Vic Oliver

Victor Oliver von Samek (8 July 1898 – 15 August 1964), known as Vic Oliver, was an Austrian-born British actor and radio comedian.[1]

Vic Oliver
Actor Vic Oliver.jpg
Victor Oliver von Samek

(1898-07-08)8 July 1898
Died15 August 1964(1964-08-15) (aged 66)
Resting placeGolders Green Crematorium, London, England
Alma materVienna University
  • Actor
  • radio comedian
(m. 1936; div. 1945)

Natalie Frances Conder
(m. 1946)
Parent(s)Baron Viktor von Samek
Charlotte Wallner
Military career
AllegianceAustro-Hungarian Empire
Service/branchAustro-Hungarian Army
Battles/warsFirst World War

Early lifeEdit

He was born in Vienna into a Jewish family, 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 allegedly alongside Adolf Hitler. 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.

Acting careerEdit

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.[2]

He was Roy Plomley's very first "castaway" guest on Desert Island Discs, on 29 January 1942.[3] This lost broadcast was recalled in 2012 in a BBC radio documentary about Oliver's life in Britain.[4]

He starred in the BBC radio show Hi, Gang![2] 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 as well as complete opera performances.[3] In 1953 he established Variety Playhouse as a primetime radio show featuring music, comedy and light drama. The show did not survive him.[2]

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.

Personal lifeEdit

Oliver played tennis, football and hockey as a youth and became junior tennis champion of Austria in 1914.[5] After arriving in the United Kingdom in 1936, Oliver became a supporter of First Division club Brentford and was vice-president of the club in the early 1950s.[5] He later became president of the Brentford Supporters' Club.[5]

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.[3]

Oliver married Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah, in 1936. They had become secretly engaged when they were appearing together in a C.B. 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.[6] 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.[3] 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.


He died in Johannesburg, South Africa, aged 66.[3]


Oliver is briefly portrayed in the 2002 film The Gathering Storm. He was played by Gerrard McArthur.


  • Oliver, Vic (1954). Mr. Showbusiness: The autobiography of Vic Oliver (hardcover) (First ed.). London: Harrap.



  1. ^ "Vic Oliver". BFI. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Obituary, The Times Online, Monday, 17 August 1964; p. 10, accessed 13 February 2015
  3. ^ a b c d e Alex Hudson (26 January 2012). "The castaway who annoyed Churchill". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
  4. ^ "Vic Oliver: The First Castaway Remembered – BBC Radio 4 Extra". BBC. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Haynes, Graham (1998). A-Z Of Bees: Brentford Encyclopaedia. Yore Publications. pp. 100–101. ISBN 1-874427-57-7.
  6. ^ Taylor, Robert Lewis (1952). Winston Churchill. Pocket Books. p. 375. ASIN B000L3RZ72.

External linksEdit