Max Wall

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Max Wall
Comic & actor Max Wall.jpg
as Professor Wallofski
Born
Maxwell George Lorimer

(1908-03-12)12 March 1908
Stockwell, London, England
Died21 May 1990(1990-05-21) (aged 82)
Westminster Hospital, London, England
Resting placeHighgate Cemetery, London, England
OccupationMusic hall, television and film comedian
Years active1934–1990
ChildrenMichael, Melvin, Martin and Meredith, Maxine[1]

Max Wall (12 March 1908 – 21 May 1990) was an English comedian and actor whose performing career covered music hall, theatre, films and television.[2]

Early years[edit]

Wall was born Maxwell George Lorimer, son of the successful music-hall entertainer Jack (Jock) Lorimer, a Scottish comedy actor from Forfar, known for his songs and dancing, and his wife Stella (born Maud Clara Mitchison). He was born near the Oval, at 37 Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton Road, London SW9. In 1916, during a World War I air raid, Max and his elder brother Alex were saved from death by a cast-iron bed frame, but his younger brother Bunty and their Aunt Betty, who was looking after them, were killed by a bomb dropped from a German Zeppelin which also destroyed their house.[3]

Max and Alex went to live with their father and his family, whilst their mother went to live with Harry Wallace, whom she had met on tour. When their father died of tuberculosis in 1920, aged 37, their mother married Harry Wallace, and they all moved to a pub in Essex.[4]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Wall auditioned for a part with a touring theatre company, and made his stage début at the age of 14 as Jack in Mother Goose with a travelling pantomime company in Devon and Cornwall featuring George Lacey. In 1925 he was a speciality dancer in the London Revue at the Lyceum. He became determined not to rely on his father's name, so abbreviated Maxwell to Max, and his stepfather's name Wallace, to Wall.[5]

He is best remembered for his ludicrously attired and hilariously strutting Professor Wallofski. John Cleese has acknowledged Wall's influence on his own "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch for Monty Python's Flying Circus.[6] After appearing in many musicals and stage comedies in the 1930s, Wall's career went into decline, and he was reduced to working in obscure nightclubs. He then joined the Royal Air Force during World War II and served for three years until he was invalided out in 1943.[5]

Wall married dancer Marion Pola and the couple had five children. In an interview with the family in the mid-1950s, Tit-Bits magazine wrote: "The kind of private jokes you find in all the nicest families flourish with the Walls. After Max and his wife, Marion, had their first son, Michael, it seemed kind of natural to make a corner in names beginning with ‘M’, and there are now Melvyn (aged nine), Martin (nearly five) and the four-month-old twins Meredith and Maxine. ... In the same way, because the Walls, like other couples married during the war, were eventually thrilled when they found a house with four walls of their own, they decided to call it just that, only Martin arrived and made it ‘Five Walls’."[5]

In a rare outing to the musical stage he played Hines in the original London production of The Pajama Game, which opened at the London Coliseum in October 1955 and ran for 588 performances. In that year he left Marion and became involved with Jennifer Chimes, the 1955 Miss Great Britain, who was 26 years his junior and married with children. The relationship attracted widespread press condemnation. The couple married in 1956, but the following year Wall collapsed on stage and suffered a nervous breakdown. Jennifer left him, and although there were reconciliations, he divorced Jennifer for desertion in 1962.[5]

Re-emergence[edit]

Wall re-emerged during the 1970s when producers and directors rediscovered his comic talents, along with the expressive power of his tragic clown face and the distinctive sad falling cadences of his voice. He secured television appearances and, having attracted Samuel Beckett's attention, he won parts in Waiting for Godot in 1979 and Krapp's Last Tape in 1984.[7] In 1966 he appeared as Père Ubu in Jarry's Ubu Roi,[8] and in 1972 he toured with Mott the Hoople on their "Rock n' Roll Circus Tour", gaining a new audience.[9] His straight acting gained him this review in 1974: "Max Wall makes Olivier look like an amateur in The Entertainer at Greenwich Theatre...".[10]

He also appeared in Crossroads (as Walter Soper, 1982 to 1983), Coronation Street (as Harry Payne, 1978) and what was then Emmerdale Farm (as Arthur Braithwaite, 1978).[2] He played ex-con Ernie Dodds in Minder in 1982, with George Cole.[11]

But the stage renaissance was offset by domestic sadness. His children were estranged from him and the taxman lost patience and declared him bankrupt.

Later work[edit]

Wall played one of the inventors in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and in 1977 he was seen as King Bruno the Questionable in Terry Gilliam's film Jabberwocky.[2] In the 1970s and 80s, Wall occasionally performed a one-man stage show, Aspects of Max Wall, in which he recaptured the humour of old-time music hall theatre.[12]

On 1 April 1977, Wall's version of Ian Dury's song "England's Glory" (which featured in Dury's stage show Apples) was issued on Stiff Records (BUY 12), backed with "Dream Tobacco" and given away with the album Hits Greatest Stiffs.[13] Wall also appeared onstage with Dury at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978, but was poorly received, and said "They only want the walk".[14]

Between 1982 and 1984 he appeared as Tombs in the BBC Two adaptation of Jane based on the Daily Mirror comic-strip character and filmed with similar "comic-strip frames".[15] In the second series his place in the castlist was upgraded to second, after Glynis Barber.[16]

His last film appearance was in 1989 in the 12-minute film A Fear of Silence, a dark tale of a man who drives a stranger to a confession of murder by answering only "yes" or "no" to his questions; those two words, repeated, were his only dialogue. The film won a gold award in the New York Film and TV Festival.[7]

Death[edit]

Wall's grave in Highgate Cemetery.

On the afternoon of 20 May 1990 Wall fell at Simpson's-in-the-Strand in central London, fracturing his skull. He was conveyed by ambulance to Westminster Hospital in an unconscious state, but never regained consciousness, and died there early in the next morning, at the age of 82. His body was buried at Highgate Cemetery.[17]

Wall had four sons, Michael, Melvyn, Martin and Meredith, and a daughter, Maxine.[1]

Legacy[edit]

There is a Max Wall Society, which aims to perpetuate his memory. In 2006 the Society placed an unofficial blue plaque on Wall's birthplace in South London.[18]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1934 On the Air Boots
1938 Save a Little Sunshine Walter
1950 Come Dance with Me Manager
1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Inventor
1969 The Nine Ages of Nakedness Roundhead Leader Segment: The Cavaliers
1974 Thriller Jorg Kesselheim/George Thibedon Episode: A Killer in Every Coroner
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing Juggler
1977 Jabberwocky King Bruno the Questionable
1978 The Hound of the Baskervilles Arthur Barrymore
1978-1979 Coronation Street Harry Payne 6 episodes
1979 Emmerdale Arthur Braithwaite 6 episodes
Hanover Street Harry Pike
1987 Little Dorrit Flintwinch
1988 We Think the World of You Tom
1990 Strike It Rich Bowles
Dark River The Stranger TV Movie

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Max Wall, 82, Is Dead; Acted in Beckett Plays". The New York Times. 24 May 1990.
  2. ^ a b c "Max Wall".
  3. ^ "Max's Life Page 1".
  4. ^ An Audience with Max Wall - BBC Radio 4 - first broadcast 3 December 2007
  5. ^ a b c d "Max Wall". Voices of Variety. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  6. ^ Staff, From; Reports, Wire (23 May 1990). "Max Wall; British Dancer-Comedian Gained Fame in Beckett Plays". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ a b "Max's Life Page 4".
  8. ^ "National Portrait Gallery - My Favourite Portrait by Bill Paterson".
  9. ^ "MTH Timeline".
  10. ^ The Guardian, 27 November 1974
  11. ^ "Birdman of Wormwood Scrubs (1982)".
  12. ^ "Aspects of Max Wall (1975)".
  13. ^ Stiff Records Catalogue Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 6 April 2009
  14. ^ Balls, Richard (2000). Sex & Drugs & Rock'N'Roll: The Life of Ian Dury (1st ed.). London: Omnibus Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-0-7119-8644-2.
  15. ^ "Jane (1982)".
  16. ^ "Jane in the Desert (1984)".
  17. ^ Ezard, John (23 May 2016). "Master-clown Max Wall dies - archive, 23 May 1990". The Guardian.
  18. ^ "Max Wall Society". www.maxwallsociety.org/. Retrieved 5 July 2020.

External links[edit]