Willis Hall:
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Born On The: 6th April 1929.
Died On The: 7th March 2005.
Occupation(s): Playwright, radio and television writer.
Zodiac: Born under the Star Sign AriesAriesWhat Star Sign are You?
Achievement(s): Billy Liar & The Long and the Short and the Tall.

Biography:

His best-known work was Billy Liar (1960), co-written with lifelong friend and collaborator Keith Waterhouse and based on the latter's novel; his rise to prominence originated from his play about British soldiers in the Malayan jungle, The Long and the Short and the Tall (1959).

He 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 in 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.

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 Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure (2000).

Willis was married three times, first to the actress Jill Bennett, then to Dorothy Kingsmill and finally to actress and author Valerie Shute, who survived him, when he died at 75, in Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

Hall, a Hunslet boy from that vanished townscape of back-to-backs with outside lavatories, contributed to local magazines and papers, paying 3d an inch for such glamorous prose as lists of funeral mourners, but his writing began in earnest when he joined the Army in the Far East, where he found escape from the routine of rooting out Communism in writing fairy stories for Chinese children on local radio and he also began work on a play with an army background set in Malaya.

On his return to the UK in 1957 it was produced, under the title Disciplines of War, at the Edinburgh Festival by an amateur group, leading to a professional mounting at Nottingham Playhouse under the scarcely more alluring title Boys, It's All Hell; the play struck a chord with the young English Stage Company at the Royal Court in London, where its director Lindsay Anderson briskly changed the title to The Long and the Short and the Tall (1959).

His Billy Liar (Cambridge, 1960) with Albert Finney as the engaging young "hero" with one foot in his drab northern life and the other in the fantasy world of his mythical kingdom of Ambrosia was another long-running hit; with the age of austerity still lingering, audiences could readily plug into the play's strong atmosphere of constriction.

The play was his biggest success, later spiralling off into television series in the UK and America and a Drury Lane musical, Billy (1975), starring Michael Crawford; filming could exploit the reality/fantasy alternation even better than the stage and the performance from Tom Courtenay was spot-on; the cast also included the wonderful Ethel Griffies as Billy's dour gran and striding down a bleak northern street like a blonde Venus, Julie Christie making one of the great iconic entrances of 1960s cinema as Billy's girlfriend.


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