OBITUARY: Wallas Eaton

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The Independent Online
"Wal", the very common common man and voice of "Professor" Jimmy Edwards's conscience, first made his heart-cry of "Come 'ome, Jim Edwards, come back to the Buildings where you belong!" on 4 January 1949. And in one way or another he went on making this heart-felt plea right to the end, 10 years later, when the BBC's most popular radio series, Take It From Here, closed down. "Wal" was Wallas Eaton, a straight actor turned funny-voice man via a string of stage revues and comedies including 1066 and All That (1947), Slings and Arrows (1948) and For Amusement Only (1958).

Eaton was born in Leicester in 1917 and educated at the Alderman Newton School. This led to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read History and English. He made his first stage appearance in his home town at the Theatre Royal in 1936, and his London debut at the Old Vic three years later, playing the small part of the Announcer in The Ascent of F6. In 1940 he was the Second Priest in Murder in the Cathedral, which he followed with his first comedy role in The Body Was Well Nourished.

Eaton joined the Army in 1940 and served with distinction in the Second World War, leaving with the rank of major in command of a searchlight battery. In 1944 he appeared in Too True To Be Good at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Good, if small, roles continued, including an appearance with Vivien Leigh in The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder's "history of our world in comic strip", at the Phoenix in 1945. Films, however, failed to make much use of Eaton, despite a promising debut in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

Radio was still the main source of family entertainment in the Forties, and creeping up behind the poll-topping It's That Man Again, starring the nation's favourite funny man Tommy Handley, was a brand new post-war series entitled Take It From Here. Written by the new team of Frank Muir and Denis Norden, the only unoriginal thing about it was its title. (This was borrowed from a successful 1943 radio series starring Richard Haydn, the fabulous fish mimic.) The three stars were Professor Jimmy Edwards, an ebullient euphonium player, Master Dick Bentley, ageing buffoon, and the glamorous songstress Joy Nichols. Necessary character voices came from the BBC Drama Rep stalwart Wilfred Babbage, who was soon replaced by Clarence Wright, a refugee from ITMA. As a change from his silly salesman ("Good morning! Nice day!"), Wright played Henpecked Harry Hickory ("Shush . . . I thought it was her for a minute!"). The first programme was broadcast in 1948, and when the second series opened in 1949 the voice of Wallas Eaton was heard on the air for the first time.

As Wal, Eaton brought shame to the Professor by revealing his humble roots in the Buildings, presumably Peabody's. "Come 'ome, Jim Edwards," Wal would plead, "the eyes of the Buildings is upon you! Don't desert them what reared you! Oh Jim, they're goin' to tear down the Buildings and make a night-club for the troops. An ENSA niterie."

"ENSA niterie?" roared the Prof. "That's insanitary!" So the gags continued. "Your Mum's being turned out without a doorstep to lay 'er 'ead on! She's prostrate!" "Has she tried legal aid?" asked Edwards. "Legal aid, orangeade, methylated spirits," answered Wal. "That's why she's prostrate!"

Each series brought a fresh theme, with Wal begging Edwards to "Save the Buildings" or to go straight and marry - "Take the plunge, Jim Edwards!" From 1953 Eaton played the pub landlord to whom Edwards as Pa Glum poured out the latest affairs of his dim son Ron (Bentley) and fiancee Eth, played by the all-purpose genius June Whitfield.

Eaton's stage career now really took hold and he was cast by Joan Littlewood in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be (1959).

Following a promising debut for BBC Television in Arthur Askey's top- rated series Before Your Very Eyes (1952), Eaton's television appearances were not very frequent. He had parts in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes and later in the Frankie Howerd series Up Pompeii. In 1975 he made a trip to Australia, where he could indulge his favourite hobby of sailing. He decided to settle there - an intriguing choice considering his close involvement with Dick Bentley and Joy Nichols, both Australians who preferred to live in England.

Denis Gifford

Wallas Heaton, actor: born Leicester 18 February 1917; died Australia 3 November 1995.