A publicity shot for the film
The Ghost of St. Michael's.
|Born||William Thomson Hay
6 December 1888
Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England, UK
|Died||18 April 1949
Chelsea, London, England, UK
|Cause of death||Stroke|
|Resting place||Streatham Park Cemetery, London|
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, film director, astronomer|
|Spouse(s)||Gladys Perkins (1907-35) (divorced)|
|Children||Gladys Elspeth Hay (b. 1909)
William E. Hay (b. 1913)
Joan A. Hay (b. 1917)
Early life 
He was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham (now Cleveland) in North East England, to William Robert Hay (1851 - 1920) and his wife Elizabeth (née Ebden), but moved to Suffolk at an early age.
Stage and 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 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 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 while he was never quite the same again without Moffatt and Marriott, My Learned Friend (1943) again with Hulbert, is considered 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 pupils as Old Crumpet) barely kept a kind of order from his desk, perched slightly higher from his unruly pupils, 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; 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 foreword by Sir Richard Gregory, 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 built a glider in 1909. Later he became one of the Britain's first private pilots and owners, and gave flying lessons to Amy Johnson. In 1942, as part of the war effort, he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), 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.
As a favourite trick for his friends, he would rapidly write 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, 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 (b. 1909), William E. Hay (b. 1913), and Joan A. Hay (b. 1917).
- Playmates (Around the Town) (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.
See also 
- Radio comedy
- Cinema of the United Kingdom
- List of British actors and actresses
- English film directors
- 1891 UK census: RG12/1494 f.56 p.47 & p.48 - 192 Clapham Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk
- GRO Register of Births: MAR 1889 10a 49 STOCKTON - William Thomson Hay
- MNRAS 94 (1933) 85
- "=Music Hall Guild". Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- GRO Register of Marriages: DEC 1907 8d 287 SALFORD - William Thomson Hay = Gladys Perkins
- Hockey, Thomas (2009). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. Springer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
- GRO Register of Births: MAR 1909 8d 83 - Gladys Elspeth Hay
- GRO Register of Births: SEP 1913 8d 120 SALFORD - William E. Hay
- GRO Register of Births: SEP 1917 8d 64 SALFORD - Joan A. Hay
- GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1949 5c 251 CHELSEA - William T. Hay, aged 60
- "PICTURES and PERSONALITIES.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 10 April 1937. p. 5. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "FORMBY IS POPULAR ACTOR.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) (Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 25 February 1939. p. 5. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
Further reading 
- Will Hay by Graham Rinaldi with foreword by Ken Dodd, Tomahawk Press, 2009
- Will Hay at the Internet Movie Database
- Will Hay.Comic Genius
- Astronomical obituary MNRAS '''110''' (1950) 130 - NB: this biography wrongly gives Hay's middle name as Thompson - it was Thomson
- The Next Train's Gone: Will Hay pages including bio and audio
- Radio files
- Will Hay and his telescopes: A comprehensive account of Hay's astronomical observations