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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
I think its worth a read even for NON-avid fans.
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 ›
He was a very good writer. I'd also like to read the conversations that we're told he recorded. Orton stole a lot from him (and so did Maggie Smith!). I'm sure that one day, when there's no longer a risk of libel or upsetting relatives, his diaries will be published in full.
I've just reached the point in the book when his life seems to be disintegrating - so sad! He had some bad experiences in the theatre (Gentle Jack sounds dreadful) and retreated from it. He was always lonely, but when he made relationships he was all over new people and then got bored with them quickly. His friends put up with some awful behaviour. He bore grudges and wrote long paranoid letters (or diary entries). He saw slights where none existed (or made them up). He was depressed. He was ill. Would we now say he was bipolar? He had sexual problems - could a therapist have sorted them out?
I'd just like to address the reviewer who speculated that when Stevens wrote "exercise his despite" he meant "exorcise his despair". KW loved to show off his huge vocabulary (OOooh, Matron!), and he liked to use the word "despite", which means "contempt". (You despise someone, but hold them in contempt; a few centuries ago you could contemn them and hold them in despite.)
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.
The revealing `Comic Roots' documentary that KW made in 1983, in which he revisited several of his former Bloomsbury haunts, doesn't seem to have warranted a mention; nor has the extensive 'Kenneth Williams: Seriously Outrageous' Reputations BBC-Tv two-part documentary broadcast in 1998, which featured informative testimony from several of KW's friends and fellow thesps.
There's also scant mention of KW's friendship with actor Gordon Jackson, which was, the published KW 'Diaries' suggest, one of tremendous importance to him; the book doesn't even say much about how they met.
Quibbles, you say; and you'd be right. Don't let them put you off buying and enjoying this otherwise excellent book.
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 5 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 14 months ago by Mr. G. King
Lots more detail about Ken's time in the army, and better than his diariesPublished 14 months ago by Bette Stalford
Think you know all about Kenneth Williams? Think again . This meticulously researched biography reveals a many faceted man, flawed to be sure, as we all are, but fighting... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Tweedledum
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 22 months ago by chrissie
Interesting account of a complex man whose talent and character were very underrated in his lifetime. Read morePublished 22 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 22 months ago by Wilma