OBITUARY: Denny Willis

Denny Willis, the eccentric Scots comedian, will be remembered for his many hilarious appearances, always in the same musical sketch in which his backing group suddenly flung out their arms and knocked him flying.

The son of Dave Willis, one of Scotland's most original comedians, Denny was born Dennis Williams and was for a while billed as Dave Willis Junior. Originally, however, he had no intention of following his father into the variety theatres, preferring to learn to handle horses with the idea of becoming a professional show jumper. An emergency in one of his father's revues gave him his first taste of the spotlight when half of the tap dancing double act Tips and Taps decided quite suddenly to retire. Denny busked his way well enough for the act to be re-named Willis and Willis, and from 1935 the teenager could call himself a "pro".

Called up early in the Second World War, Private Williams, D., was recognised as a entertainer and found himself starring as top comedian in an army concert party. After the war he returned to the variety stage, now billing himself Dave Willis Junior. Not wishing to cash in on his father's reputation, he browsed through a telephone book and came up with the youthful sounding alternative Denny Willis.

Following his father's pattern, Denny's beat was his native Scotland and his speciality pantomime. He will be recalled by natives for his many Christmas shows at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, The Pavilion, Glasgow, and The Palace, Kilmarnock. Summer seasons were also his meat, his last being in Gaiety Whirl in Ayr in 1983. He continued in pantomime to 1992, when he concluded his comedy career in Glasgow.

Denny Willis will be best remembered by the masses for his many television appearances, in his scena usually known as "The Quorn Sextet". Based on a musical format worked out by his father, which was included in an abbreviated version in his film Save A Little Sunshine (1938), Denny appeared as the lead singer backed by a well-drilled male voice chorus. The theme was a foxhunt with actions, and the out-thrown arms of the singers as they chanted "The Fox! The Fox!" continually flung Willis into the footlights. He would pick himself up and with his catchphrase "So Sorry!" he would excuse himself in a manner most mincing before charging back into the act. It became a regular feature in Those Were The Days, the long-running period show staged by the BBC in the City Varieties, Leeds.

Denis Gifford

Dennis Williams (Denny Willis), comedian: born c1920; died London 17 March 1995.

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