William Thomson "Will" Hay (6 December 1888 - 18 April 1949) was an English comedian, actor, film director and amateur astronomer.
Hay was born William Thomson Hay at 23 Durham Street in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England, to William Robert Hay (1851-1920) and his wife Elizabeth (born 1859) (née Ebden) who married on 31 May 1883. Hay had one brother, Harold Gordon and three sisters, Evelyn Jane, Lizzie and Annie. When Hay was less than a year old the family moved to Suffolk.
Stage and film career:
Hay joined a firm of engineers, before becoming an actor at age 21. He appeared in Manchester as a juggler after seeing W.C. Fields perform. Hay had a brief screen career; by the time he made his first film he was in his mid-40s. Between 1934 and 1943 he was a popular comedy actor and was credited in several films as a writer.
Prior to Hay's career in film he was popular in the 1920s, with his famous "The fourth form at St. Michaels" sketches, because of his famous Schoolmaster gimmick he toured in various countries all over the world, including South Africa and Canada. Hay also toured in America with "The fourth form at St. Michael's" skecthes, and Hay was one of the only Vaudeville performers to have a successful film career. Having returned to England, Hay worked at Elstree Studios, Gainsborough Pictures, and Ealing Studios; his time spent at Gainsborough was his most successful period where he worked with Marcel Varnel, Val Guest, Marriott Edgar, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. Hay decided to break up the partnership with Moffatt and Marriott and established a successful working relationship with Claude Hulbert, who played his side-kick in The Ghost of St. Michael's (1941). The Goose Steps Out (1942) for Ealing was an effective piece of anti-Nazi slapstick. The following year he appeared in the black comedy My Learned Friend (1943) with Hulbert.
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. The series lasted for four months, and was prematurely cancelled, owing, to a dispute with the BBC over scripting. The show later transferred to the Victoria Palace in London. The cast later reformed on 4 May 1945 for the Royal Family and many military notables at a private function at the Life Guards barracks in Windsor.
Aside from his day job as a comedian, Hay was a dedicated and respected amateur astronomer. He constructed a personal observatory sat in his garden in Mill Hill and built a glider in 1909. He became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1932 and is noted for having discovered a white spot on the planet Saturn in 1933; 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 a foreword by Sir Richard Gregory, formerly Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at Queen's College, London. When Hay died, a few items of his equipment were bequeathed to the British Astronomical Association.
He married Gladys Perkins (1889-1982) in 1907, whom he had known since he was 15, but legally separated on 18 November 1935. They had two daughters and a son: Gladys Elspeth Hay, the Couple's eldest daughter was born on 12 February 1909., William E. Hay (b. 1913), and Joan A. Hay (1917-1975).
In 1947, Hay suffered a stroke which left him physically disabled. He died at his flat in Chelsea, London after a further stroke in 1949 and is buried in Streatham Park Cemetery, London SW16.
Playmates (1922) (A silent short),
Know Your Apples (1933) (A short and lost film),
Those Were the Days (1934),
Radio Parade of 1935 (1934),
Dandy Dick (1935),
Boys Will Be Boys (1935),
Windbag the Sailor (1936),
Where There's a Will (1936),
Oh, Mr Porter! (1937),
Good Morning, Boys (1937),
Hey! Hey! USA (1938),
Old Bones of the River (1938),
Ask a Policeman (1939),
Convict 99 (1939),
The Big Blockade (1940),
Where's That Fire? (1940),
The Ghost of St. Michael's (1941),
Go to Blazes (1942),
The Goose Steps Out (1942),
The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1942),
My Learned Friend (1943),
Box office ranking:
For a number of years, British film exhibitors voted him among the top ten British stars at the box office via an annual poll in the Motion Picture Herald.
1936 - 8th,
1937 - 4th,
1938 - 3rd