Willis Edward Hall (6 April 1929 – 7 March 2005) was an English playwright and radio, television and film writer who drew on his working-class roots in Leeds for much of his writing. Willis formed an extremely prolific partnership with his life-long friend Keith Waterhouse producing over 250 works. He wrote plays such as Billy Liar, The Long and the Short and the Tall, and Celebration; the screenplays for Whistle Down the Wind, A Kind of Loving and Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain; and television programmes including Budgie, Worzel Gummidge and Minder. His passion for musical theatre led to a string of hits, including Wind in the Willows, The Card, and George Stiles' and Anthony Drewe's Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure.
Willis Edward Hall
6 April 1929
|Died||7 March 2005 (aged 75)|
|Occupation||Playwright, Screenwriter, Author|
Life and workEdit
Born in Hunslet, Leeds, Hall was the only son and elder child of Walter Hall, an engineer's fitter, and his wife, Gladys (née Gibbon). He attended local council schools as well as Cockburn High School. After school, Hall worked in a variety of jobs, including factory worker, trawler hand, and amusement park attendant. Upon reaching the age of eligibility for National service, Hall volunteered for the regular army, where he served as a signals corporal in Malaya. During idle hours there, he wrote plays for Chinese children that were later broadcast on Radio Malaya and designed sets for Singapore Little Theatre.
Hall's military experiences later inspired his first play, The Disciplines of War, about British soldiers ambushed in the Malayan jungle, that premiered on the fringe of the Edinburgh International Festival in August 1957 and was shortly followed by a professional production at the Nottingham Playhouse. After gaining interest from the producer Lindsay Anderson, the play was renamed The Long and the Short and the Tall, and premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1959 starring Peter O'Toole and Robert Shaw. That year it won the Evening Standard's Play of the Year Award, and was later turned into a film version directed by Leslie Norman in 1961 starring Richard Todd, Richard Harris, Laurence Harvey, David McCallum and Ronald Fraser. This was followed by a BBC television series in 1979.
After his success with Anderson at the Royal Court, Hall contacted a boyhood friend, the writer Keith Waterhouse, about adapting his successful novel Billy Liar (1959). Their 1960 play of the same name starred Albert Finney when it premiered in 1960, and played for 582 performances before being taken out on a series of national tours. After this success, in 1963 Hall's and Waterhouse's self-styled company, "Waterhall Productions", adapted the story for the big screen, where it was filmed by John Schlesinger, with Tom Courtenay in the lead role. Under Waterhall's coaxing, the piece also became the long-running Drury Lane musical, Billy (1974), starring Michael Crawford, and a television sitcom of the same name both in Britain (1973–4) and in the United States (1979).
Hall continued this successful partnership with Waterhouse and, over the next 30 years, the two men produced more than 250 scripts for theatre, film, and television including Celebration (Play), All Things Bright and Beautiful (Play), Worzel Gummidge (TV), Budgie (TV), Secret Army (TV), Whistle Down the Wind (screenplay), Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (screenplay) and many more.
Hall also wrote more than a dozen children's books, including a series about a family called the Hollins who meet a vegetarian vampire called Count Alucard. He also wrote a book, Henry Hollins and the Dinosaur. His membership of The Magic Circle was a source of inspiration for these books. He also wrote 40 radio and television plays, as well as contributing to many TV series, including The Return of the Antelope and Minder. Willis Hall also wrote 'The Royal Astrologer', a wonderfully amusing collection of separate stories for children relating the adventures of Father Mole-Cricket, his son Master Mole Cricket, and the bad-tempered emperor Indira-Maya who appoints the two as Royal Astrologer and Assistant Royal Astrologer.
He wrote a musical about the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, and others based on the books Treasure Island and The Wind in the Willows. He also wrote the script for the successful project, Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure (1996).
Hall was married four times. His first three marriages to Kathleen May Cortens (m. 1954), actress Jill Bennett (m. 1962), and Dorothy Kingsmill-Lunn (m. 1966), all ended in divorce. On 2 November 1973, Hall married the 28-year-old dancer and actress Valerie Shute, who survived him, along with his four sons. Following a long fight with esophageal cancer, Hall died at his home in Ghyll Mews, Ilkley in West Yorkshire on 7 March 2005.
- "Willis Hall" (Obituary). The Telegraph. 14 March 2005. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- Roberts, Philip (1999). The Royal Court Theatre and the Modern Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521479622.
- Anderson, Lindsay (2005). Paul Sutton (ed.). The Diaries. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413773981.
- Strachan, Alan (12 March 2005). "Willis Hall: Playwright, Collaborator of Keith Waterhouse" (Obituary). The Independent. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- Barker, Dennis (11 March 2005). "Willis Hall, Prolific Playwright Who Drew on His Working-class Origins" (Obituary). The Guardian. Retrieved 11 June 2012.