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Kenneth Williams: Born Brilliant: The Life of Kenneth Williams Paperback – 7 Jul 2011
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Christopher Stevens's diligent biography offers illuminating insights into Kenneth Williams's work and inner life. Underpinned by a warm sympathy, Born Brilliant is often revealing and . . . well-written (Sunday Telegraph)
The book does something interesting and necessary. There is a danger with any book on Williams of just further nailing down the received wisdom: that he was entirely morbid, socially inadequate and consumed by guilt. What Stevens manages to do, even as he throws out all the examples of The Fear, is retune the accepted facts a little and tell the story not just of the melancholia but also of the happiness (Herald)
Christopher Stevens has written a solid, workmanlike, authorised biography of this least solid or workmanlike or authorised of figures (Mail on Sunday)
Stevens adeptly captures the mercurial temperament and frequent malice. For all his flaws, however, Williams remains lovable, to his devoted friends and fans, as well as to Stevens' readers (Metro)
Stevens has done a grand job of reconciling the public and private Williamses (Daily Telegraph)
Williams gets the biography he deserves: impeccably researched, compelling and, despite everything, sympathetic (Scotsman)
a portrait far more sympathetic than the ascerbic one conjured by Williams' edited diary extracts in l993 (Independent)
Excellent biography (Choice)
Stevens has unearthed a great deal of new material (TLS)
The authorised full story of the troubled and brilliant comic genius that was Kenneth WilliamsSee all Product description
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Top Customer Reviews
Those, like me, who never tire of reading something new about Williams will be happy with this latest book to look at the life and times of someone who has achieved just as big a following from today's generation as he did from his own.
This really is the first proper full-length biography of Kenneth Williams, with the first attempt being a rather poor effort by Michael Freedland. Therefore I expected Mr. Stevens to come to his subject having delved deep into the backgrounds of the people and places that so dominated the life of Kenneth Williams. In this the author doesn't disappoint, as drawing on access to the full Diaries, he has managed to bring to the table facts that we otherwise never really knew before. For example, Kenneth's Army career is detailed in good length, including where he was posted at what times, and his early forays into army entertainment is equally nicely documented.
There are revelations scattered here and there, although do not expect anything too shocking because for one Mr Stevens respects his subject too much to allow that, and for another, we already seemed to know every facet of Williams' life that there wasn't a great deal left to find out.
The book is illustrated with some rare pictures, although more pictures would have been welcome. And my only criticism is that there are one or two errors relating to facts; for example, on page 14 the author quotes from an interview with Kenneth Williams which says how rude Charlie Williams (KW's father) was as an hairdresser, the book says the anecdote was from the Pakinson Show when in fact it comes from Desert Island Discs in 1987, which Parkinson presented.Read more ›
The diaries overshadow Born Brilliant and detract from it. At (if I remember correctly) 800 pages they are more than twice the length, so by comparison the biography feels light on detail. It's more than 10 years since I read the diaries but they made a big impression, and as I read Born Brilliant I continually found myself thinking: "Didn't Williams cover this event more thoroughly in the diaries?" I don't own a copy of the diaries so I couldn't check, but the sense of missing detail was constant.
The author tries to correct the impression that Williams hated his father, Charlie, and gives a more sympathetic portrait than emerges from the diaries; he quotes an extract from 1961 that refers to both parents as "darlings". However, I'm not convinced [September 2014 update: I just bought a copy of the diaries. On 8th September of that year Williams wrote in his diary of "all the pent-up hatred of the years" welling up when he saw Charlie. On 18th November: "His kind of egocentricism has always disgusted me...increasingly despicable."]. Williams was capable of expressing love for a friend or relative one day and contempt the next; that was the nature of the man.Read more ›
What I found most interesting was to realise firstly, how extremely celebrated he was in the 50s and 60s and, secondly, how much less his fame was by the last ten to fifteen years of his life. I had known this from my reading elsewhere, of course, but Christopher Stevens underlines these themes and charts the change very precisely.
The author muses, rightly, on the might-have-beens had KW been less fearful of travelling to the States when he had the chance - several times. It is a wistful story, then, but also wonderfully evocative of the times in which KW lived and worked.
Highly recommended to any who love the Carry Ons, Round The Horne or Just a Minute - or, simply, that flawed genius who was, and in many ways still is, Kenneth Williams.
A complex fascinating and brilliant personality. Reading Born Brilliant has sent me searching through archive film to rediscover someone I loved watching as a child.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Much has been said and written about this versatile and clever star who died young(ish) and this is a book that adds to his life and memories. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Mr. P. Paine
I really enjoyed this book it was very interesting to see the real Kenneth Williams which he seems to be a sad lonely man which was a shame it always seems that the gifted are... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Mr. G. King
Lots more detail about Ken's time in the army, and better than his diariesPublished 12 months ago by Bette Stalford
If you enjoyed Mr Williams' performances over the years then this is a great book. I never knew he appeared so much on stage and co-wrote as well. Such a talent. Read morePublished 20 months ago by chrissie
Interesting account of a complex man whose talent and character were very underrated in his lifetime. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Nightmoves
If you don't like Kenneth Williams in the Carry On films, this is not the book for you. I love the Carry On films and, though I like the other members of the cast, Kenneth Williams... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Wilma