Kenneth Williams (1926-1988)
Son of a London hairdresser, Williams was born on February 22, 1926. He studied
lithography before the war. He performed briefly with the Tavistock Players, an
amateur dramatic troupe, but was inducted into the army in 1944.
He began his professional performing career in Singapore just after World War II.
In 1948, having returned to Britain, he embarked on a career that would
encompass theater, film, cabaret, television, and radio.
Beginning with Carry On Sergeant in 1958 and continuing through the late 1970s,
he appeared in 26 of the slapstick "Carry On" films. In these he played
characters that were, to a degree that varied from film to film, camp, knowing,
and sarcastic. The "Carry On" films were lucrative for Williams, but they
stereotyped him as a campy queen and eventually limited his career.
Williams's vocal talents brought him fame through two comedy radio shows of the
1950s and early 1960s: Hancock's Half Hour and Beyond Our Ken. His ability to
create vivid comic characters through voice alone was never put to better use
than in another radio show, Kenneth Horne's Round the Horne (1965-1968).
Williams was homosexual by inclination but avoided sexual relationships.
By turns outrageous and conservative, he was plagued by disgust for what he
considered to be typical gay lifestyles (promiscuous, disordered, camp, in some
way sinful) and admired heterosexual family life. He wrote in his diaries of
wanting to find his perfect companion, but carefully avoided involvement with
any possible candidates.
On April 15, 1988, he was found dead in his London flat. He had taken an
overdose of barbiturate washed down with alcohol.