|Born||Victor Oliver von Samek
8 July 1898
|Died||15 August 1964
Johannesburg, South Africa
|Alma mater||Vienna University|
|Battles/wars||First World War|
Victor Oliver von Samek (8 July 1898 – 15 August 1964), known as Vic Oliver, was an Austrian-born British actor and radio comedian.
Life and career
He was born in Vienna, the son of Baron Viktor von Samek. He studied medicine at Vienna University but abandoned it for his first love, music. For a time he studied under Mahler. During the First World War he served in the Austrian Cavalry. After the war he worked as a banker and a textile manufacturer before returning to music. In 1926 he visited the United States as a conductor and violinist. He discovered his gift for comedy by chance when he had to apologise to his audience for something. A new career as a comedian took him all over the United States. He reached the Palace Theatre, New York in 1929 and the London Palladium two years later. This established him in the United Kingdom and with his deferential, modest humour, he became very popular. He was kept busy in musical revues, variety and pantomime.
He starred in the BBC radio show Hi, Gang!; and appeared in many others, including Discord in Three Flats (1962) with Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert. He played the violin (deliberately badly in his shows). He had aspirations as a conductor and founded the Vic Oliver Concert Orchestra which gave light classical concerts. In 1953 he established Variety Playhouse as a primetime radio show featuring music, comedy and light drama. The show did not survive him.
He was a regular on Henry Hall's Guest Night and Workers' Playtime and, as a music-based comedian, has been considered a precursor of Victor Borge. He was the very first 'castaway' on the long-running radio series Desert Island Discs in 1942.
As a Jew, his name was reportedly listed on a Nazi blacklist (known as "The Black Book") of people to be arrested (and killed) immediately in the event of a successful German invasion of Britain.
Oliver married Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah, in 1936. They had become secretly engaged when they were appearing together in a Cochran revue. Churchill did not approve of him. There was nothing whatever against Oliver's character but he had been divorced at least once, possibly twice. Some thought there was negativity also towards those involved with music halls and their folk. There is an anecdote that at a dinner party at which Oliver was present, Churchill was asked whom he most admired. Churchill replied, "Mussolini". When asked why, he replied, "Because he had the good sense to shoot his son-in-law!" Oliver and Sarah divorced in 1945. It was noted that Oliver never capitalised on his relationship with Churchill despite attractive offers. Oliver married Natalie Frances Conder in 1946 in Westminster, London and they had one daughter.
Vic Oliver wrote an autobiography: Mr Showbusiness
After arriving in the United Kingdom in 1936, Oliver became a supporter of Division One side Brentford and was vice-president of the club in the early 1950s. He later became president of the Brentford Supporters' Club.
Oliver is briefly portrayed in the 2002 film The Gathering Storm. He was played by Gerrard McArthur.
- Rhythm in the Air (1936)
- Who's Your Lady Friend? (1937)
- Meet Mr. Penny (1938)
- Around the Town (1938)
- Room for Two (1940)
- Hi Gang! (1941)
- He Found a Star (1941)
- Give Us the Moon (1944)
- I'll Be Your Sweetheart (1945)
- "Vic Oliver". BFI.
- Obituary, The Times Online, Monday, 17 August 1964; pg. 10, accessed 13 Feb 2015
- Alex Hudson (26 January 2012). "The castaway who annoyed Churchill". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Robert Lewis Taylor (1952) Winston Churchill. Pub Pocket Books Inc, New York. ASIN: B000L3RZ72 p375
- Haynes, Graham (1998). A-Z Of Bees: Brentford Encyclopaedia. Yore Publications. ISBN 1 874427 57 7.