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"Oh Hellooooo" To A Familiar Face
on 20 May 2010
The title of this book is rather ironic as it was forever his fate that upon his appearance on the the television sets and cinemas of this Country, Charles Hawtrey's presence would be met by someone in the audience saying, "It's him, what's his name? The fella' with the funny glasses!"
What this book draws out is how much Hawtrey wanted to be recognised as so much more, an actor, nay thespian, who would garner the same respect as Guinness or Gielgud. Hawtrey's bad luck was to be born with the Peter Pan quality of always looking like a school boy, and having the general 'weedy' demeanour that the Carry On films would take to their bosom and ultimately suffocate through typecasting.
This book does a great effort in bringing to life - or misery - the peculiar, weird and downright tragic life of a comedy genius. That he was quite megalomaniac right from the off in demanding top billing, even in his early days of radio broadcasting, supports the general view that has been held that Hawtrey was ultimately dropped from the Carry On series because his demands of top billing were getting more and more strident. Indeed, one thing that does come out is that Hawtrey never learnt when to keep quiet and not rock the boat, this was at a high cost to his career as many people in the 'business' grew tired of such behaviour, or were weary of hiring him.
Hawtrey's life is therefore revealed in all its many guises, from the early years detailing his many begging letters to the BBC, to the final years when we get to see the glorious pictures of a dishevelled Hawtrey (minus toupee) outside his burning house in Kent having just been rescued from certain death after a rent boy he was entertaining decided to ignite the abode because of some argument over payment.
In a way this book is the perfect complement to Mr Butter's previous biography on Kenneth Williams. Both were similar men in many ways, although Hawtrey was never the Pied Piper that Williams used to be on Carry On sets, both were to an extent coloured far too much by their mothers and it was the fate of these two giants of post-war British comedy to end up being celebrated - and forever ingrained on our conscience - for a film series they both hated artistically.