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Will Hay

Started by Phoenix Lazarus, December 13, 2023, 04:56:03 PM

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Is anyone here a fan?  If so, what are his best films?

Otisberg

Ask a Policeman, Oh! Mr. Porter, Where's That Fire. All on You Tube.

Jittlebags

All on You Tube.

Don't think I've seen that one.

Mr Banlon

Quote from: Jittlebags on December 13, 2023, 05:39:14 PMAll on You Tube.

Don't think I've seen that one.


It's set on the London Underground. It's the sequel to Oh! Mr Porter.

The 'how high is a Chinaman' and 'what is a unit of electricity' exchanges are funny.

Armin Meiwes

Used to love Will Hay films when I was younger, especially for his side kicks - the old man and the fat kid. Those are probably the three films to watch yeah, the canonical three.

Maurice Yeatman

Oh! Mr Porter is one of those films where everything comes together perfectly to make something that's greater than the sum of its parts. It's easily Hay's best, and Marriott and Moffat's too. You can see what an influence it was on Jimmy Perry for Dad's Army.

They followed it up immediately with Convict 99, which doesn't have the same magic, but is still funny with some great gags, as are almost all of Hay's films from Boys Will Be Boys on.

Of the ones that don't feature the team of Marriott and Moffat together, I'd also recommend the earlier Good Morning Boys, and the later Ghost of St Michael's and My Learned Friend. The latter was his final film and is probably his second best after Oh! Mr Porter. Brilliantly funny performances from Hay and Claude Hulbert, and Mervyn Johns as an insane ex-convict trying to kill them. Not on youtube, but there's a ropy version in two parts on dailymotion.

If you're lucky enough to have one of those newfangled "DVD machines", there are two Will Hay Collection boxsets that cover just about everything in better quality than online.

He was very into astronomy, like Brian May, and Patrick Moore.  They seem an odd trio to be associated, but there you go.

Jittlebags

I bet he was. Copped a look at Uranus did he? The dirty get.

Ignatius_S

Quote from: Jittlebags on December 14, 2023, 11:33:19 AMI bet he was. Copped a look at Uranus did he? The dirty get.

Possibly - but he did discover a giant white spot in Saturn (and I think other spots on the planet) as well as making some significant observations of comets. Also, he was influential in how to use scientific equipment in the use of astronomy and built some instruments himself (and for others) including a chronograph that he built from Meccano.

Hay was a very clever chap, after leaving school he worked as an engineer but by the time he was 19, he had learned German, French and Italian (I think he was self-taught) and became an interpreter before the stage beckoned.

Many of Hay's friends were in the scientific community. There's a story that when Cockcroft and Walton first split the atom, Hay heard the news from one of them late at night and excitedly work up his wife, telling her what they had done. The reported response is probably too good to be true but I like it - she annoyed at being woke up, said 'That's nice, they can have half each.'


Ignatius_S

I'm a big fan - Hay was a superb performer; fantastic timing with exquisite mannerisms.

Couple of radio documentaries that are worth a listen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF7Zc7Z5aJ4 - presented by Ronnie Barker, who was a huge fan and described Hay as the greatest ever straight man. The explanation of why an old man was added into his act whilst working for Fred Karno is interesting - would like to know if it was actually true. However, Hay's act really did evolve considerably due to Karno, who encouraged him to work with a larger cast and the experience taught Hay how more effective his act was with feeds to work off of. Hay credited Karno for teaching him so much about comedy and appreciating how much of comic timing is due to discipline. He also recalled that Karno has a simple mantra about comedy: 'If in doubt, fall on your arse.'

https://fourble.co.uk/podcast/tickled (I would usually post the link to archive.org, but although these linked content is still accessible, the archive.org page has been taken down) - How Tickled Am I? series presented by Mark Radcliffe. The whole series is worth listening to but should say that there's a fair bit of duplication, particularly the interviews about Hay, as the Barker one.

Ignatius_S

Quote from: Jittlebags on December 14, 2023, 01:34:36 PMlol. Love that.

As I say, it's probably too good to be true (I thought it was from the Mark Radcliffe documentary and after checking it was - Tommy Trinder tells it) but I just really like it.

Ignatius_S

Quote from: Phoenix Lazarus on December 14, 2023, 08:01:47 AMThe 'how high is a Chinaman' and 'what is a unit of electricity' exchanges are funny.

I think both of those routines are from Hay's stage act. A while ago, there was a thread about Abbott and Costello, and the Who's on First? routine that they made famous, which was derived from a burlesque comedy sketch. In burlesque, sketches were basically common property and people did their own variations. I'm pretty sure that I mentioned that Will Hay is one example of a British comedian doing sketches utilising a similar idea - homophones being used to create confusion and increasing frustration - and the way (such as with the Watt one) emphasises Hay's ignorance and unsuitability as an educator, is just lovely.

Ignatius_S

Quote from: Maurice Yeatman on December 14, 2023, 10:52:39 AMOh! Mr Porter is one of those films where everything comes together perfectly to make something that's greater than the sum of its parts. It's easily Hay's best, and Marriott and Moffat's too. You can see what an influence it was on Jimmy Perry for Dad's Army.

They followed it up immediately with Convict 99, which doesn't have the same magic, but is still funny with some great gags, as are almost all of Hay's films from Boys Will Be Boys on.

Of the ones that don't feature the team of Marriott and Moffat together, I'd also recommend the earlier Good Morning Boys, and the later Ghost of St Michael's and the ghosts of st michaekls
. The latter was his final film and is probably his second best after Oh! Mr Porter. Brilliantly funny performances from Hay and Claude Hulbert, and Mervyn Johns as an insane ex-convict trying to kill them. Not on youtube, but there's a ropy version in two parts on dailymotion.

If you're lucky enough to have one of those newfangled "DVD machines", there are two Will Hay Collection boxsets that cover just about everything in better quality than online.

Although I love Ask A Policeman and not sure if I prefer Oh! Mr Porter, I wouldn't argue against the idea the the latter is Hay's best film - it really is superb and really hangs together beautifully, as you say. re: Jimmy Perry - I think it was good that he admitted to that influence, as I think so many would have assumed it! That also reminds me that John Laurie was in The Ghost of St. Michael's  and Clive Dunn in Boys Will Be Boys.

Good to see My Learned Friend being recommended and I think a lot would put that as his second-best film (and if not, close to it). It's such a shame that it was his final film, because it would have been so interesting to see what other films would have been like. The decision to move his character from having questionable honesty to unquestionable dishonesty was a masterstroke, I feel. Also, I appreciated how the comedy had darker elements. There was a good BFI article - https://www.bfi.org.uk/features/will-hays-new-direction-my-learned-friend - that looked at this and argues that it was a forerunner to later Ealing black comedies like The Ladykillers.

Totally agree with what you said about Johns and Hulbert. I'm a huge admirer of the the former and think this is probably the greatest work that the latter did (and also like him in the previous film they did).

wrec

Will Hay
Whataya got to say
Well I say we're gonna ride
So come on

Maurice Yeatman

Quote from: Ignatius_S on December 14, 2023, 05:55:00 PMGood to see My Learned Friend being recommended and I think a lot would put that as his second-best film (and if not, close to it). It's such a shame that it was his final film, because it would have been so interesting to see what other films would have been like. The decision to move his character from having questionable honesty to unquestionable dishonesty was a masterstroke, I feel. Also, I appreciated how the comedy had darker elements. There was a good BFI article - https://www.bfi.org.uk/features/will-hays-new-direction-my-learned-friend - that looked at this and argues that it was a forerunner to later Ealing black comedies like The Ladykillers.

Totally agree with what you said about Johns and Hulbert. I'm a huge admirer of the the former and think this is probably the greatest work that the latter did (and also like him in the previous film they did).

Hadn't seen that BFI article before, cheers. Totally agree.

There are a few good scenes in this video, including part of the daft opening scene from My Learned Friend at the end.
The excerpt from Good Morning 30-year-old Boys at 8:40 is like something from Bilko 18 years ahead of it.


SpiderChrist

I love Oh! Mr Porter, like @Maurice Yeatman says, it all comes together perfectly and would definitely be in my list of favourite comedy films. I was loaned a copy of My Learned Friend which I have yet to watch, so I will remedy that forthwith.

dissolute ocelot

I find it interesting he apparently kept his astronomy secret until he discovered the spot on Saturn which was such big news it blew his cover. Would being known as a boffin really ruin his comedy career in the 30s?

Ignatius_S

Quote from: dissolute ocelot on December 15, 2023, 09:59:14 AMI find it interesting he apparently kept his astronomy secret until he discovered the spot on Saturn which was such big news it blew his cover. Would being known as a boffin really ruin his comedy career in the 30s?

This comes up quite a bit and when it does, people ascribe Hay's motives along the same lines as the article you posted - Hay wanted to keep his private and public lives separate as, as that article puts it, he was "unexpectedly shy and retiring in private life. On the YouTube link I posted, Patrick Moore described him as a modest sort of person.

A lot of entertainers like to keep their public and private lives distinct from each other for various reasons and guard their privacy, so wouldn't say that was unusual. Even today, some people have trouble separating the performer with the person and are disappointed when they discover there's a difference; I remember one of my friends talking to me about working on a series with Jim Moir and when they had told other friends how good he was to work with, they were sad to learn it was because he was very professional, respectful and quite reserved when the cameras weren't rolling, rather than being Vic Reeves 24/7.

Hay's persona was an incompetent charlatan and nothing like the man himself - highly intelligent, who liked to relax by solving mathematic equations and with a thirst of knowledge. With the latter, Barker gave some examples when he toured, such as when in New Zealand, he wanted to learn about native customs and folklore. I'm reminded by the problem that Al Read had when trying to adapt his hugely popular radio show for television. One key issue ascribed is that the public had thought him very similar to the type of Northern characters he performed in monologue and were disappointed to see how stylish and elegant he was in actuality with no flat cap in sight. I suspect wit( Hay the key reasons were how private and serious-minded he was, but I'm sure there was a professional benefit for doing this.

Also, another benefit is that the public could look unkindly at someone's private life. Two years after discovering the white spot, Hay and his wife were officially separated (they never divorced due to her Catholicism) and Hay had. Longterm partner. Had that been made public, it's hard to imagine his career surviving. When Max Wall had a very public split from his wife (roughly two decades later) it destroyed his career and couldn't get arrested, it was only in the mid-1960s, about ten years later, that rediscovered.

Going back to astronomy, this article is worth a read as it give. Bit more detail and quotes from some of Hay's observation logs - unexpectedly shy and retiring in private life

Ignatius_S

Quote from: Maurice Yeatman on December 15, 2023, 02:38:24 AMHadn't seen that BFI article before, cheers. Totally agree.

There are a few good scenes in this video, including part of the daft opening scene from My Learned Friend at the end.
The excerpt from Good Morning 30-year-old Boys at 8:40 is like something from Bilko 18 years ahead of it.

Glad you enjoyed it - I leaned to that view so was a it biased! All the same, thought it was an interesting read.

I like the Bilko comparison - complete with the Colonel's wife thinking he was marvellous.

#21
I've just finished watched The Goose Steps Out.  There's a slightly surreal grouping of Hay with a fresh-faced and non-bespectacled Charles Hawtrey and Barry Morse, who was later the grey-haired, balding professor in Space 1999. 

Hay impersonates a German whose job is to instruct future spies who are to enter Britain.  In so doing, he convinces them the two-fingered obscene gesture is a salute of respect in the United Kingdom.  He gets a roomful of young men to hail a hanging painting of the Fuhrer thus.  The picture caricatures the German leader with crazed-looking bulging eyes.  The climactic journey to Britain that Hay makes with his allies, three turncoat young Austrians, in a hijacked aircraft, is a tour de force of exciting slapstick.

George White

Quote from: Phoenix Lazarus on December 15, 2023, 06:33:13 PMI've just finished watched The Goose Steps Out.  There's a slightly surreal grouping of Hay with a fresh-faced and non-bespectacled Charles Hawtrey and Barry Morse, who was later the grey-haired, balding professor in Space 1999. 

Hay impersonates a German whose job is to instruct future spies who are to enter Britain.  In so doing, he convinces himself the two-fingered obscene gesture is a salute of respect in the United Kingdom.  He gets a roomful of young men to hail a hanging painting of the Fuhrer thus.  The picture caricatures the German leader with crazed-looking bulging eyes.  The climactic journey to Britain that Hay makes with his allies, three turncoat young Austrians, in a hijacked aircraft, is a tour de force of exciting slapstick.
And Ustinpv as a Nazi Billy Bunter (ironic casting considering Sir Peter's Ethiopian heritage)
 And the British Major at the start is John William's, the inspector in Dial MFor Murder, and a go to Brit in US TV for decades (he is the victim in Dagger of the Mind, the London Columbo). Genuinely odd to see him in something genuinely British and not shot at Universal.

I've recently watched Boys Will Be Boys, and Good Morning Boys.  The latter of his school-based films seemed a lot more polished and amusing, despite it being only two years later than the former.

kalowski

Quote from: Phoenix Lazarus on February 11, 2024, 07:51:24 PMI've recently watched Boys Will Be Boys, and Good Morning Boys.  The latter of his school-based films seemed a lot more polished and amusing, despite it being only two years later than the former.
One of them has Charles Hawtrey as an incredibly old school boy.

Loukides

It's no longer accessible via archive.org, but Hay's 1935 book Through My Telescope: Astronomy for All appears to be the (never reissued) model for Patrick Moore's decades-long cash cow The Amateur Astronomer — even its Introduction was written by the father of Moore's neurologist cousin, Richard Gregory.



gabrielconroy

I used to watch some of the Hay films with my parents when I was a kid and found them hilarious. Thankfully on rewatching a couple many years later they really stand up. Probably the oldest comedy that I know of that hasn't really aged all that much (having not watched much Laurel & Hardy and the likes, I can't comment on that).

Oh, Mr Porter!, Ask a Policeman and Where's That Fire? are all brilliant.

The old man's ancient dad forgetting the rhyme about the headless horseman still makes me laugh just thinking about it to this day.

derek stitt

Really have a soft spot for Will Hay films, some rare family harmony time watching them on a Friday night on BBC 2 back in the day. Really am fond of 'The Ghost of St Michaels' and even the end credits using the same sort of typeface  as on the Arbeit Mach Frei sign at Auschwitz can't put me off liking the film. On a less miserable note, can anybody use mathematics to determine the speed of a car by counting street lights? Will Hay says it's possible in a few of his films.

gabrielconroy

Quote from: derek stitt on February 12, 2024, 04:27:21 PMOn a less miserable note, can anybody use mathematics to determine the speed of a car by counting street lights? Will Hay says it's possible in a few of his films.

If you know how far apart they are, yes.