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Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Charles Williams (February 22, 1926 - April 15, 1988) was a British comic actor, star of over twenty Carry On... films and notable radio comedies with Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne, as well as a witty raconteur on a wide range of subjects.

Life and Career

Kenneth Williams was born near Euston station, London, the son of a hairdresser. He was educated at Lyulph Stanley School. His relationship with his parents - he hated his father and adored his mother - was key to the development of his personality. Williams apprenticed as a draughtsman and joined the army aged 18. He was part of the Royal Engineers survey section in Bombay when he had his first experience of going on stage with Combined Services Entertainment.

After the war, his career began with a number of roles in repertory theatre, but few serious roles were to lend themselves to his style of delivery. His failure to be established as a serious dramatic actor would disappoint him, but it was his potential as a comic actor which gained him his big break. He was spotted playing the Dauphin in George Bernard Shaw's St Joan in 1954 by the radio producer Dennis Main Wilson who was casting Hancock's Half Hour. He would lend his distinctive voice and amazing vocal talent to the radio series to almost the end of its run five years later.

Meanwhile he became a foil to Kenneth Horne in the series' Beyond Our Ken (1958-1963, and then consolidated this with its sequel Round the Horne (1964-1969). In the latter, his roles included the eccentric folk singer, Rambling Syd Rumpo, and Sandy of the extremely camp couple, Julian and Sandy (Julian was played by Hugh Paddick), notable for their arch double entendres and use of the underground gay slang, Polari.

He also worked in television and British films, most notably the Carry On ... series. Particularly in the theatre, he was famous for breaking out of character and talking to the audience. He was a regular panellist on the BBC radio panel game, Just a Minute from its first show in 1967 until his death and regularly presented the children's story-reading series Jackanory. He was a reliable guest on any talkshow, able to regale an audience with amusing anecdotes on every subject. He was extremely well read.

Williams publicly insisted that he was celibate, but in private found his homosexuality difficult to deal with. His diaries contain many references to unconsumated or barely-consumated relationships, described in code as traditional matters or tradiola, probably because homosexuality was still a criminal offense in the United Kingdom for much of the period the diaries cover. He befriended Joe Orton who wrote the role of Inspector Truscott in Loot (1966) for him and enjoyed holidays with Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in North Africa. In later years his health declined. Despite making a good living, he lived throughout his life in a series of small flats in inner London.

He died on April 15, 1988 from an overdose of barbiturates. It was not definitely established whether this was accidental or suicide (Williams' father had died in similarly unclear circumstances when he had drunk a bottle of solvent). The last sentence Williams wrote in his diary was "By 6.30 pain in the back was pulsating as it's never done before … so this, plus the stomach trouble combines to torture me - oh - what's the bloody point?". The posthumous publication of his diaries, edited by Russell Davies, caused some controversy.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Kenneth Williams Facts

BirthdayFebruary 22, 1926
BirthplaceLondon, England, United Kingdom
Date of deathApril 15, 1988 (age 62)

Selected Filmography

The Gambler
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Primal Fear
Bicentennial Man
Friday Night Lights
Wag The Dog
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