Back when I was a mere stripling, as it where, there was nothing quite as funny as the old Carry On movies. Sid James, Hattie Jacuqes, Barbie Windsor (pre-East Enders), Charles Hawtrey but especially Kenneth Williams. He was pencil thin, beautifully groomed and spoke in that nasal posh accent that made the double-entendre sound more double and even more entendre! Those roles in these wonderfully silly movies and his camp Sandy and Julian sketches on Round the Horne often obscured the real talent that was Williams.
Right down to the crooning vibrato of the diseur - that Brelish-Aznavourish Gaelic nasality - he captures the essence of every popular French singer of the period. And the lyrics - well I'm dedicating them to my darling Lara - she can use them on French Friday and impress the hell out of Monique, Benoit, Jean-Louis and the gang!
Maggie Smith once admitted that Ken Williams was the greatest influences in her life as a comic actress; from him she learned the technique that has kept her in the forefront of performers to this day - as witness her brilliant performances in Downton Abbey and recently in the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. They had a special relationship and it showed not only on stage but when they appeared on shows like Parkinson - trading banter, barbs and sometimes arguing like an old married couple. One night they got into a spate about politics but minutes later were reading an early poem by Sir John Betjeman, then Poet Laureate and another of Parky's guests that night. Sir John is obviously moved by the simple, sincere reading they give of Death in Leamington.
Williams was never really a happy man - for all his wit, talent and intelligence he could never reconcile himself to being gay. Given the characters he was famous for playing it was a sad irony. In a particularly revealing entry in his diary he wrote, "All problems have to be solved eventually by ONESELF, and that's where all your lovely John Donne stuff turns out to be a load of crap because, in the last analysis, A MAN IS AN ISLAND." On April 15, 1988 Williams was found dead, apparently from a lethal drug overdose. No suicide note was found but it is now widely believed that he had decided to solve his problem himself.
29 October - 1889: Stanley Park dedicated in Vancouver, BC