Obituary; Peter Williams

Peter Williams, the ballet critic, journalist, founder editor of Dance and Dancers magazine, and committee man, was tall, shy and enigmatic. Somewhat aloof and mannered, he smoked cigarettes through a long cigarette- holder and when confronted with an impressive spectacle would drawl "Awfully pretty". It became a stock phrase for anything that pleased him.

He was born in 1914 at Burton Joyce, in Cornwall. After Harrow School he studied design at the Central School of Art and Design, which led to a dress-design business until, seeing a performance of the Diaghilev ballet, he became infected with a passion for dance, an art that appeared to him full of glamour but for which he was not equipped to be a participant.

He followed the ballet and in 1948 designed for Metropolitan Ballet, in New York, a work by John Taras, Designs with Strings. In 1949, he designed Andree Howard's Selina for Sadler's Wells Ballet, in London, but designing for the ballet was a penurious, spasmodic existence. He turned to writing and became assistant editor of Richard Buckle's magazine Ballet.

Leaving Buckle's employ in 1950, Williams established his own magazine, Dance and Dancers, which became part of the Dosse empire of Books and Bookmen, Films and Filming, etc. Laid-back and secretive, he spent little time at the office, preferring to edit the magazine from his home in Eaton Square.

Despite his shyness, Williams liked to socialise with dancers, many of whom he wrote about. He became a friend of Anton Dolin and spent a great deal of time with Festival Ballet, giving them lavish publicity.

Dance and Dancers grew in popularity and he drew together a group of regular contributors. During the 1950s Williams was an occasional visitor to my School of Russian Ballet, in Chelsea, west London, to watch class. He was keen to learn all he could about classical dance. Once, when he was becoming bored, I whisked him home to lunch on wild duck and a bottle of Moselle, which seemed to lift his spirits. It led to a commission for me to write a series of articles for his magazine, entitled "Steps of the Dance", based on the Russian School.

Williams became ballet critic of the Daily Mail and deputy critic of the Observer, a post he held for many years. Migrating to the Crush Bar set at Covent Garden changed his outlook. There he became enmeshed with a coterie of critics who took a specific line to praise or to damn, and spent their ink in denigrating foreign companies and in praising the rapidly growing establishment of English ballet.

When Williams dismissed the works of the great Leonide Massine, it seemed that he had transferred his stance from balletomane and connoisseur to the realms of politician. His change of heart, however, secured for him a certain security and a future that journalism could not give him. He became an esteemed committee man whose gentle art of diplomacy earned him new friends.

From 1965 he served on the music panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Advisory Committee on Dance under the chairmanship of Ninette de Valois (1965-72).

Williams went on to become chairman of the drama and dance advisory committee of the British Council. Since 1975 he had been chairman of the Dancers' Pensions and Resettlement Fund. In this capacity he did much to improve the dancer's lot, and this was probably his greatest contribution to what had previously been a very insecure world.

On Williams's retirement after three decades in harness, the editorship of Dance and Dancers was taken over by John Percival, ballet critic of the Times.

Williams's strongest subject was decor and his book Masterpieces of Ballet Design was published in 1980. Williams was as a writer inclined to sail with the prevailing wind. But in spite of his vacillations he did maintain a quiet dignity, a measure of good taste, an ability to write tidily, and a consistent love of the ballet.

John Gregory

Peter Lancelot Williams, writer, editor, ballet designer: born Burton Joyce, Cornwall 12 June 1914; editor, Dance & Dancers 1950-80; OBE 1971; died Cornwall 10 August 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee