch as a Sub lieutenant.
One wonders how he could be taken seriously after several years of portraying
an exceptionally incompetent teacher.
worked at Elstree, then Gainsborough, then Ealing; the Gainsborough
period was the most consistently successful. Just as Tony Hancock, in
some ways a descendant of Hay, would later cut himself off from sidekick
Sid James, Hay felt impelled to break up the partnership with Moffatt
and Marriott and was, likewise, never quite the same again, although
‘The Goose Steps Out for Ealing’ (1943) was an effective
anti-Nazi piece of slapstick. His classic movies include ‘Oh Mr
Porter’, ‘Where’s that Fire’ and ‘Ask