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serious recognition for Kenneth Williams at last.
on 17 October 2003
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.