The Times.

Mr Will Hay, the comedian, died at his home in London yesterday at the age of 60. He had been ill for long time, but recently had appeared to be recovering. William Thomson Hay was born on December 6, 1888, the son of the late W. R. Hay of Aberdeen. He was originally apprenticed as an engineer, but in 1909 went on the stage.It was not till after the war of 1914 -18 that he amused millions of people in his role of a a comic schoolmaster, with an incongruous band of scholars of all ages, in such sketches as " The Fourth Form at St Michael's." With these he toured the United States, South Africa, and other parts of the world at various times during the twenties. He was also very successful on the wireless not only as a comedian but also as a frequent member of the Brains Trust--for he was happier than most comedians in that he was sometimes allowed to be serious. This was particularly so in connection with astronomy, to the study of which he had been devoted since boyhood. As an amateur astronomer he achieved a considerable reputation and on August 8, 1933, his discovery of a big white spot on Saturn attracted wide attention. He was also much interested in flying and was one of the first private aeroplane owners in this country. In 1942 he became a sub-lieutenant, R.N.V.R., Special Branch, as an instructor in astronomy and navigation to the Sea Cadet Corps. He married in 1907 Miss Gladys Perkins and had one son (who has followed him on the music hall stage) and two daughters. In his music hall work Hay remained faithful to his role of " The Schoolmaster Comedian." The mortar-board set at a rakish angle on the head, the tattered gown, the glasses sliding down an alcoholic nose, and the general air of shabby and defiant gentility -- here were the trappings of the headmaster of St. Michael's and a rich vein of comic and peculiarly English characterization The pedagogue was never more typically himself than at the moment his essential ignorance was about to be exposed, but there was a saving pugnacity about the man, and fortune, relenting at the last moment, would save his face and launch him into yet further adventures which would try to the utmost that mixture of blustering effrontery and threadbare incapacity of which his character was composed. On the screen he was also sometimes the school master, but acted also other characters, such as the captain of a woefully incompetent fire-brigade.
 

The Daily Telegraph.

Will Hay whose full name was William Thomson Hay died at Chelsea at the age of 60. He amused millions of people in his role of a slightly bewildered schoolmaster with a tilted mortarboard, and pincenez perched precariously on his nose. His music-hall sketches of public school life, particularly " College of St.Michael's" and "Narkover College."were repeated in numerous films and radio performances He was a native of Aberdeen and gave up engineering to join a Derbyshire concert party, and later a minstrel troupe in the Isle of Man. He appeared in several Royal Command performances. He was an enthusiastic astronomer and was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the British Astronomy Association. He was also interested in flying and piloted his own aircraft for three or four years. In 1946 he was one of the many well-known actors who appeared in a special performance of "1066--and All That " that was sponsored by The Daily Telegraph. A few weeks later he had a serious illness from which he never fully recovered.

 

The Daily Express.
The headmaster was late for lunch..

WILL HAY died  so suddenly at his Chelsea  flat  that  friends  with  whom  he had a luncheon date at the Savoy waited for an  hour and then went  in  by themselves, disconsolately, thinking the comedian had forgotten. It was mid-afternoon when Jack Train gave them the news. Will Hay, most-loved comic of the theatre, had been a sick man for years.

In 1947 his doctor  told  him that  only six  months in  South Africa  would give him a chance of recovery. Yet it took a story in the Daily Express (followed by hundreds of letters, telephone calls and personal visits offering berths) to persuade the shipping  people to change their  minds and give him a priority passage. Six months of South African air, sunshine and food revived him and gave him another two years of life. He was 60.

Will Hay was a 25s-a-week clerk in Manchester before he started  on  the halls at 21 as a juggler. He became a comedian after he had seen W.C.Fields juggle, and he never  looked round till he was a £600-a-weeker. Then he went into films and radio and made a fortune out of the bumbling, fumbling schoolmaster  he had  created on the halls. His only  straight stage show was a flop.

But up to 1947, when a  stroke affected  his speech  and one arm and  leg, he was one of  the most popular comedians in the country. He made ten films in four years, films like "Boys Will Be Boys," "Good Morning Boys," "Where There's A Will," "Oh,Mr Porter!". He was one  of  the few  vaudeville men  to  make good in films. He brought  Beachcomber's Dr.Smart Allick to life on the screen. However fascinating  he was in  his films and  his  St.Michael's public school burlesque on the halls, Will Hay was equally  fascinating  away from it  all. His native  wit was  ready and  sharp. He walked into a West End restaurant one night and saw a number of  his friends celebrating with girls  who were not  their wives. He  joined them  for a moment and, in a lull, called to the band-leader "Play 'Come All Ye Faithful.'"

His great, serious hobby was astronomy- he  has a  place  in history  for his discovery of  a  spot  on  Saturn- but he  was intensely serious about his sailing. He kept a launch on Oslo fiord in Norway. His lifelong  friend and adviser, Jack Harding used to do an impersonation of Will at the wheel "as if he was in charge of the Queen Mary," bawling  orders to  the crew, who was his non-nautical chauffeur. Will Hay had boxed in Canada and America. He worked incessantly  for  the younger and needier members of his profession. He addressed M.P.s at the House on music-hall matters.

He took a commission in the R.N.V.R. so  that  he could lecture cadets (who always wanted a turn and not a lecture) and was  proud  of  his 1939-43 Star. He  wrote  a  book on astronomy. He even walked out on the B.B.C.-and  the  B.B.C. apologised. He held a pilot's certificate and flew his own aircraft. Moore Marriott

          Among the small-time players... (from 23/04/49)

Will Hay,  top-of-the bill comedian for a quarter of a century was buried yesterday close to 200 music-hall artists. In a corner of Streatham Park cemetery there is a memorial to these players - men and women of the lesser principal halls for whom top billing was always just around the corner. Some of them played a week on the same bill as "The Head of St.Michael's." To a grave beside theirs Will Hay's flower covered coffin was borne, attended by stars of today and yesterday. There were Georgie Wood and Jack Train, Dave O'Toole, Ted Ray, Jack Hylton, George Jackley and Albert Whelan, Nat Mills, Fred Russell, Chesney Allen and Reginald Purdell. With Mrs Gladys Hay, the widow, were her daughter Gladys ("Ignorance is Bliss") Hay and her son Will Hay junior. The other side of Will Hay's life - he was a serious and noted astronomer - was not forgotten. At the graveside was Dr. W.H. Steavenson, an old friend, representing the Royal Astronomical Society.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Jones