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Celebrating 100 years - Ted Willis



Playwright, novelist and screenwriter, Edward Henry Willis, commonly called Ted Willis, was President of the Humanist Housing Association in the 1970s. Born in 1914, Willis enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers when WWI broke out. Towards the end of the war, he married actress Audrey Hale in 1944, with whom he had a son and a daughter. 

Always a politically active individual, Willis became Chairman of the Labour League of Youth in 1937 as the left candidate. Then in 1941 he became Secretary General of the Young Communist League. 

Willis was passionate about drama and he wrote numerous plays for the Unity Theatre, first starting during the war. Near St Pancras, it was converted from a chapel into a workers’ theatre. The Unity Theatre was a space to encourage political action and portray working class life from a left-wing perspective. The theatre had a new community approach from the early 70s. After a fire in 1975 in the auditorium, several groups tried to raise funds to get the theatre back to use, but eventually, in 1988, the site was sold to St Pancras Housing Association. 

In 1963 he was awarded a life peerage, created in 1964 giving him the title Baron Willis, of Chislehurst in the County of Kent.  

He’d written a great deal for TV - he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most prolific writer for TV -, as well as 39 feature films and 34 stage plays. Television shows such as Dixon of Dock Green quickly made him famous in 1955. He was Chairman of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain from 1958 to 1964 and President of the International Writers’ Guild from 1967 to 1969. 

He died aged 78 in Kent in December 1992.