Willis Hall Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Willis Hall has become familiar to English audiences through a variety of media and genres. He and Keith Waterhouse, with whom he regularly collaborates, are highly regarded for their screenplays. Some of their more notable efforts are Whistle Down the Wind (1961) and Billy Liar (1963). With Wolf Mankowitz, Hall has adapted for the screen The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961). Hall has also worked extensively in television, writing for programs such as The Fuzz and Secret Army, coauthoring a half dozen other series with Waterhouse, and writing a number of television plays, often for children. Hall has written musicals (England, Our England, with music by Dudley Moore, was reviewed with great praise), books on sports, the text for a documentary, pantomimes, novels, award-winning adaptations of foreign drama, and scripts for television series. The sheer bulk of Hall’s work and its rich variety testify to his artistic strength and durability.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

It is difficult to find any single descriptive category or term under which Willis Hall’s achievements as a dramatist will fit with accuracy. The Long and the Short and the Tall (commissioned by the Oxford Theatre Group for the Edinburgh Festival of 1958, and winner of the Evening Standard Drama Award for Best Play in 1959), associated him with the new drama appearing in the wake of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (pr. 1956), and comparisons have often been made between Hall’s Private Bamforth and Osborne’s Jimmy Porter. At the same time, Hall’s early collaborations with Keith Waterhouse have been considered in terms of regional realism as authentic representations of life in the North of England. Plays such as Billy Liar and Celebration reflect their authors’ feel for the idiosyncrasies of regional language, serving as reminders that Hall and Waterhouse often draw with success on their shared Yorkshire background. These descriptions are somewhat helpful; yet with plays such as The Sponge Room or Squat Betty they plainly break down, since these are expressly nonrealistic plays. Such descriptions also do not apply well to later plays, such as Say Who You Are and Who’s Who, which move away from realistic Northern themes and introduce elements of farce.

If Hall’s work resists any single-phrase summary, this in itself is perhaps an indication of his achievement...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Martin, Mick. “Timeless Appeal.” Review of Billy Liar, by Willis Hall. The Times Educational Supplement, September 18, 1992, p. SS15. This review examines the National Theatre’s Mobile production of Hall’s Billy Liar and touches on the play’s relevance for the contemporary world.

Matlaw, Myron. Modern World Drama. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972. Although Hall has written a large number of plays, screenplays, teleplays, and children’s books, little has been published about him and his work. This short entry mentions some of his plays and the influence of John Osborne on his work, and briefly traces his switch to light comedy.