OBITUARY: Wallas Eaton

"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.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments