Kenneth Charles Williams (February 22nd 1926 — April 15th 1988) was an English actor, comedian and radio personality, mostly known for his 26 appearances in the Carry On film series, and several TV appearances.
He joined the army in World War II and entertained many of the soldiers, realizing he wanted to become an actor. He began in theater in his twenties, appearing in An Inspector Calls and The Importance of Being Earnest as well as other West End stage productions, before being picked up by Tony Hancock to be in Hancock's Half Hour alongside Hattie Jacques and Sid James to play characters in comedy sketches.
He also appeared in the Kenneth Horne-starring radio series Beyond Our Ken and its Spiritual Successor Round the Horne in which he played a variety of characters — including a camp man alongside Hugh Paddick, and was a fixture of the panel on Just a Minute from 1968 to his death twenty years later. In 1958, he appeared as a snobbish National Serviceman in a film project named Carry On, Sergeant, which went on to create the Carry On franchise, in which Williams appeared in the most films out of the entire recurring cast, portraying smug snakes and sophisticated middle-class characters.
Between the films, Williams continued to appear on television, radio and stage, also appearing as a guest star on many projects (such as Jackanory) in the media. He eventually gained his own television segment on the show An Audience With..., in which he performed stand-up and had celebrity guests. One of the last things he ever did was voice the characters of Willo The Wisp in 1981.
However, behind the scenes, Williams was facing problems in his personal life. Upon realizing as a young man that he was homosexual, he spent most of his life resenting and hating himself, due to being raised Methodist Catholic. Then he began to become depressed and suicidal, eventually being found dead in his flat on April 15th 1988 after an overdose of antidepressants. Whether it was an accident or a suicide is debatable to this day. His diaries from his adulthood were collected up and published, and are loved by thousands of Kenneth Williams fans around the world.
- All Gays Love Theater: In his stand-up, he once said that his father was against him going into the performing arts because "all the actors were poofs".
- Armored Closet Gay: Despite his camp mannerisms and portrayals, there were many that didn't know he was homosexual until his death.
- Bury Your Gays: Some of his Carry On roles made him the villain that always lost.
- Camp Straight: His many film roles ended up as this.
- Country Matters: He got away with a long semi-serious rant against Just A Minute radio show host Nicholas Parsons, repeatedly calling one of Britain's national treasures a "complete cult" and variations on this theme in front of a live audience. He got away with this by pointing to the undeniable fact the genial veteran entertainer Nicholas was indeed enjoying cult status among students and younger listeners, and all he was doing was drawing attention to the fact, with no adverse or alternative inferences intended.
- Driven to Suicide: Debatable over whether his death was this or just an accident.
- Dueling-Stars Movie: There was an alleged hatred between Williams and Sid James, possibly due to social background (Sid was a former lieutenant from the South African army who emigrated to England to escape accusations of cheating on his two wives and having secret love children) and classism. This is possibly why they rivalled each other in Carry On movies, but because of Sid's popularity with the audience, Williams ended up losing.
- Famous Last Words: The final entry in his diaries records the status of various medical ailments, but then abruptly cuts off with five words that have fuelled speculation that his death was no accident:"Oh, what's the bloody point?"
- Gay Best Friend: Was either this to other actors, and had several ones himself. He never dated any of them because he believed in celibacy. Many assume it was because homosexual activity was illegal in the UK until 1967 so he couldn't be held against any references of "promoting" it if it was found in his writing (such as, if his diaries were to be eventually published, for example).
- Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Williams didn't have a good relationship with his father due to clashing interests. His dad was interested in boxing, playing darts and drinking beer in the pub with friends, whereas Kenneth enjoyed training to be an actor and performing to an audience. The day his father died, Kenneth was due on stage at the local theatre, but he refused to go and see him because of this.
- Lemony Narrator: In his appearances on Jackanory, Williams was reading children's stories. His narration style was magnificently over the top, hurling himself into the role of each speaking character in turn.
- Odd Friendship: With Maggie Smith, before she became a world-famous Oscar-winning actress. Williams said his friendship with her was a "knot" that he didn't want to ever be untied.
- Old Shame: One of the most famous cases from the Carry On series. Williams wanted to be credited as a serious actor who occasionally did the odd comedic role, however, after appearing in a few movies in the film series, he began to get typecast. In his diaries, he wrote about how he hated being in the series and how much it had wrecked his career, from the measly salary he earned (despite being a regular) to the characters he had to portray, but he hated how he would agree to be in the next movie without hesitation. This is probably why he refused to be in anything associated with the franchise outside of the movies.
- Performance Artist
- Refuge in Audacity: Frequently. His defence of his you complete cult! outburst against Nicholas Parsons is a good example.
- Sad Clown: His published diaries had entries of him having suicidal thoughts, talking about depression, and his last entry ended with the words "What's the bloody point?!"
- Signature Laugh: Though not as famous as Sid James' laugh, Kenneth Williams had a very distinctive high-pitched cackle if he found something especially funny. Sterling examples can be found in the Intoxication Ensues scene in Carry On Teacher and many episodes of Just a Minute, particularly when jokes are being made at the expense of chairman Nicholas Parsons (of whom Kenneth was none too fond).
- Star-Making Role: Mostly remembered today as a smug uptight man from Carry On.
- What Could Have Been:
- Was apparently approached by Orson Welles to fly to Hollywood to appear in one of his films, but Williams turned it down because he didn't like the US.
- After an early run of stage successes, including a leading role in Shaw's St Joan, Williams was hailed as a rising star in British serious drama and as a straight actor who, potentially, could be as good as Laurence Olivier or Michael Redgrave. Unfortunately for his serious ambitions, the comic roles took over and he was ever after typecast as a camp gay comedian. This was thought of as being incompatible with serious theatrical ambitions, and the radio comedy roles he only took for the money and because he genuinely liked his co-stars became the only work he could get.