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146 of 149 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars serious recognition for Kenneth Williams at last., 17 Oct 2003
By 
S. Hapgood "www.sjhstrangetales.com" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
Kenneth Williams was almost the archetypal red-nosed clown who longed to be respected as a Serious Actor, so I can't help feeling that he would have been quietly pleased at the reputation his diaries have gained in recent years. In one entry,on a rare day when he was feeling contented with his lot, he said that he felt he had the life of a cultured 18th century gentleman, a la Dr Johnson, and I think that's how he would have loved to have seen himself all the time. Sadly, it was more usually the case that he saw his life in the bleakest, starkest terms: as an actor of great talent reduced to buffooning to pay the bills, living an austere life in a sparten flat, attached to a mother whom he both adored and resented at the same time, and unable to accept that to have a lover you need to get physical with them! Williams almost had a morbid fear of close physical contact with other human beings, and yet at the same time yearned to feel a pair of strong arms around him.
His love/hate relationship with Louie also extended to his fellow Carry On stars. He respected Sid James enormously as an actor, and yet at the same time bitchily poked fun at Sid when he got pretentious. He was very fond of Joan Sims (he once asked her to marry him, on condition that they had separate bedrooms, rather understandably she turned him down!) but couldn't take it when she told him to pipe down at the lunch table. With Charles Hawtrey he obviously had an awful lot in common and yet was constantly exasperated at Hawtrey's messy private life. (The entry where he and some friends go to see Hawtrey in Gravesend and find him completely drunk and unable to take care of himself is quite upsetting). He also lays into Phil Silvers ruthlessly when he guest-starred in "Carry On Follow That Camel", and was unable to even read the auto-cue. Williams was extremely fond of Barbara Windsor, and her down-to-earth bubbliness was probably just what he needed. He also had great respect for Kenneth Connor and constantly praises him in the most glowing terms.
For anyone who likes showbusiness anecdotes these diaries are an absolute must. In his long career Williams worked with most of the greats of British comedy and theatreland. Williams often yearned to escape from showbusiness, and got quite envious of Ronnie Barker for deciding to retire at the top of his career, and yet at the same time Williams would not have been able to survive without it. He was an incorrigible show-off who needed to be the centre of attention, and yet hated people recognising him in the street. His suicide came at a time when his career seemed to have stalled irretrievably, and he could see no future for himself. It doesn't need me to say that the final months of his life make for very painful reading. I don't think I will ever forget that last line, "oh what's the bloody point?"
Williams was always much too hard on himself. No one can say that the Carry On's are great art, but they have endured and are still immensely popular today, so there must have been something to them. And Williams was an absolutely indispensable part of the team. It's a shame he could never give himself any real credit.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing book from an amazing talent, 25 Oct 2002
This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
This book took my breath away,the diaries of the late Carry on star although he would most annoyed to think of himself as just a Carry on 'actor' are one of the best things ever committed to paper.
Williams diaries which span his life from a 16 year old in 1942 until his death by his own hand in 1988 aged 62 chronicle the life of a very talented but a very repressed and unstable and unhappy individual.It also shows an era when to be gay and 'out' was punishable by having your career destroyed and possibly being sent to prison and so having to escape to plaves like Tangiers to fufill a need that he could not find at home.
The book also chronicles Williams career from his first 'hit' as the Dauphin in St Joan thru the Hancock era to the cabaret and Carry Ons which were to be the backbone of his career for nearly 20 years.
It also shows the incredibly strong relationship between Kenneth and his mother Louie who was his greatest fan and accompanied him to all his recordings of radio shows such as Just a Minute,Round the Horne etc and ended up living next door to each other and their funny yet bizarre and frankly weird dependence on each other.Also for someone who was so well loved his spartan and frugal lifestyle was a revelation,someone who didnt cook in fact his cooker was covered in cling film and he would not let anyone use his lavatory.
The last 2 years of the diaries 1986-1988 show Kenneth becoming more and more ill as well as the declining health of his mother continued to gnaw at him and in the end this was the reason he took his own life at the age of 62.I say to anyone who enjoys a good read to buy and savour this book a great writer and diarist in the Pepys league
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and Malicious, 24 Feb 2003
By 
Curns "curns" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
I honestly think Kenneth Williams was unique. He certainly seemed to hate much about himself and didn't have a great deal of time for a lot of other people. Sadly, the Diaries' reputation precedes them and I expected more of the bitchiness that he is - supposedly - famed for. Despite that, there is plenty of Kenneth's acid tongue in this book. His barbs are aimed squarely at his fans, his colleagues and the shows he felt obliged to work in. Some of the most intriguing insights are those that relate to the Carry On film series. Before Carry On made him famous, he was a well-respected stage actor. The Carry On films made him legendary (and wealthy) but he often felt they were beneath him.
Kenneth is well aware of his own nature. On 20 March 1987 he writes, "Everyone was v. nice to me ... it is extraordinary that I'm so liked because I'm invariably rude & tetchy" and that sums up much of the book. You get a sense of love for the theatre, plays, and poetry and even for some of the work. However he is also offensive to many and seemed to have few good words for much of British Theatre. Much of the hate is due to an inner turmoil over the lack of companionship in his life ("Never to speak of my love for a man") and some from the frustrations of his nature. Obsessed by noise and cleanliness the very act of living seems painful - and in the end his illness and genuine pain appear to get too much for him.
The diaries are very well written and Davies' editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn't appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book. Words seem to flow easily which is, perhaps, not surprising for a man who made a living in the final years of his life from his large collection of humorous anecdotes. Spanning over forty years it's hard to keep track of the players in Kenneth's life and at 800 pages it's not a light read. Nevertheless, the diaries are a vivid, malicious and (at times) very funny read into the world of a man who, in his day, was considered outrageous.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Never Without It, 19 Jun 2007
By 
M. Donnelly "26963" (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
Kenneth Williams was the jewel in the comedy crown. His diaries are a fantastic read and show how troubled and lonely he was but also that he was a sincere friend to many and much loved the world over. Suffice to say, I never go away anywhere without a copy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly honest and engrossing personal diary of K W, 13 Nov 2000
By 
chepalle (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
I have to agree with the earlier reviewer who said that this book almost makes you feel that you are KW. By the end of it you are left with the impression that you know him almost as well as you know yourself. What I like most about this book is the unflinching honesty - KW never tries to portray himself in the best possible light and is often very self critical. By the end of the book you'll still be undecided about how much you like him but the ending will have you in tears - it all seems such a waste and so mundane. A book to really wallow in and savour.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honesty is such a Lonely Word, 28 Aug 2007
By 
Eugene Onegin (Lincoln England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
Few actors on-screen personas stand in such stark contrast to their private characters as Kenneth Williams's. The perennial star of The Carry On films with its crude innuendo and clumsy slapstick were a million miles away from the physically meticulous and fundamentally serious man who we meet in these moving and hugely revealing diaries. If you like snippets of showbiz gossip or bitchy comments about fellow performers from Sid James to Tony Hancock then you will find them here, but what is much more interesting is the portrait of Williams the man which emerges from these pages-one torn between admiration and disgust at is own appearance and acting ability, his constant battle between the moral censure of his homosexuality and a delight in exploring its possibilities alongside his desire to find a spiritual meaning to existence whilst doubting that such a revelation was possible. Many may find the mundane details of Williams' daily life the most compelling as he lives a curious `husband and wife' kind of relationship with his mother, his travails doing the shopping or his acute criticisms of television programmes.
Partner less throughout his life, Williams' diaries had to act as his mentor, sounding board and punch bag and surely few written records of lives have afforded such an in-depth view of a performer, his opinions, hang-ups and motivations for if these diaries are one thing then they are blisteringly honest. Every thought, bitter word, prejudice, and malicious aside are allowed to stand unexpurgated and unexplained and consequently by the end one feels one knows a truly convincing and rounded character whose opinions and judgements are neither consistent nor predictable. Some may find Williams observations on race, politics or his associates offensive, but opening the book at random one may as easily marvel at his compassion or humanity. In short, this is the work of a complex, contradictory but highly intelligent man who found himself increasingly alienated from a world which had offered him a degree of fame and recognition but little happiness. Many may see a glimpse of their own frustrations captured in the writer's daily struggles and this adds poignancy to the final denouement of the diaries which is tragic as it is inevitable, one feeling a sadness which only comes from losing someone who you feel you truly know. It is a book which I often dip into: it's a bit like having a conversation with a fascinating but acerbic friend. Recommended especially to those who don't particularly like Williams or his films.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing day by day story of a tormented man, 11 Aug 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
This has to be one of the best books that I have ever read. I always knew that KW had a different side to his character, but reading the book was a revelation. I don't know what others think but at times I actually believed that I was KW. The content of it is very powerful, from his opinions of both himself and those around him to his own erotic thoughts and actions. As I neared the end of it I was almost willing him not to take the overdose, but for someone who had thought about it all his life it was perhaps inevitable...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unintentional hatchet job?, 8 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
A compelling read, not least because Williams is seemingly incapable of editing out his unpleasantness to all around him. To be fair, he's relentlessly harsh on himself too but he must have be a nightmare to work with and yet he seemed to be unable to understand other people's reactions to him. A complex, contradictory man who was full of aspirations which never really worked out. Often laugh out loud funny, often tragic, often breathtakingly unpleasant but always interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lengthy but worthy read, 30 Jan 2012
By 
A. Brown "oneexwidow" (Bristol) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
"The preoccupation with diary writing is caused by various things: the desire to keep a record which can be useful later, and committing to paper what can't be communicated to a mentor... oh! all kinds of reasons, but fundamentally it is about loneliness."
Kenneth Williams, Diaries, Tuesday 8 March 1988

Having grown up without a telly, I knew Kenneth Williams primarily through Just a Minute. In later years, I became acquainted with the Carry On films, Round the Horne and H-H-Hancock's Half Hour.

There was, of course, much more to Williams' oeuvre than these examples, although it is fair to say that these are the things he is best known for. His career took in a period in the far east in forces entertainment, repertory and West End theatre and, latterly, work as a raconteur, author and regular chat show guest (and occasional host.) There was also a lot of voice over work over the years.

His diaries, published in 1993, were edited from over forty years of volumes that he kept from 1942 until his death in 1988 by Russell Davies. Mr Davies himself is mentioned in the diary on several occasions - never, it has to be said, in particularly glowing terms. The task was somewhat Herculean in nature but is achieved with skill and distinction. I got the impression that the diaries have been fairly edited to provide a rounded view of Williams, warts and all. The picture that emerges is one of a complex character, a man who was never truly at ease - with his sexuality, his work choices, his finances or with other people.

The book contains a biographical introduction and appendices detailing the addresses Williams lived at, the films he references in the diaries and an extensive index. I felt it could have benefited from a list of his various jobs over the years and some form of Dramatis Personae as a reference to the hundreds of people mentioned in the diaries. Indeed, now two decades have passed since publication, it may be possible for those not specifically named to now be so - and for the diaries to be re-edited with less fear of the libel laws.

I thoroughly recommend the diaries to anyone interested in Williams' career or the history of theatre and light entertainment in Britain.

This is an edited version of the review from my blog: [...]
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kenneth Williams Diaries, 8 Oct 2002
This review is from: The Kenneth Williams Diaries (Paperback)
Anyone who saw Kenneth Williams in his Carry On Films will absolutely love reading this book. It gives a real insight into the man himself, a caring, kind and delightful person.
He would have excelled as a writer, he writes straight from the heart. This book is well worth buying. One really enters his life with him as one reads his diaries, it is difficult to put this book down. I would definetly not sell my book as each time you read it you see different sides to his sensitive character.
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