Will Hay

From Academic Kids

William Thompson Hay (December 6 1888April 18 1949) was a British comedian and actor and amateur astronomer. He was born in Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland, England.

He was trained as an engineer and joined a firm of engineers but at the age of 21 he gave up that profession for 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 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). 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.

Aside from his day job as a comedian, Hay was a dedicated and respected amateur astronomer. 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 [MNRAS 94 (1933) 85 (http://cdsads.u-strasbg.fr//full/seri/MNRAS/0094//0000085.000.html)]; 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.

He was also one of Britain's first private pilots and gave flying lessons to Amy Johnson. Before entering the acting profession full time, he was an accomplished translator - fluent in French, German, Latin, Italian, Norwegian and Afrikaans.

In 1943, Will Hay received treatment for cancer which left him too weak for theatre and film performances - he returned to his roots in radio programming. In 1947 he had a stroke which left him physically crippled, forcing him into retirement. He died after a further stroke in 1949.

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