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Tom Walls: Actor, producer, policeman, Derby-winning owner-trainer.

Byline: David Ashforth

Tom Kirby Walls, a smartly dressed, naturally good-humoured man with a manicured moustache and what The Tatler called "a salacious eye", was a most unlikely, and long-forgotten, trainer of a Derby winner. Yet in 1932 it was reported, "No owner of a Derby winner has ever had a greater ovation than that given to Mr Tom Walls, the owner-trainer of April The Fifth".

Ridden by Freddie Lane at

100-6, April The Fifth owed his name partly to the date on which he was foaled and partly to the fact that it was a name with 13 letters. Thirteen was Walls's lucky number. There were 13 letters in his own name, 13 in that of Robertson Hare, and Tons Of Money had opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on April 13, 1922, starring both Walls and Hare.

For Tom Walls was a famous and successful comic actor and producer, who at one time combined acting with riding in flapping races, and both with being a London policeman -

PC 251, C Division. No wonder that, when he died, one obituarist remarked, "Tom Walls lived the lives of five men and spent the income of ten".

Walls graduated to the Shaftesbury Theatre via selling programmes at the Prince's Theatre in Manchester and playing Aladdin in Australia. When Tons Of Money was a roaring success, transferring to the Aldwych and boasting 737 performances, Walls bought a Rolls Royce and followed up with a string of Ben Travers plays, which became known as the Aldwych farces. It Pays To Advertise, in 1924, was followed by A Cuckoo in the Nest, Rookery Nook, Thark, Plunder, A Cup of Kindness, A Night Like This, Marry The Girl, Turkey Time and, finally, in 1932, Dirty Work. Walls, who produced the plays as well as performing in them, forged a celebrated acting partnership with Ralph Lynn.

He boasted: "In my time as actor-manager in the theatre, I doubt if there were any others of the same period making as much money as I was."

He used some of it to buy oysters and some to set up as a trainer in Epsom, where he and his Staffordshire bull terriers, led by Buller, looked after a small string of horses from stables behind Walls's house, The Looe, at Ewell.

After an evening performance in the West End, Walls was prone to order celebratory oysters by the scores of dozen before making an early morning appearance on Epsom Downs, followed by breakfast, with sherry for the first course and whisky for the last. There may have been a boiled egg in between.

The actor-trainer bought April The Fifth as a yearling for 200gns, and though the colt finished sixth in the 2,000 Guineas, he did not win a race until mid-May, at Gatwick, following up with a more promising victory in the inaugural Lingfield Derby Trial.

By this time, Walls had turned his attention from the theatre to the cinema, successfully transferring several Aldwych farces from floorboards to film. At Elstree studios, where Walls was filming Thark, the staff all backed April The Fifth, as they did at the Aldwych, where owner Mr C Sharpe declared: "The whole theatre had something on that grand horse. Everybody here put money on April The Fifth for sentimental reasons."

West End theatreland was said to have been in a frenzy of excitement and the barman at the Savoy marked the occasion with an April The Fifth cocktail, based on Walls's black and pink racing colours. "Pinkish in hue, it contained grenadine, vermouth and gin, and a large black olive."

The winning trainer declared himself "wonderfully proud" and asked: "Who says they cannot train a Derby winner at Epsom?" Having lost a lot of money betting in the past, Walls corrected the balance slightly by winning a reputed pounds 10,000.

He certainly needed it because, later in the 1930s, Walls's fortunes went into sharp decline. His son, Tom Kenneth Walls, shared his father's interest in racing and won the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown on Crafty Alice in 1934, but Walls snr lost a lot of money in an ill-fated investment in the inappropriately named Fortune Theatre.

During the filming of Turkey Time, late the previous year, Walls was accused of bad time-keeping. His reputation was not helped by a letter he wrote to the film's director, at the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, which read: "I should be very grateful if you could arrange for us to shut down for the two days, August 14 and 15. I will be perfectly frank in stating the reason. I want to go up to Cumberland and shoot grouse on those two days."

The director was not amused, and Walls's explanation, that his late appearances in the morning were the result of a heavy bag of fan mail, does not seem to have been regarded as acceptable.

Walls was a hard worker, but he realised that, now in his mid-50s, he was no longer suited to the role of suave seducer, with which he had made his comic name. Although he returned to the theatre in 1939, he never achieved the same success.

Nor as a trainer. Financial problems forced Walls to give up training in 1948 and he died, bankrupt, the following year, aged 66. He had added his own, unique contribution to the Derby's rich history and his ashes were scattered at the scene of his great racing triumph.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2003
Words:907
Previous Article:Funny Cide faces small field in Belmont Stakes.
Next Article:Derby Countdown: Encyclopaedia of Epsom.


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