Kenneth Williams, comedian and actor, died yesterday, at the age of 62.
He was a natural comedian: a chamelion of speech (in which he was most influenced by Noel Coward) and a brilliant racontuer often given ot outraged facial distortions as though suddenly exposed to a leaking drain. His humour was awash with camp and jokes of the dubious kind - all bloomers and army medical examinations, which died in the music halls only to be revived on television.
He will, perhaps, be most remembered for his many Carry On films - exercises in wholesale vulgarity, adenoidal whinnying and the double entendre, all served up in generous dollops. Smut, like beauty, was in the eye of the beholder.
Kenneth Williams was born on London's Caledonian Road on February 22, 1926. Early in his childhood the family moved to a flat over a hairdressing shop in Bloomsbury. He went to LCC schools where, as he recalled, his scholastic achievements were "non-existent".
His father, a strict Methodist and van driver with the London, Midland and Scotish Railway, insisted that he learn a trade, and, at the age of 14, he became an apprentice to a cartographer.
During the war, and at the age of 18, he joined the Army and was assigned to make maps for the Royal Engineers. It was while in the Army, feeling "very small and inferior", that he discovered his gift for making people laugh. But people kept telling him to get his knees brown. "Get your knees brown!" they'd say.
He was transferred to Combined Services Entertainment, touring Malaya and Burma, and fetching up at the
Victoria Theatre, Singapore. He and Stanley Baxter were put on as a double act.
By now, he was discovering that, if he got up on the stage, he could make them shut up and look. He believed that his impressions of women were quite good, until the colonel said, "You're and embarrassment", and Williams went into the wings, and wept. He was told that it would be better in Kuala Lumpur, but it never was.
Back in London in civvies after the war, plagued by the fear of poverty which never left him, he thought it best to return to draughtmanship. But he found the office routine unbearable. He subsisted for a time on a rapidly dwindling Army gratuity and sat alone in his room listening to the gramaphone. He wrote to all the provincial repertories, and at last was given a job in Newquay. The experience there stood him in good stead - Shaw, Ibsen, Wilde.
He was Slightly in Peter Pan with Brenda Bruce; appeared in SaintJoan at the Old Vic; and took the West End lead in the revue Share My Lettuce - one performance of which had to be cancelled after he overslept. Orson Welles directed him in Moby Dick,
but Williams declined his offer to go to America. "You will tread the road to oblivion", Welles intoned. Ooooh, how dreadful, thought Williams.
He was a friend of Joe Orton who wrote Loot for him and which he directed at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in 1980. But he did not, he confessed, belong to the Hamlet brigade.
Listeners first got to know him well in Beyond Our Ken and Hancock's Half Hour, and, later, in Round the Horne and Just a Minute. A younger audience avidly followed his story-telling in Jackanory, and wrote to tell him so.
On televison, he got his own show, and also presented International Caberet. He was his usual wildly outrageous self, but the material was woefully thin.
Kenneth Williams was, as the cliches go, and intensely private man and a confirmed bachelor. He religiously kept a diary since he was a boy, tempered and expurgated extracts from which went into his autobiography, Just Williams, and his several other anecdotal books.
He was devoted to a small circle of friends, and to his mother. He was a clown by choice, and an extremely gifted clown at that, who only appreared not to take himself seriously.
He was a self-educated man with a passion for reading, mainly biography and history. He studied gothic calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts, and enjoyed Brahms and Schumann. He read peotry and admired Erich Heller as the critic who most lovingly made the pleasures of German literature available to one who did not understand German.
Like many in his laugh-making profession, he seemed to live under a cloud; but even not to know him was to like him.