Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Kenneth and the Carry On Team

 

As we celebrate the 90th anniversary of Kenneth Williams' birth this week, I wanted to look back at Kenneth's place within the Carry On team. He was the most prolific and longest serving member of the gang, appearing in 26 films over a twenty year period. This brought him into regular contact with every single member of the team. So what were relations like between Kenny and the gang?

It is well documented that Kenneth had a somewhat fraught relationship with Sid James. They were too very different men and perhaps that led to a clash of personalities. Many of their encounters are somewhat waspishly recorded in Kenneth's diaries and a lot of these can be taken with a huge pinch of salt. There was sometimes grudging respect for Sid's acting talents and the depth and range of his career history however mostly Kenneth is fairly scathing. I hope in reality that while they may not have been the best of friends, they did perhaps share some kind moments together during filming.


 

Kenneth was much closer to Hattie Jacques. A colleague since the Hancock days, Kenneth always spoke fondly of Hattie and there was clearly a great deal of affection between the pair. He would often spend Christmas at Hattie's house in Earl's Court and relished their encounters, her kind hospitality and her motherly warmth. Kenneth wrote movingly about Hattie upon hearing of her death in 1980 and recorded his attendance at her memorial service later that year. He clearly loved her and missed her greatly.


 

Kenneth very clearly admired the acting talents of Kenneth Connor. Both actors spanned the entire duration of the Carry Ons, with Connor taking a break only for a few years in the late 1960s. While they did not appear to socialise a great deal together away from Pinewood, Kenneth W clearly loved Connor's company and really respected his skill as a comedy actor. 


 

Another, very different actor in the team was Charles Hawtrey, Playing the other majorly camp character in the films, Hawtrey and Williams did occasionally butt heads and there was little love lost. Williams wrote fairly scathingly in his diary about Charles, his lifestyle and general behaviour on and off screen. There is a rare visit to Hawtrey's home in Kent recorded in Kenneth's diary in the early 1970s and it's not particularly complimentary. Perhaps Hawtrey was a difficult person to get to know but certainly both actors were very different both in their general outlook and they way they chose to live their lives.


 

Bernard Bresslaw was a man Kenneth respected and wrote about with great warmth. Indeed Bresslaw is someone who you never ever hear a bad word spoken about. Kenneth writes about their times together at Pinewood and it is gratifying to hear him mention how well read, educated and thoughtful Bernard was. This comes in direct contrast to many of the characters he played in the Carry Ons. The pair often had quite serious, deep discussions about politics and religion whilst waiting to shoot scenes and it's lovely to know they got on so well. 


 

Kenneth clicked with Barbara Windsor as soon as they first met on the set of Carry On Spying in 1964. Perhaps it was their similar London upbringings or shared sense of humour that helped them to bond, but whatever it was they became lifelong friends. They were often found larking about at Pinewood and were often described as a pair of naughty school children. Kenneth even went so far as to accompany Barbara and her husband Ronnie Knight on their honeymoon, taking his sister Pat and mother Louie along for good measure!


 

Peter Butterworth is a favourite actor amongst fans but has often been described as quite a quiet, earnest man off screen. Little is really known about him as a man although Kenneth Williams seemed to get on famously with him. I remember reading an account of a trip Kenneth made down to Peter's family home in the 1970s and he seemed to get on well with Butterworth's children. I think Kenneth probably shared the same sort of friendship with Peter as he did with the likes of Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw. In 1974, during the making of Carry On Dick, Kenneth recorded that lunch was spent just with these fellow male actors and was the better for it.


 

Little is known about Kenneth's friendship with the romantic lead of the team, Jim Dale. I should imagine Kenneth would impishly try it on with the handsome young star and JIm has alluded to that in past interviews. Jim did speak very fondly of Kenneth during the Carry On Forever documentary and made it clear that away from the public persona Kenneth could be a fascinating, gentle human being.



Finally, one of the most interesting dynamics was between Kenneth and Joan Sims. At some points they appear close, often socialising together and attending parties at Hattie Jacques' house. Kenneth also infamous proposed to Joan during the making of one of the Carry Ons in the 1960s. This story was recounted in Sims' autobiography and although sensitive to Kenneth's request, very wisely turned him down. However, Kenneth often wrote fairly abrasively about Joan in his diaries and there were occasions of "great shouting matches over the lunch table" at Pinewood, often with Hattie restoring calm. I do believe Kenneth and Joan were close and shared an affectionate friendship but perhaps he viewed her more as a sister with Hattie in the mother role. Whatever the reality, the pair had tremendous chemistry and always worked well together.

I think these friendships and working relationships are fascinating. For a team of actors to work together so regularly for twenty years or more is a rarity. The fact the Carry On team was built up with so many diverse and unique characters makes it a miracle lasting friendships were formed. Whatever the case, you can be sure Kenneth would have very often been at the centre of the action!


 


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