A genius. No, really. And we don’t even feel the need to preface that with the mealy-mouthed ‘of course, the word “genius” is bandied about all too often these days…’ rejoinder. Just look at it this way. Music hall sketch: dopey teacher, interfering schoolboys who, it quickly transpires, know more about the subject being taught than he does, capers galore, thwarted dignity, twenty minutes, wind it up, on with the performing seals. It was Hay’s job to take that sturdy enough but unpromising scenario, and take it, and by extension the art of the music-hall sketch, away from its gag-‘n’-catchphrase bottom end and into the high realms of character-driven high dudgeon. When he got onto film ’twas even better. And when the mortar board came off, well, things fairly flew. His acting skills, flanked by Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat, shone like no other comedian-turned-actor. While others were putting the comedy clocks back with their banjoleles and cockney asides, Will was bravely putting them forward. Even if it did mean he nearly got run over by a train.
FINEST HOUR: My Learned Friend’s as good a place as any to start. Not only for inventing The Thirty-Nine Steps (Big Ben Edition) ending, but also that masterful mix of pride and deviousness exhibited in his trial. ‘Don’t tell me, you wrote that one up against the Workhouse wall.’