Tom Kirby Walls and Tom Kenneth Walls Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains items regarding the theatre and film career of Tom Kirby Walls. It contains scripts, photographs, musical manuscripts, personal letteres and press cuttings of his performances.

The Collection also contains some details of Tom Kenneth Walls, his son, in particular personal letters from Walls Jnr. to Ralph "Bob" Lynn, a co-star of Walls Snr.

Administrative / Biographical History

TOM KIRBY WALLS (1883 - 1949)

The actor, producer and director was born in Northampton. After a few false starts to his working life, he began a career in the Metropolitan Police. However, shortly after joining he left as he felt drawn to life on the stage. He began his performing career when he joined a seafront pierrot troupe in Brighton. After touring Britain and North America as an actor, he made his first appearance on the London stage at the Empire, Leicester Square in 1907. Between 1912 and 1921 Walls cemented his position in the West End with fourteen musical comedies at eight major theatres.

In 1922, in partnership with Leslie Henson, Walls entered management of the Shaftesbury Theatre. Here they produced the farce Tons of Money, by Will Evans and Valentine (A. T. Pechey). It was a huge success and ran for two years. With the profits Walls and Henson took over the Aldwych. Here, their partnership with the writer, Ben Travers, made him and the 'Aldwych gang' extremely popular in London theatre. Walls acted in all of the Aldwych productions of Travers plays alongside Ralph Lynn, with Mary Brough and Robertson Hare in support.

With his mounting prosperity Walls assumed the management of the Fortune Theatre in 1927, where he staged a number of Frederick Lonsdale's plays.

Many of Walls' successful shows proved profitable subjects to satisfy the great demand for British screen comedy across the empire, and Walls was now lost to the stage for seven years (1931-8). He made his film début with Rookery Nook. After the success of Rookery Nook, Walls went on to make twenty-two films between 1930 and 1938. Seventeen of these were of Travers' plays; nineteen of them Walls directed himself. He made nine films for the British and Dominion studio and ten for Gaumont-British, but for the last in this period, Old Iron, he formed his own company, T.W. Productions.

Late in 1938 Walls returned to the stage, touring variety theatres in The Van Dyke. In 1939 he took over the Alexandra in Stoke Newington, which he ran as a repertory theatre. His last stage appearance was in 1948, in a revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, but it was not well received. Deafness hampered his acting in his final years. He returned to the screen in 1943, now often in more serious character roles. His last film was The Interrupted Journey in 1949.

Walls' success on stage and screen allowed him to induldge in his love of horse racing and dog breeding. He maintained a racing stable at his home in Ewell in Surrey, where he set up as a trainer in 1927. He trained a few winners, most notably the Epsom Derby winner in 1932, April the Fifth.

Lack of finance from a mix of high-living and ill fortune caused him to give up training horses in 1948, and he died insolvent 27 November 1949. Many of his effects and his house and stables had to be sold off by his executors.

On 2 February 1910 Walls married Alice Hilda Edwards, also an actress on the musical comedy stage. They had one son, Tom Kenneth Walls.

TOM KENNETH WALLS (1914 - 1992)

Tom Walls Jnr. Served time in the Royal Airforce Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War and continued until he retired having attained the rank of Squadren Leader.

Walls Jnr. rode as a National Hunt jockey on horses trained by his father and for other owners, and rode his own mare Crafty Alice to victory in the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown Park in 1934.

He was also involved in the threatre and films, though to a far lesser extent than his father. He spent his later life living in Banstead.

Arrangement

The Collection arranged in to two subfonds relating to Tom Kirby Walls and his son Tom Kenneth Walls.

  • THM/293/1 Tom Kirby Walls.
  • THM/293/2 Tom Kenneth Walls.

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by Copley, Clark and Bennett, Solicitors of Sutton per The Old Vic Theatre, London in January 1993, following the death of Tom Kenneth Walls in November 1992.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Tom Kirby Walls, as well as the Aldwych Theatre in general may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.