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Kenneth Charles Williams (22 February 1926 – 15 April 1988) was an English comic actor, star of twenty six Carry On films and notable radio comedies with Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne, as well as a witty raconteur on a wide range of subjects.
Additional recommended knowledge
Life and career
Kenneth Williams was born in 1926 in Bingfield Street, King's Cross, London. The son of barber Charles Williams, he was educated at Lyulph Stanley School. His relationship with his parents — he adored his vivacious mother, Louisa ("Lou"), but hated his morose and selfish father — was key to the development of his personality. Williams became an apprentice draughtsman to a mapmaker and joined the army aged 18. He was part of the Royal Engineers survey section in Bombay when he had his first experience of performing on stage with Combined Services Entertainment along with Stanley Baxter and Peter Nichols.
After the war, his career began with a number of roles in repertory theatre, but few serious parts were to lend themselves to his style of delivery. His failure to become established as a serious dramatic actor would disappoint him, but it was his potential as a comic performer that gave him his big break. He was spotted playing the Dauphin in George Bernard Shaw's St Joan in 1954 by the radio producer Dennis Main Wilson, who was casting Hancock's Half Hour. He would lend his distinctive voice and amazing vocal talent to the radio series to almost the end of its run, five years later. His nasal, whiny, camp-cockney inflections (epitomised in his famous "Stop messing about..." catchphrase) would endure in popular lore for many years.
When Hancock tired (or grew envious) of him, Williams joined Kenneth Horne in the series Beyond Our Ken (1958–1964), and its sequel, Round the Horne (1965–1968). In the latter, his roles included Rambling Syd Rumpo, the eccentric folk singer; The Amazing Proudbasket, human cannonball; J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, professional telephone heavy breather and dirty old man; and Sandy of the extremely camp couple, Julian and Sandy (Julian was played by Hugh Paddick), notable for their double entendres and use of the underground gay slang, Polari.
Williams appeared in a series of West End revues including Share My Lettuce with Maggie Smith and written by Bamber Gascoigne, and Pieces of Eight, which included sketch material from Peter Cook who was still a student at Cambridge University. The revue included a number of Cook sketches such as One Leg Too Few that would become classics and also starred Fenella Fielding. Williams' last revue was One over the Eight, in which he starred with Sheila Hancock. Williams later starred opposite Jennie Linden in the stage hit My Fat Friend in 1972. He also appeared with Ingrid Bergman in a highly successful stage production of George Bernard Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion in 1971.
Williams worked extensively in television and British films, most famously the Carry On series with its very British "nudge nudge" double entendre-laced humour, but for which he along with the rest of the cast were very poorly paid. Williams' diaries claimed he earned more in a British Gas commercial than he did out of the entire Carry On series put together — although that might only be considered true if one adds in the considerable fee he earned from the highly successful spin-off cartoon series Willo the Wisp (ironically taken up by the BBC rather than the commercial TV network). Despite making a good living in his later years, he lived in a series of small flats in north London, the most well-known location being Portland Place.
Particularly in the theatre, he was famous for breaking out of character and talking to the audience. He was a regular panellist on the BBC radio panel game Just a Minute from its second season in 1968 until his death, a regular panellist on the BBC2 TV panel game What's My Line? in the 1970's and he regularly presented the children's story-reading series Jackanory. He was also a "professional" talk-show guest, able to regale an audience with amusing (and often risqué) anecdotes on every subject. He was extremely well read and occasionally used to stand in as host on the popular early evening Wogan talk show. He jointly holds the record (with Billy Connolly) as having made most appearances on Michael Parkinson's eponymous chat show, having been a guest on eight occasions.
Williams publicly insisted that he was celibate, but in private found his homosexuality difficult to deal with. His diaries contain many references to unconsummated or barely consummated relationships, described in code as "traditional matters" or "tradiola", probably because homosexuality was still a criminal offence in the United Kingdom for much of the period covered by the diaries. He befriended Joe Orton who wrote the role of Inspector Truscott in Loot (1966) for him and enjoyed holidays with Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in Morocco. Other close friends included fellow thespians Stanley Baxter, Gordon Jackson and his wife Rona Anderson, Sheila Hancock, Maggie Smith and her playwright husband, Beverley Cross. By turns gregarious and reclusive, Williams was also fond of the company of fellow Carry On regulars Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw.
Williams rarely revealed his private life, but he spoke frankly to Owen Spencer-Thomas about his feelings of loneliness, despondency and underachievement during two half-hour interview programmes, Carry On Kenneth, on BBC Radio London. The comic actor lived alone for the whole of his adult life. In later years his health declined, along with that of his elderly mother, and his depression deepened. He died on 15 April 1988 in Camden. The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates. An inquest recorded an open verdict as it was not possible to establish whether his death was the result of suicide or an accident. (Williams's mentally unstable father had committed suicide after drinking a bottle of disinfectant in 1962.)
The best-selling posthumous publication of his diaries and letters, both edited by Russell Davies, not only caused some controversy over their contents (particularly Williams' often caustic remarks about many of his fellow professionals), but also revealed the periodic bouts of despondency (often primed by feelings of isolation and underachievement) that marked his life.
It was revealed on Steve Wright's Radio 2 show that the flat Williams had lived in was later bought by Rob Brydon and Julia Davis for the writing of their dark comedy series, Human Remains. The building was demolished in May 2007 and according to the actor David Benson's Myspace blog, he and ex-Radio 1 DJ Wes Butters broke in to take photos immediately prior to demolition.
In April 2007, Williams' line "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me", was voted the greatest one-liner in movie history by a poll of a thousand comedy writers, actors, impresarios and members of the public for the launch of Sky Movies Comedy Channel.
Williams has been portrayed in two separate made-for-television films. In 2000, Adam Godley played him in the story of Sid James and Barbara Windsor's love affair, Cor Blimey! Subsequently, in 2006, Michael Sheen played him in the BBC Four drama Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!.
David Benson's 1996 Edinburgh Fringe show, Think No Evil of Us: My Life with Kenneth Williams saw Benson playing the character of Williams, and after touring, the show ran in London's West End. Benson reprised his performance again in a number of shows at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kenneth_Williams". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|