Any face you want, except the real one

Kenneth Williams could make anyone laugh, it seems, except himself. Gerard Gilbert is shocked by a rare sight of him happy in an exhaustive new film about his life

So Joe Orton would seem to have got it right. "When you're dead you'll regret not having fun with your genital organs," he told Kenneth Williams after Williams had expressed shame at his own homosexuality.

Not that Kenneth Williams had any regrets - or at least not ones that he admitted to his famous diaries. Instead he just killed himself. The 1988 inquest into his death generously concluded that Williams' last supper of booze and barbiturates was "accidental" - but none of the participants in tonight's Reputations film about the nostril-flaring, camp-snooty comedian has time for any of that.

But back to Orton. The most shocking revelation in tonight's film is not some seedy secret about Williams' sexual peccadilloes (he generally preferred a "barclays"; as in rhyming slang for Barclays Bank) - or of unsuspected avarice (he actually asked the BBC's Bill Cotton for a pay cut) - but some hitherto unseen photographs taken of Williams on holiday with Orton in Tangiers in the mid-to-late 1960s. And what is so shocking is that Williams looks happy.

Arms around Orton and Halliwell, pressed close to some handsome Moroccan lover, Williams looks carefree in a way that he doesn't in the other two hours of archive footage in Liz Hartford's exhaustive two-part film. He might have sat on the beach in suit and tie while everyone around him was in swimming trunks, but for once Williams is cracking smiles that are neither arch nor ironical.

Maybe the self-hatred was too ingrained for him ever to escape his unhappiness for more than a short holiday. Either way, of course, Orton was dead - murdered - by 1967, and Williams was confirmed for ever in his belief in the dangers of the flesh.

Nobody would ever be allowed to use the lavatory in his notoriously spartan London flat. The plastic would never come off the oven. He would never allow himself to be penetrated - sexually or metaphorically - again (John Lahr, in the Reputations film, immediately sees the link between his domestic habits and his fear of sex).

As tonight's film makes abundantly clear, Kenneth Williams' biggest tragedy as an actor with serious ambitions was his pathological, almost childish, inability to cut away from his comic persona - his "funny voices". He craved laughter and he knew how to get it.

His inability to stay in character - or to create a character that was not some shimmering facet of Kenneth Williams - is also given here as the reason that he was written out of Hancock's Half Hour. Williams always believed it was because Tony Hancock resented his success - and that has, until now, been the accepted truth. But Alan Simpson, of the co-writers Galton and Simpson, says tonight that it was a purely professional decision. They wanted characters grounded in some sort of everyday reality. This was beyond our Ken, of course. Williams could be anything he wanted - except real.

Apart from a bizarre episode of sexual exhibitionism on the Carry on Cleo set ("Oh, put it away, Kenny", the crew would say), the only other revelation in the Reputations film is a hitherto unpublished diary extract in which Williams expresses a desire to adopt children. He had already tried asking various startled young women to marry him.

The end was predictably sad. The ever-diminishing quality of the Carry On films (1978's Carry on Emmanuelle has to be seen to be believed), the endless chat-show appearances, and, of course, his bizarre relationship with his mother, Louie.

His mother would always sit in the second row of his audiences, and Williams' most salacious remarks were always directed straight at her. That he had to go "and rub olive oil in my mother's tits" was a fairly typical parting remark made in the company of her and others. Apparently she loved it.

Ultimately even the once unique camp revue was hijacked by the likes of Larry Grayson, John Inman - even Kenny Everett, whom, apparently, Williams disliked for his lack of subtlety.

A freak, "a malevolent elf" (Sheila Hancock), "a melancholic, depressive man" (Miriam Margolyes), "an unhappy, lonely, angry man", and so on; the character summaries come thick, fast and repetitive. But Williams will always be remembered by those that did not know him - or did not experience his boundary-breaking Fifties radio work - for the body of work that he respected least: the Carry On movies. For saying things like "infamy, infamy - they've all got it in for me", for squirming virginally underneath Hattie Jacques' amorous embrace, for the look of twisted shock when Barbara Windsor's bra pinged off in his face.

If only he hadn't been such an egotist, he might have seen that he had left a lasting mark on British culture. That he was a unique, very English, but world-class comic talent. That he was loved.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    Clinical Negligence Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

    Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone