Thursday, 25 February 2016

Kenny at 90: Kenneth and Fenella

I don't know about you but one of the absolute highlights for me in Carry On Screaming is the on screen partnership between Kenneth Williams and Fenella Fielding. The pair work so well together as bickering brother and sister, conducting their beastly experiments and leading the local law enforcers a merry dance.

Kenneth and Fenella had terrific chemistry together and this, coupled with their superb comic timing made me wish they had worked together more frequently on the big screen. Fenella did of course appear in an earlier Carry On, Regardless in 1960 however her cameo role in that film saw her working with another Kenneth (Connor). Williams and Fielding were similar creatures in many ways, both camp icons, both with unique acting styles and delivery and both complete originals.

They did of course work together before Screaming albeit on stage and not on film. In 1959 and into 1960, Kenneth and Fenella shared a huge theatrical triumph when they co-starred in the West End revue, Pieces of Eight. This legendary show was written by such luminaries as Harold Pinter and Peter Cook and saw both leading players receive excellent reviews for their performances. Unfortunately, however, the two stars had a somewhat fraught relationship during this long run in the theatre.

Kenneth Williams notoriously hated long runs and would frequently become bored with the material he was working with and increasingly off hand with the company of actors which surrounded him. No one ever seemed to feel his wrath more than his leading lady. Williams' diaries often recall spats with many actresses over the years. The only one who really seems to come off unscathed is Maggie Smith however the pair shared a unique bond and were very much attuned to one another. Of the others, Kenneth was in awe of screen legend Ingrid Bergman, but even she began to irritate him after several months in close proximity. Sheila Hancock coped better than most as she had the temerity to stand up to Kenneth, even when his nostrils were at their most daunting! The pair eventually called a truce and became friends for life. Unfortunately the likes of Jennie Linden, Caroline Mortimer and Fenella did not come out of it so well. 

Kenneth often recounted arguments with Fenella in his diary after a particularly trying performance of the revue. Kenneth was often highly amusing but could also be cutting and cruel. How much of what he recorded in his diaries was true and how much was heat of the moment stuff we'll never really know, but it must have been hard for Fenella to handle him in full flight. Whatever the outcome, it obviously did not prevent them working harmoniously together on Carry On Screaming several years later. 

Fenella has often reminisced about her time making Screaming and she obviously feels great affection for both the film and the Carry On cast. I'm sure that includes her late co-star, Kenneth Williams, but I'd love to know exactly what she made of him! Sadly I wasn't around to see Kenneth and Fenella star together in Pieces of Eight. I bet they put on one hell of a show!

To finish, here are a couple of clips from around that time. First up is a recording of a classic routine from Pieces of Eight, featuring Kenneth Williams and Lance Percival:

And finally, a clip of Kenneth and Fenella together on a recording of the classic BBC Radio panel game, Just A Minute.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece. Fenella's audio book of memoirs 'Do You Mind If I Smoke' has a chapter devoted to her experiences with Kenneth. You can order it from