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Walter Zerlin Jr.

Walter Zerlin Jr was probably the only English barrister who regularly dragged up, tap-danced and conjured professionally on stage. For 25 years, he wrote plays with David McGillivray, among them 10 in the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society series. These were comedies in which an amateur dramatic society murdered Shakespeare, Dickens, and Gilbert and Sullivan. They have been performed around the world; the 2,500th production is expected next year. Zerlin also appeared in roles he wrote for himself, memorably as a lady pianist thumping out songs from The Sound Of Music, prior to a performance of Macbeth. In Running Around The Stage Like A Lunatic (1980), which won an Edinburgh Festival Fringe award, he played all 17 parts.  He was also a legal adviser on A Fish Called Wanda (1988) - Zerlin had defended John Cleese over a parking offence - and the actor later recommended him to help Marlon Brando in courtroom scenes for A Dry White Season. The court was not a substitute for the stage, but Zerlin brought his tireless ebullience to both. Born in Guildford, the son of Czechoslovak Jewish refugees, he read law at King's College London. When I directed him in an amateur production in 1972, I thought him the funniest man I had ever met. I knew him then as Robert Conway, although even that was not his real family name. His father had been Zerkowicz, and had sung in opera as Walter Zerlin. Walter Jr was called to the bar in 1974, and, a year later, when we formed Entertainment Machine, he took over his father's stage name. We also co-edited the British Alternative Theatre Directory for 10 years. In recent years, Zerlin had returned to amateur dramatics, writing, directing and performing near his home in Ewell, Surrey. He was working on a production of The Wizard Of Oz when he was taken ill last May. I find it difficult to envisage completing the script of the final Farndale Avenue play, Peter Pan, without his brilliant visual gags and choreography.


Samuel French Titles by Walter Zerlin Jr.