Back in the 1980s, pseudo-celebrities didn’t voluntarily debase themselves in the jungle, they sat in the audience of these shows watching real celebrities demonstrate to them how its done. In 1983 it was the turn of the foppish Kenneth Williams, star of the Carry On films, Hancock’s radio series and Round the Horne, to speak for over an hour without drawing breath. Williams was a natural raconteur, up their with likes of Peter Ustinov, Betty Grable and Muhammad Ali.
Watching Williams’ powering his way through one encounter after another it’s hard to believe that here was a deeply unhappy man. Unhappy that he was never taken seriously for his seriousness. He did have a serious side in the theatre, we just never saw it. Instead we wanted him, not for his Shakespeare, but for his Citizen Camembert and J Peasemold Gruntfuttock. People ignored his soliloquies in preference for his nasally ‘stop messin about’ and ‘oh, matron.’
Of course he loved attention and all the proto-celebrities in the audience gave him plenty of it as he recalled his army years, slumming it with Dame Edith Evans and recounting the anecdote about Charles Hawtrey and his mother’s handbag catching fire.
Watching him makes you wonder where the modern day equivalents are. I know this sounds like another rose-tinted nostalgia trip, but let’s state it here and now in black and white: there is no one. And don’t go adding comments about this person and that person because you’ll be wrong. Kenneth Williams was unequalled and went before his time. An Audience With kenneth Williams is a fitting epitaph to his comic brilliance.