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Hay, Will (1888-1949)


Main image of Hay, Will (1888-1949)

A comic genius who created a genuinely original persona which worked variations on the tattered, shifty 'professional', whether teacher (Boys Will Be Boys (1935), Good Morning, Boys! (1937), Ghost of St Michael's (1941)), barrister (My Learned Friend (1943)), prison governor (Convict 99 (1939)) or stationmaster (Oh, Mr Porter! (1937), 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 Moffatt and toothless old codger Moore Marriott in half a dozen films for Gainsborough, directed usually by Frenchman Marcel Varnel or American William Beaudine, he created a comic oeuvre as endearing and enduring as any in British cinema.

When he went to Ealing in 1941, he co-directed (with Basil Dearden) as well as starring, and in another Ealing film, The Big Blockade (d. Charles Frend, 1942), he broke with his baffled inefficiency to play a straight role.

In private life, he was apparently a very serious man with a profound interest in astronomy; he published Through My Telescope (1935).

Biographies: Funny Way to Be a Hero by John Fisher (1973); Good Morning Boys by Ray Seaton (1978).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Entertains with anecdotes about the army, alcohol and Americans

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Ask A Policeman (1939)Ask A Policeman (1939)

A policeman is forced to commit crimes to avoid the sack

Thumbnail image of Boys Will Be Boys (1935)Boys Will Be Boys (1935)

Will Hay brings his much-loved schoolmaster act to the screen

Thumbnail image of Convict 99 (1938)Convict 99 (1938)

Comedy with Will Hay mistaken for both prisoner and governor

Thumbnail image of Go to Blazes (1942)Go to Blazes (1942)

Will Hay shows how not to deal with fire bombs in a comic instructional film

Thumbnail image of Goose Steps Out, The (1942)Goose Steps Out, The (1942)

WWII comedy with Will Hay dropped behind enemy lines

Thumbnail image of My Learned Friend (1943)My Learned Friend (1943)

Surprisingly dark Will Hay comedy about the law, blackmail and murder

Thumbnail image of Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)Oh, Mr Porter! (1937)

Will Hay as a bumbling stationmaster in his most famous comedy

Thumbnail image of Old Bones of the River (1938)Old Bones of the River (1938)

Will Hay comedy about an African colonial administrator

Thumbnail image of Windbag the Sailor (1936)Windbag the Sailor (1936)

Will Hay comedy that puts him in charge of a most unseaworthy vessel

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Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Varnel, Marcel (1892-1947)Varnel, Marcel (1892-1947)


Thumbnail image of Ealing Studios (1938-59)Ealing Studios (1938-59)

Film Studio, Production Company

Thumbnail image of Gainsborough Pictures (1924-51)Gainsborough Pictures (1924-51)