Chairman of the Writers’ Guild and author of popular radio plays including the Screaming trilogy on BBC
Wally or Wally K (as he was known to his many friends) Daly was born in Grangetown, Middlesbrough – a tight-knit, impoverished community. Whenever he could, he acknowledged the huge debt he owed to a local theatre group, which gave him a chance to perform.
Throughout his life, he kept in close touch with group members and the area, and was “absolutely chuffed” when Teesside University made him an honorary Master of Literature in 1995, later offering to house his personal archive.
In 1961, he moved to London. After a spell at the Mermaid Theatre working for Bernard Miles, he became chief electrician at the Duke of York’s and, while there, tried his hand at writing, submitting Whistling Wally to BBC Radio in 1973.
Fortunately, it landed on my desk. I was immediately taken by its fierce intensity, clarity and humour. Drawing on his personal memories, he recounted his difficult relationship with his alcoholic father. In this, and all subsequent plays, his dialogue leapt off the page with energy and freshness. This was the start of a writer/director relationship that lasted until his final play in 2011 – Whistling Wally’s Son – about growing up on Vaughan Street. During a visit to Grangetown to record location interviews, he was moved to tears by how much had vanished.
Following the broadcast of Whistling Wally, he was contacted by the composer Jim Parker who suggested collaborating on a musical. The result was Follow the Star, directed by Wendy Toye, which premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre. The theatre’s artistic director Keith Michell offered to sponsor Wally so he could approach the Arts Council for a grant enabling him to write full-time. He never looked back.
He wrote scripts for Casualty, Juliet Bravo and Byker Grove and even an episode of Doctor Who, which was never produced but, to Wally’s great delight, was recently released as an audio story. However, it was on radio that his imagination was given free rein. I always waited with excitement for his next new play to arrive and was never disappointed. His spelling was wobbly and his punctuation ‘interesting’, but the dialogue just flooded out of him and never failed to engage and make you think.
He could write farce, comedy, horror and sci-fi (his Screaming trilogy has been a great Radio 4 Extra standby), as well as challenging plays about his Catholic faith. These include: What’s Stigmata, described by the BBC’s then director general as “the perfect radio play”; Welcome Sister Death with Bill Nighy as St Francis and music by Parker; Marys – two harrowing monologues performed by Barbara Jefford and Imelda Staunton; Priest and Confessor with Richard Briers, and For I Have Sinned with Bernard Cribbins.
He won many accolades including two Giles Cooper awards for radio play of the year.
In 1988-89, he was chairman of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. For many years, he was also an enthusiastic member of Kensington Rotary Club, becoming district governor of Rotary London in 2008 and representing the organisation at home and abroad.
He was delightful company, generous, warm-hearted and funny
Neat and dapper with a small trademark pigtail, he was delightful company, generous, warm-hearted and funny. He loved entertaining and would often treat friends to tea at the Ritz.
One of his greatest assets was his unique, gravelly voice, used to great effect playing talking birds. I shall never forget his Captain Flint, the parrot in Treasure Island, when I had to banish him from the studio because no one could speak for laughing, as he kept croaking seductive “pieces of eight” whenever he could.
Wally was married twice – first to Pauline Baker Shackell, the mother of his two children Adam and Samantha, who tragically predeceased him in 2017 – and then to Melanie Howard.
Wally Daly was born on November 13, 1940 and died on April 30, aged 79.