The Will Hay Collection marks Part Four of the Optimum Comic Icons
series which has previously celebrated Peter Sellers, Terry Thomas, Leslie Phillips,
Sidney James and Tony Hancock. The Will Hay Collection comprises The
Ghost of St Michael's; The Black Sheep of Whitehall;
BORN IN STOCKTON-ON-TEES, WILLIAM THOMSON HAY initially toured with the Fred
Karno troupe. At the age of 46, after 25 years in music hall and radio, Hay
finally made his feature film debut in 1934 with Those Were The Days.
Hay found his metier portraying inept, somewhat rapscallion school-masters whose
pupils know a great deal more than they do. The films collected here
all taken from Hay's most prolific period ably demonstrate his
capacity for scoundrels, but they also reveal more of his extensive repertoire
of characters. One of the most enjoyable satires, Radio Parade of 1935, gives
an interesting insight into life at a BBC-type corporation and casts Hay against
type as a suave and remote Director-General.
The perennially popular The Ghost of St Michael's is one of Hay's signature
roles with the comedian appearing as William Lamb, supposedly an Eton-educated
The final film in the set, The Black Sheep of Whitehall, is from Hay's fertile
Ealing period. Co-directed with Basil Dearden, the film is a riveting comic
yarn involving Nazi activity and features Hay in no less than six guises.
Frequently working in collaboration with performers Moore Marriott, Graham Moffatt
and Claude Hulbert, Hay went on to make 19 films in total. Making a significant
contribution to the British comedy oeuvre, Hay's films remain enduring British
RADIO PARADE OF 1935 (1934) A terrific and thoroughly enter-taining
satire/musical that pokes fun at corporations such as the BBC, Radio Parade
of 1935 features Will Hay in uncharacteristically suave mode as William Garland,
the Director-General of the National Broad-casting Group, a remote figure who
has never even seen his own studios. Surrounded by Yes-men, he is impressed
with the confidence of Complaints Manager Jimmy Clare (Clifford Mollison) who
wants to have a more hands-on position in developing the staid NBG and intro-ducing
his new ideas to popularise the medium.
Garland's daughter Joan (Helen Chandler) bullies him into employing
her and she ends up working as a secretary for Jimmy. His plan for
an ambitious project using celebrities for a 'Vaudeville Broadcast' is thwarted
by dastardly theatrical agent Carl Graham (Alfred Drayton) who bans his stars
from taking part in the prestigious NBG show.
There are some marvellous moments, from a radio broadcast: "…punitive variation
is commonly nothing but the recurrence of a recessive form or the emergence
of some other segregant from a stock genetically impure" and NBG's ethos
"gently educating the masses" to the singing weathermen and a
very interesting duel with fingers! The action takes place mainly in a fabulous
art deco building and the highlight is definitely the show at the end, with
flashes of colour,
which is truly magnificent. Directed by Arthur Woods, fantastic names abound
such as: Major General Sir Frederick Ffortheringhay (Davy Barnaby) and Col Egbert
Featherstone Haugh-Haugh (a mistake in the credits lists him as Huagh-Haugh!)
played by Robert Nainby. Another Elstree hit.
THE GHOST OF ST MICHAEL'S (1941) Hugely popular
on its release and a delightful farce, The Ghost of St Michael's features Hay
of his signature roles as the clueless William Lamb, a pedagogue called out
of retirement because of the war to join the staff of a school that has been
evacuated to the remote Scottish Dunbain castle on the Isle of Skye, where the
sinister Jamie (John Laurie) is caretaker.
According to legend, the castle is haunted and whoever hears the sound of ghostly
bagpipes will die. Two headmasters the professional Dr Winter
(Felix Aylmer) and the scheming Mr Humphries (Raymond Huntley)
have met a grisly end and Lamb's supposed scientific know-ledge is called upon
to solve the gruesome mystery.
He is ably helped by the boys, including the cheeky Percy Thorn
(a youthful Charles Hawtrey) and fellow master Hilary Tisdale (the wonderful
While tracking down the murderer they uncover a German plot and a spy in their
midst. Produced and recorded at Ealing Studios, The Ghost of St Michael's is
from an original story and screenplay by Angus MacPhail and John Dighton and
is directed by Marcel Varnel. It also features Hay Petrie.
BLACK SHEEP OF WHITEHALL (1942) "In England there are many
seats of learning: Oxford; Cambridge; Eton; Harrow and… er, the Harrow Correspondence
The Black Sheep of Whitehall features Hay as so-called Professor Wil-liam Davis,
the head of a dubious correspondence college who becomes embroiled with the
Nazis as they try to prevent the signing of a trade agreement. The film is set
during the war and on learning that a Nazi agent has breached security and is
posing as the economics expert responsible for setting up the international
agreement the Anglo-South American Pact the good
professor and his would-be pupil Bobby Jessup (John Mills) try to find the real
expert, Professor Davys (Henry Hewitt), who has been kidnapped and hidden away
in a private hospital.
The usual farcical coincidences, cases of mistaken identity and cross-dressing
all in the best possible taste! ensue as Davis and
Jessup race against time to release Davys. Bad guy Arthur Costello is wickedly
played by Basil Sydney. The cast also includes Felix Aylmer, Owen Reynolds,
Joss Ambler and Leslie Mitchell as the confused and frus-trated BBC interviewer
who finds himself unwittingly interviewing Davis, not Davys. "What," he asks
Will Hay, "do you recommend against inflation?" "Bicarbonate of Soda," says
the professor! A very youthful Thora Hird plays Davis' secretary, Joyce, and
The Matron is played by Margaret Halstam with Barbara Valerie as Sister Spooner.
Directed by Basil Dearden and Will Hay, The Black Sheep of Whitehall is from
an original story and screenplay by Angus MacPhail and John Dighton.
The Will Hay Collection comprises:
The Ghost of St Michael's; The Black Sheep of Whitehall; Radio
Parade of 1935 (All new to UK DVD). Running Time: 240 minutes approx; Region
2; B&W; Cat No OPTD1043; English Language; RRP £34.99. Released on DVD 29 October