Vic Oliver

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Vic Oliver, born Victor Oliver von Samek (8 July 1898 – 15 August 1964) was a British actor and radio comedian.

Life and career[edit]

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 World War I 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.[1]

He starred in the BBC radio show Hi, Gang!;[1] 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.[2] In 1953 he established Variety Playhouse as a primetime radio show featuring music, comedy and light drama. The show did not survive him.[1]

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.[2]

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.[citation needed]

Oliver married Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah, in 1936. Churchill did not approve of him; 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.[2] Oliver married Natalie Frances Conder in 1946 in Westminster, London.

Vic Oliver wrote an autobiography: Mr Showbusiness[1]


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.[3] He later became president of the Brentford Supporters' Club.


He died in Johannesburg, South Africa, aged 66.[2]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Obituary, The Times Online, Monday, Aug 17, 1964; pg. 10, accessed 13 Feb 2015
  2. ^ a b c d Alex Hudson (26 January 2012). "The castaway who annoyed Churchill". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  3. ^ Haynes, Graham (1998). A-Z Of Bees: Brentford Encyclopaedia. Yore Publications. ISBN 1 874427 57 7.