Willis Hall

This article is about the British writer. For the historic building in Northfield, Minnesota, see Willis Hall (Carleton College). For the New York State Attorney General, see Willis Hall (New York).
Willis Hall

Willis Hall photographed by Lewis Morley in 1960.
Born Willis Edward Hall
(1929-04-06)6 April 1929
Hunslet, Leeds, England
Died 7 March 2005(2005-03-07) (aged 75)
Ghyll Mews, Ilkley, England
Nationality English
Occupation Playwright, Screenwriter, Author
Notable work


  • Kathleen May Cortens (m. 1954)
  • Jill Bennett (m. 1962)
  • Dorothy Kingsmill-Lunn (m. 1966)
  • Valerie Shute (m. 1973)

Willis Edward Hall (6 April 1929 7 March 2005) was an English playwright and radio and television writer who drew on his working class roots in Leeds for much of his writing. His best-known work was a stage adaptation of the 1959 novel Billy Liar (1960), co-written with the book's author and Hall's lifelong friend and collaborator Keith Waterhouse.

Life and Work

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.[1] After graduation, Hall worked in a variety of positions 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,[2] about British soldiers ambushed in the Malayan jungle, that premiered on the fringe of the Edinburgh International Festival in August 1957. 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. 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 and a BBC television series in 1979.[3]

Following his success with Anderson at the Royal Court, Hall contacted a boyhood friend, 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. Following 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 sit-com both in Britain (1973–4) and in the United States (1979).

Hall continued this successful partnership with Waterhouse and, over the next thirty years, the two men produced more than 250 scripts for theatre, film, and television.

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.

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).[4]

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.[5]


  1. "Willis Hall" (Obituary). The Telegraph. 14 Mar 2005. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  2. Roberts, Philip (1999). The Royal Court Theatre and the Modern Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521479622.
  3. Anderson, Lindsay (2005). Paul Sutton, ed. The Diaries. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413773981.
  4. Strachan, Alan (12 Mar 2005). "Willis Hall: Playwright, Collaborator of Keith Waterhouse" (Obituary). The Independent. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  5. Barker, Dennis (11 Mar 2005). "Willis Hall, Prolific Playwright Who Drew on His Working-class Origins" (Obituary). The Guardian. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
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