Born in Tottenham, Middlesex, Willis was elected Chairman of the Labour League of Youth as the candidate of the left in 1937. In 1941 he became Secretary General of the Young Communist League. He was also drama critic for the Daily Worker
Willis enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers in 1939, subsequently serving in the Army Kinematograph Service. He often spoke at meetings during the Second World War in favour of opening a second front in order to help the Red Army which was bearing the brunt of the Nazi onslaught.
His passion for drama first manifested in plays he wrote for the Unity Theatre, based in a former chapel near St Pancras, during the war. He was best known for writing the television series Dixon of Dock Green, based on the stories of Gordon Snashall, a local Chislehurst policeman with whom he was great friends; the series ran for more than twenty years. He also wrote nine films. He was Chairman of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain from 1958 to 1964. Willis created several British television series such as Virgin of the Secret Service, Hunter's Walk, The Adventures of Black Beauty, Copper's End, Sergeant Cork and Mrs Thursday.
Announced on 23 December 1963 he was awarded a life peerage, which was created on 21 January 1964 with the title Baron Willis, of Chislehurst in the County of Kent, on a Labour Party nomination.
He married the actress Audrey Hale in 1944 and they had a son and a daughter. He died of a heart attack at his home in Chislehurst, Kent in December 1992 aged 78, and was buried at Tottenham Cemetery.
|Party political offices|
| National Secretary of the Young Communist League
1941 - c.1946