Partner Frank Vosper

Queer Places:
34 Acacia Rd, London NW8 6AS, UK

Larger memorial image loading...Peter Augustus Willes (April 30, 1913 - October 22, 1991) was a British actor/producer. By 1935, Willes was living at 34 Acacia Road in St Johns Wood with his partner, the actor and playwright Frank Vosper.

Peter Willes was born on April 30, 1913 in Kings Norton, part of greater Birmingham. He was the son of Richard O. Willes. His mother's maiden name was Harding-Newman. He was a classmate of David Niven at Stowe School in the 1920s.

Willes travelled as secretary to the actor and playwright Frank Vosper on the Aquitania in September 1936. Additionally, he was the "companion" to Frank Vosper on the SS Paris when Vosper died upon falling into the sea from the ship on March 5, 1937.

On 6 March 1937, Frank and Peter returned to England having sailed from New York on the SS Paris. Other passengers included the American writer Ernest Hemingway and Muriel Oxford, Miss Great Britain 1935, who – after a couple of small parts in films had been undertaking film tests in Hollywood. Vosper drowned on 6 March 1937, when he fell from the ocean liner SS Paris.[13] The death was eventually ruled as accidental after considerable media speculation.[7] At the time there was a considerable debate, because Vosper was a well-known homosexual and it was said by many that it was because he found his lover flirting with a beauty queen that he threw himself from the ocean liner.[17] Peter Willes told reporters that he had met Muriel Oxford at a party on the ship, and that she invited him to her state room where they were joined by Frank. As they drank champagne, Frank had gone into the adjoining lounge where they believed he had climbed out of a window and fallen into the sea. At the enquiry, Muriel confirmed Peter’s version of events. She had been at a party in the ballroom the night before the ship was due to dock. She had danced with Peter Willes before ordering a bottle of champagne to be taken to her state room. Although she hadn’t met Peter or Frank before, she explained that she asked them to her join her as they were the only Englishmen onboard. Willes had returned to the cabin that he shared with Vosper who reluctantly agreed to go to Muriel’s state room. They sat talking and after about 20 minutes, Vosper got up and walked across the state room to the private lounge. Muriel thought Frank wanted some air and she showed him how to open the window. Later when she and Peter couldn’t find Frank, they raised the alarm.

From left Olivia de Havilland Ian Hunter Bonita Granville and Peter Willes, Call it a Day 1937

Peter Willes believed that Frank, who was very short sighted and had broken his glasses, must have thought the low sill of the window led to the boat deck and not straight into the sea. He said Frank always preferred to leave parties unobtrusively so as not to appear rude. But he could not believe Frank had committed suicide. He was far too keen on his work and had spent the whole journey writing a new play.

The disappearance of Frank Vosper gave rise to the cruel saying, ‘Never get on a ship with Peter Willes’, which was still in circulation in the 1960s. Willes would go on to have a successful career nonetheless. He appeared in ‘The Dawn Patrol’ (1938) with David Niven – a classmate at Stowe, and ‘Idiot’s Delight’ (1939) with Clark Gable. After a distinguished war service, in 1947 he became the tour manager for popular comedian Vic Oliver. This proved good training for his TV work at Associated Rediffusion as a talent scout and producer. Willes produced TV plays by Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’. From 1966 to 1978, he was the innovative Head of Drama at Yorkshire Television and produced several Joe Orton plays. Willes became a good friend of Orton’s but disliked Orton’s partner Kenneth Halliwell who eventually killed Orton and then committed suicide in August 1967.

Willes was Head of Drama at Yorkshire Television which was then one of the big 5 ITV regional companies that made most of ITV's programming. This was at a time when there were only three UK television channels. Many of his series would get audiences of over 10 million viewers.

He died on October 22, 1991 in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England.

My published books:

See my published books