Monday 29 February 2016

Carry On Hero of the Week: Hattie Jacques


The whole idea of this new series of blogs is to flag up specific individuals who, in my humble opinion, really made the Carry On films what they were. So many of the actors and crew turned up at Pinewood again and again, working closely over the years to produce such a fine body of work. This week it's the turn of the man who had a relatively small role to play in the success of the Carry Ons, but did well given the difficult timing of his arrival on the scene.

Today's hero of the week is that wonderful actress Hattie Jacques. Much has been written about Hattie over the years but we can never lavish enough praise on this brilliant comedy performer. Hattie spent a lifetime playing matronly characters and being the butt of the fat lady jokes but she always played it with dignity, no matter what she was feeling inside. Legend has it she wasn't really a fan of innuendo-based Carry On comedy but she did love the atmosphere at Pinewood and acting as mother to so many of the gang's waifs and strays.


Hattie was with the team from the very beginning, playing fearsome yet nurturing medical officer Captain Clark in Carry On Sergeant. That role, although merely a supporting turn at the time, set the tone for the next fifteen years. Hattie would play Matron, or a version thereof in Nurse, Regardless, Doctor, Camping, Again Doctor and Matron so half her Carry On contributions relied on that type of part. Although it made her a very successful comedy actress, it must have been frustrating for an actor who was clearly incredibly talented with much more to give.

She found a more attractive niche on television playing Eric Sykes' twin sister Hat in the Sykes comedy series for the BBC. Together with the likes of Deryck Guyler, Richard Wattis and occasionally Joan Sims, Hattie returned to the world of Sebastopol Terrace on and off over a twenty year period. I often preferred her role in Sykes as she was always the wise, more intelligent character and the scripts very rarely used her weight as a cheap gag. Other roles on television were tried out but a dramatic part evaded her by the 1960s due to her association with the Carry Ons and the infamous Matron. Hattie's health would also begin to suffer by the 1970s making her an issue for film insurance people - this would ultimately lead to her last Carry On being Dick in 1974. Peter Rogers had to put in place special measures so the Rank Organisation would agree to her being in the film.


Eric Sykes described his first meeting with Hattie on television several times over the years. It was at the Players' Theatre in London. Victorian music hall comedy, singing and sketches. Hattie was a legend there for many years and incredibly popular in their pantomimes. Eric sat entranced as Hattie led a rumbustious music hall number, vigorously encouraging audience participation. She finished her act by triumphantly going into the splits. What a woman! By all accounts, this was Hattie. Full of life, full of love and full of talent. While I think it is a real shame she never escaped the Carry On cliche we must also be grateful for those wonderful performances. The Carry Ons just wouldn't have been the same without her. 

When I think of Hattie I think of all those legendary parties she had at her sprawling Earl's Court home. Her kindness and thoughtfulness to guests is renowned. She used to unwrap Christmas crackers, add a personal gift for each person and re-wrap them again. Kenneth Williams told a story of Hattie tracking down a recording of a song he was particularly fond of and presenting it to him long after their original discussion. It's a special kind of person who does this things and there is no doubt that Hattie Jacques was very special indeed.


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

Sunday 28 February 2016

Joan Sims stars in Two Sisters


With thanks to @70sStreetFan for drawing my attention to this gem, recently broadcast on the wonderful, brilliant BBC Radio 4 Extra. Joan Sims made many radio appearances throughout her career from the early 1950s right up until the late 1990s. This radio play is a new one on me though and was originally broadcast in 1996.

Joan stars alongside Barbara Jefford and Robert Glenister in this rather darkly funny sinister tale. From the BBC Radio 4 Extra website:

A lecherous salesman stumbles into the claustrophobic world of two sisters with a grim secret. David Ashton's darkly humorous horror story has several decidedly "unsisterly" twists and turns. Producer: Martin Jenkins.

I haven't listened to this yet but plan to later on. If you've heard it get in touch and let me know what you think!

If you want to listen again to Two Sisters, you can do so here 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

Carry On Faces on 1969

This is part of a new series of blogs on Carry On Blogging. I plan to blog each year of Carry On, featuring photos of the most prolific actors for each year. Hopefully it will provide an interesting overview of the changing face of Carry On during the series' original mammoth twenty year run. 

It will turn the spotlight on the familiar faces who endured over the decades as well as those artists who came and went along the way. We are continuing today with 1969. Two films were produced that year, first of all Again Doctor, a follow up on 1967's Carry On Doctor in the spring and then Up The Jungle in the autumn of the same year.

Pictured above we have the most prolific actors to appear in 1969. They are as follows: Sidney James as Bill Boosey in Up The Jungle; Joan Sims as Lady Bagley in Up The Jungle; Charles Hawtrey pictured above as Walter Bagley in Up The Jungle; Valerie Leon Leda in Up The Jungle; Frankie Howerd as Inigo Tinkle in Up The Jungle; Kenneth Williams pictured as Frederick Carver in Again Doctor; Jim Dale as Jimmy Nookey in Again Doctor; Hattie Jacques as Miss Soaper in Again Doctor and finally, Kenneth Connor as Claude Chumley in Up The Jungle.

Of those featured above, four actors (Hawtrey, Williams, Jacques and Connor) were original cast members from the very first film, Carry On Sergeant in 1958. James, Sims, Hawtrey and Leon all appeared in both films produced in 1969. Frankie Howerd returned for his second and final guest starring turn in the Carry Ons with Up The Jungle. He would go on to star in the Carry On Christmas television special at the end of 1969. 

Jim Dale made his tenth and final appearance in the original series with his role in Again Doctor. He would of course return to Pinewood in 1992 for Carry On Columbus. 1969 also saw original cast member Kenneth Connor return to the Carry Ons following a five year absence. Connor had last appeared in Cleo in 1964. Kenneth Williams made a rare decision to miss a Carry On with Up The Jungle, busy as he was with his forthcoming television show.

Stay tuned for the Carry On Faces of 1970 coming up soon!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

Brian and Linda: A Lifetime of Laughter!


Tickets are now on sale for an afternoon with comedy legends Brian Murphy and Linda Regan at the Museum of Comedy. The event will take place on Sunday 20 March at the Museum in Central London.

Sam Westerby will host the event, with an interview followed by an opportunity to meet the stars at the end of the show. The show will kick off at 2pm.

Brian Murphy has enjoyed a long and successful career with memorable starring roles in television sitcoms Man About The House and George and Mildred (both with the late, great Yootha Joyce). More recently Brian appeared for seven years in the comedy series Last of the Summer Wine. Other credits include The Avengers, Callan, Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars. He is also, of course, married to Linda.

Linda Regan is probably best known for playing April in the classic 1980s sitcom Hi-de-Hi! Other television appearances have included Minder, London's Burning, The Bill and Birds of a Feather. On the big screen, Linda appeared in one of the later Carry Ons, Carry On England in 1976. Other films have included On The Buses, Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (with Jim Dale), Confessions of a Pop Performer and Adventures of a Private Eye. More recently Linda has become a successful author specialising in crime fiction. 

You can visit Linda's website here to find out more about her career as an actress and as an author.

You can follow Linda on Twitter @Linda_Regan  and you can follow Sam Westerby @samwesterby

It sounds like an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Further details and ticket information can be found on the Museum of Comedy Website

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

Saturday 27 February 2016

Kenny at 90: Kenneth and Maggie

Kenneth Williams is one of my comedy heroes. Along with Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth he is one of my all time favourite Carry On actors. 

Unlike some of his Carry On contemporaries however, Kenneth had originally set his sights on a very serious theatrical career. Back in the 1950s and early 60s he appeared regularly on stage, making it into the West End after years of slogging it out in regional rep theatre. A lot of this period is recorded in his diaries which make fascinating reading.

It was through appearances on stage that he first met, worked with and fell under the spell of Maggie Smith. Mags, as he called her, was in many ways a female equivalent of Kenneth Williams. Seeing them together or hearing them perform I am always struck by their similarities. It really was a match made in heaven. I wish I had been around to see them work together on the London stage.

It was quite unusual for Kenneth to form such a close bond with another performer, let alone an actress. He was close to Hattie Jacques, who he adored as a kind of mother figure as well as Barbara Windsor who had a similar London background to his own. He famously asked Joan Sims to marry him (imagine!) but she very wisely turned him down. Kenneth and Joan had a spiky relationship, if his diaries are to be believed, but I also think there was a real understanding and closeness to their relationship too.

On stage he could be a menace with leading ladies. He rowed endlessly with Fenella Fielding during their revue days. While the record of this in his diaries might be amusing to us today, it must have been a trying experience for all concerned. He also struggled with Sheila Hancock as she answered back and didn't take any rubbish. Eventually they called it a draw and became good friends. While Kenneth was in awe of Ingrid Bergman when they worked together in 1970/71, it still didn't prevent the occasional loss of temper and snide comment in her direction. Jennie Linden fared no better in My Fat Friend a year later. The only one who seemed to escape any of this rancour was Maggie Smith.

They first appeared together in Share My Lettuce, a review performed in 1957. They immediately bonded. Kenneth also got on very well with Maggie's then boyfriend and future husband, the playwright Beverley Cross. They continued to grow close, socialising a great deal and sharing dinners late into the evening, fuelled by theatrical gossip. What fun that must have been. They later reunited on stage in The Private Ear and The Public Eye, by Peter Shaffer, which was staged in 1962. Again they worked brilliantly well together.

The intervening years saw Maggie's career go stratospheric while Kenneth stayed within the safety of his North London parameters. However the two actors stayed in touch, writing to each other regularly. Many of these letters are reproduced in The Kenneth Williams Letters - also worth a read. Whenever Maggie returned to London there would be dinners and fun. The bond never seemed to fade. When she appeared on the London stage again in 1972, the two actors were in neighbouring theatres which brought about a great reunion. Those days are recorded in the diaries with great relish and affection by Williams. It was heartwarming to see him happy. 

Contact between Kenneth and Maggie seemed to dwindle in later years, probably mainly due to Kenneth's ill health and general attitudes to life as he got older and more disenchanted. Sadly one incident is recorded in his diaries from the mid-1980s when he returns tickets he's been sent to attend a play Maggie was doing in London. I do honestly believe that in some ways they were twin souls, I think they understood each other in a way others could never dream of doing. As performers and friends they seemed very closely attuned. 

Dame Maggie Smith has rarely spoken of her long friendship with Kenneth Williams. I don't recall ever seeing her discuss him in print or in a television interview, although if I've missed something I'm sure you'll let me know! I think it's lovely that she has kept these cherished memories private although part of me would also love to hear her reminisce about a man she probably knew better than anyone else. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

Kenny at 90: Kenneth Williams on Parkinson

I've just stumbled across this video on YouTube and thought it was worthy of a blog post all of its own. Kenneth Williams became a legendary chat show guest in the 1970s and 1980s and regularly appeared on the Parkinson show. 

As Michael Parkinson has often said, Kenneth was a gift for these kind of shows. In those days, before everyone only appeared because they had something to promote or flog, famous faces came on for a chat or an enjoyable exchange. Good talkers were always in demand so the likes of Kenneth, Billy Connolly and Peter Ustinov did very well. 

This video is basically a compilation of some of Kenneth Williams' finest anecdotes from his many appearances on the Parkinson Show. Interestingly, Michael Parkinson highlights that both men disliked each other quite strongly to begin with and they are indeed complete opposite. Parky no doubt spotted Kenneth's many gifts and Williams was asked back because he was so popular and good for the show.

One of my favourite snippets from all these shows sees Kenneth appear alongside his great friend Maggie Smith. Amidst all the naughty jokes and clever stories, the two friends read a poem by John Betjeman for the man himself who was a fellow guest. It's a lovely moment.  

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this video - it features one of my favourite ever Kenneth stories, involving his experiences working with Dame Edith Evans and a late night meal after a performance of Gentle Jack in the theatre. Always makes me hoot with laughter!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

Friday 26 February 2016

Kenny at 90: Kenneth and Gordon

As a massive fan of both Kenneth Williams and Gordon Jackson, their enduring friendship always fascinated me. Here's another chance to read my blog from back in January on the famous actors and the bond they shared.

I've always loved that fine Scottish actor Gordon Jackson. He had a long acting career, beginning during the Second World War in 1942 and rising to prominence in the early 1970s through two stand out roles on television, as Mr Hudson in Upstairs Downstairs and later as George Cowley in The Professionals. While I admire Gordon's performances on screen, and his career is littered with classic films (The Great Escape, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Ipcress File to name only a few), I also found his long, close friendship with Kenneth Williams particularly fascinating.

Gordon Jackson was a quiet, unstarry member of the acting profession. In the days before social media and reality television, he just got on with doing his job and being a family man (he was married to the actress Rona Anderson for nearly 40 years and together they had two sons). However we do get glimpses of the man off stage through his regular appearances in Kenneth's wonderful diaries. Kenneth and Gordon were friends nearly all their adult lives. In a rare diversion for Kenneth, his friendship with Gordon matured and endured despite the various ups and downs of life. It was rare if not impossible to find any mention of Gordon Jackson that was not completely positive and in full admiration.

I must dispel the myth that Kenneth Williams had few friends and was a loner. He quite simply was not. Yes you can see from his diaries that he could be difficult, awkward or down right rude, but in essence he was a lovable, sentimental character who cherished long term friendships. Kenneth had well rounded, deep friendships with the likes of Maggie Smith, Richard Pearson, Stanley Baxter, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor and Joan Sims for many years. 

While some friends came and went, Gordon and the rest of the Jackson family were constants. Kenneth, although undoubtedly a gay man, relished the so-called "straight domesticity" that regular trips to the Jackson household in Hampstead provided. Reading the diaries, as I often do, I can't help but smile when Kenneth records an enjoyable dinner party chez Jackson, an afternoon with their children or being included in a family Christmas. Although Kenneth suffered great pain and sadness at times in his life, it is heartening to see moments of relaxation and pleasure too. 

I remember clearly one of the very few times there were cross words between the pair. Jackson came across as someone who did his best to avoid conflict, however one family trip to Wales on which Kenneth was invited ended badly. Kenneth appeared to have rather old fashioned ideas, even back in 1966, and when Rona's culinary efforts did not meet with his satisfaction, a rather curt exchange resulted! This led Kenneth to leave early and unannounced and head back to London. Normal service was resumed, but it temporarily damaged their solid footing. 

Kenneth did clearly adore Gordon though as a trip to the theatre in 1982 definitely demonstrated. Kenneth was notorious for hating the theatre, particularly later on in life. He was known to walk out mid-performance if it was not to his liking. Patience often wore very thin indeed! However, in 1982 he sat through an entire Agatha Christie play at the Vaudeville Theatre (very close to me now as I write this) and as his diary records, he loathed it. He stayed until the end regardless, only because it starred Gordon Jackson, who's performance he still praised. That from Kenneth, is the ultimate sign of respect!

Gordon outlived Kenneth by only a couple of years. He, along with many other close friends spoke movingly at Williams' funeral in 1988. Sadly, by late 1989 Jackson has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer. He passed away in early 1990 at the age of just 66. He worked right up until the end, his last performance screened posthumously. 

Kenneth clearly admired Gordon Jackson as an actor, but also more importantly as a man and a human being. I always think it's a touching friendship and a high point in the diaries. If you are unfamiliar with Gordon Jackson or his work, track some of it down and check it out. He was quite simply fantastic in everything he did.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

Thursday 25 February 2016

Kenny at 90: Kenneth and Joe

I have long been fascinated by the life of Kenneth Williams. He was a sublime comedy actor and lively personality, full of contradictions and complications. Unlike many of his contemporaries we know so much more about Williams and in his own words, because of his infamous diaries. Spanning his entire adult life, he is the modern day diarist and they have become his main legacy.

I have written before about some of Kenneth's most enduring friendships, namely with Maggie Smith and Gordon Jackson. One other friendship has always intrigued me too and that's his bond with the playwright Joe Orton. Orton was the sensational new young writer of the mid 1960s. Openly gay and proud of it, he relished his fame and his contentment with his own sexuality. He was the darling of the West End theatre scene until his life was cut tragically short at the hands of his long-term lover Kenneth Halliwell in August 1967.

I have read Orton's diaries and seen some of his plays and he is a fascinating character, very much of his time. He shook up the theatre scene in this country, challenged long held ideals and deliberately provoked, shocked and in some cases, appalled. He was an imp of a character and it's hard not to delight in his behaviour. What fascinates me even more is the relationship that developed between Kenneth Williams and Joe. They were both gay, working class and working in the arts but apart from that they were very much polar opposites. While Joe embraced his sexuality at every given opportunity, Kenneth shied away from that area of his life. Joe did and said what Kenneth never would or could. 

When they first met in 1964, introduced by theatrical impresario Michael Codron, Kenneth was at the height of his success. He was the star of the Carry On films, was a big name on radio thanks to his association with Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne and had several theatrical successes under his belt, most notably the double bill The Private Ear and The Public Eye with Maggie Smith. Williams was growing dissatisfied with the work he was being offered and seized on the opportunity to work with the new young playwright. He admired Joe from the start and they became close.

Unfortunately, accepting a role in Orton's latest work, Funeral Games, did not turn out to be a happy experience for anyone connected with the project. The play, in which Kenneth starred with Geraldine McEwan, Duncan Macrae and Ian McShane, toured the provinces in early 1965 but was not a success. Most of the middle class audiences either didn't understand it or quite simply were shocked by it and walked out. These days are recorded in Williams' diaries and he was undoubtedly miserable. Fortunately his friendship with Orton endured despite this painful flop and they even spent time together in Morocco, one of Orton's favourite holiday destinations. They remained in touch even when, the following year, the now retitled Loot became an overnight sensation, taking the West End by storm with a new cast. 

Although Kenneth and Joe would not work together again, they socialised regularly over the next few years. Other friends of Williams thought Joe was rather self-obsessed however Kenneth was obviously caught up in the youthful glamour that came along whenever Joe was around. I've always loved the descriptions of Kenneth's regular visits to Orton's flat at Noel Road in Islington, the home he shared with his lover Kenneth Halliwell. Williams was much closer to Joe and he seemed wary of Halliwell on occasions, sometimes quietly pitying the older man. I think Kenneth Williams envied aspects of Joe's life, wishing he could enjoy himself more and be more like him, however what happened next put any ideas of that firmly on the back burner.

In August 1967, Kenneth Halliwell murdered Joe before taking his own life. Halliwell had been depressed for some time, feeling isolated and threatened by Orton's great success in life. The news came as a massive blow to Kenneth Williams and it caused him to reflect a great deal on their lives and his own life choices. 

Many years later Williams would direct two of Joe's plays at Hammersmith. I often wonder what Orton would have made of Kenneth's efforts. I also wonder what would have become of Joe Orton had he lived. He was undoubtedly a talented writer who was making a name for himself, but was he just very much of his time? His plays are still produced to this day so there is still an audience for his work. If Orton was still with us today he would be 82 so could still be active in the world of theatre. Sadly, we'll never know.

I will always be fascinated by the friendship that developed between Joe Orton and Kenneth Williams. Two men who shared so many common experiences but lived their lives very differently. 

To end, here's a clip of Kenneth Williams discussing Joe Orton in a BBC documentary from the early 1980s.


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

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 

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!


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

Kenneth and Barbara on Wogan

In 1986, almost thirty years ago, Kenneth Williams guest hosted the television chat show, Wogan. One of his guests was his long-time Carry On co-star Barbara Windsor. It's classic stuff and the two of them demonstrate what great close friends they obviously were.

Kenneth is in great form in this clip and very obviously enjoying himself. Barbara is just back from a honeymoon and apart from being dressed in something akin to a toilet roll holder (well it was the 1980s) is also on good form. They discuss their times together working on the Carry Ons, including their first meeting on Spying in 1964 and the infamous scenes they shot for Carry On Camping.

They also reminisce about the time Kenneth, his sister and his mother joined Barbara on her honeymoon with her first husband Ronnie Knight. The stuff of legend!

Anyway, you can enjoy the clip below. Those were the days!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Kenny at 90: The Kenneth Williams Diaries

I grew up reading Kenneth Williams' fantastic diaries. The diaries, edited by Russell Davies and first published in 1993, were a revelation when first made public and continue to entertain, provoke, shock and appeal to us all so many years after they were written. 

I remember very clearly when I first started reading them. I was 18 years old, off on holiday with my parents and picked up a copy at an airport book shop. I wasn't sure I wanted to read them as I was worried the true picture of Kenneth would be unpalatable and the diaries would debase one of my comedy heroes. I persevered though as they were Kenneth's own words, not those of a biographer who never knew him. 

So here are a few reasons why I love the diaries and why you should read them:

They offer a unique insight into the private life of a public figure
It's not often someone in the public eye reveals so much of their private life and private thoughts to us. Although committed to paper for his eyes only, in published form they give us a fully rounded portrait of a much loved man.

They were so well written
Kenneth Williams shows complete dedication to his diary and to writing. Although a published author by the early 1980s, the diaries are his main body of work and his legacy. Kenneth had a fierce intellect, was mainly self-taught and his command of the English language was legendary. In short, Kenneth wrote beautifully.

The extraordinary cast of characters
So many famous faces, both alive and dead, pass through the pages of Kenneth's diaries. Some were close friends - Maggie Smith, Gordon Jackson, Stanley Baxter, Barbara Windsor, Hattie Jacques, Sheila Hancock. Others merely acquaintances or colleagues - Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Dirk Bogarde, Alec Guinness, Billy Connolly, Ingrid Bergman, Edith Evans, Fenella Fielding and Noel Coward.  The diaries span a massive chunk of modern British culture and nearly anyone who is anyone features at some point. Not only do we hear stories about these icons in their prime, we also get Kenneth's unique take on them. Priceless.

What a Carry On
As Carry On fans, the diaries are a wonderful insight into the making of the films, the people involved and Kenneth's general hatred of the finished product! While many of his reactions or nasty asides are obviously committed to paper in the heat of the moment, they also provide a delightful sideways glance at life at Pinewood. From his adoration of Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor and Bernard Bresslaw; his apparent love/hate relationship with Joan Sims and his unflattering portraits of Charles Hawtrey and Sid James, they are a joy to behold. I also love it when Kenneth compliments other performers. He wrote some very sweet things about the likes of Gail Grainger and Angela Douglas.

A love of London
Kenneth Williams was a Londoner through and through. Apart from evacuation to Oxfordshire during the war, he always lived within the same confines of the Kings Cross / Bloomsbury / Euston district. Despite his growing hatred at being a star without star money and being constantly recognised in the street, in shops or on the bus, Kenneth always loved his city. He writes beautifully about London, catching glimpses of the twinkling lights from up above at his Farley Court flat or describing long walks through the areas of the city he grew up in. I love it when I find myself in parts of London Kenneth knew well and remain the same today as they were when he was a Londoner.

A social history
Kenneth's diaries record so many major world events during their forty years. They begin in the middle of the Second World War and end at the height of Thatcherism and the rise of the Yuppie. They take in the Queen's coronation, the assassination of both John and Robert Kennedy, the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, the legalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom, the Moon Landing in 1969, Watergate, the Aids epidemic and the Falklands War. They are a fantastic social history document and a time capsule.

Kenneth the man
Not often do we get such a unique and sustained portrait of an individual. From the youthful optimism and early faith in socialism to the wary, weary right wing man he became in maturity. We all change as we grow, develop and move through life, and Kenneth's diaries display this perfectly. While many of his attitudes changed and were informed by life experiences, I do believe Kenneth stayed true to himself until the very end.

Those final words
We all know Kenneth Williams died well before his time at the young age of 62. As the diaries progress, he becomes more and more disenchanted with life and more frequently suffers from pain and various ailments. The last few years of his life are, for the most part, a difficult read. When the end came, it left more questions and than answers, however his last words leave little to the imagination. While we mourn the loss of a comic genius and a true individual, Kenneth's story should make us all think.

I often wonder what Kenneth would have made of the reaction his diaries received on publication. He was quoted in interviews saying he wouldn't mind them being published once he had gone, so I can't imagine he would have reacted badly. Although The Kenneth Williams Letters were published in a collection the following year, the diaries definitely do leave you wanting more. The full transcripts remain locked away in a vault, with only the editor and Kenneth's trustees being fully aware of what was not chosen for public view. I'd love access to the rest of the diaries. Wishful thinking!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

Kenny at 90: Kenneth and Stanley

One of Kenneth Williams' most enduring friendships was with fellow comedy actor Stanley Baxter. Stanley is another one of my comedy heroes - I absolutely love his spectacular television specials from the 1970s and 1980s. His timing and sense of humour both superb. Also, as a fellow Scot, I am proud of what he has achieved in his life and career.

Kenneth and Stanley first met in the entertainments section of the army towards the end of the Second World War. Their friendship survived being demobbed and the severe post-war years which saw Kenneth in London and Stanley back in his native Scotland. They remained close and often corresponded, as the Kenneth Williams Letters show. It was Stanley who encouraged Kenneth to give up the day job and pursue a life on the stage, something we must always be grateful to Baxter for! 

The friendship was first troubled by Stanley's marriage to Moira. For some reason or other this temporarily put Kenneth's nose out of joint but eventually all was well and the friendship continued to blossom. However unlike many of Kenneth's other friendships with actors, there was always a competitive edge and a butting of heads between the pair. Indeed when Stanley once suggested they actually work together on a project, Williams recoiled in horror at the prospect.

As the years passed and Stanley's star grew, Kenneth was sometimes grudging in his praise for his talented friend. On may occasions he was fulsome and lavish in his compliments in public but licked his wounds in private. Perhaps because they were both quite similar people they could easily rub each other up the wrong way? Whatever the case, I adored their waspish meetings and jokes over dinner in familiar restaurants, always documented in the diaries. They were often joined by fellow Scot Gordon Jackson and the three men obviously really enjoyed their times together. Kenneth was very much closer to Gordon's wife Rona than to Moira Baxter. I'm not quite sure why but Moira doesn't feature often in the diaries.

In his later years in the 1980s, Stanley and Kenneth seemed to see less of each other. Despite this their friendship did endure for four decades and this in a profession not noted for longevity. I have rarely heard Stanley speak of his friendship with Kenneth but I am sure he, like so many others, was deeply saddened by Kenneth's passing in 1988. Stanley Baxter is thankfully, very much still with us today and is due to celebrate his 90th birthday in May 2016. 

As a brief aside, my grandmother remembers Stanley Baxter as a boy during their school days. Apparently he was always the class clown, mimicking figures of authority and making the rest of the class hoot with laughter. According to my grandmother, the schoolmaster told Baxter he would never amount to anything. How wrong he was!

Stanley and Kenneth had one of the most interesting, complicated friendships. It endured despite its ups and downs and I always looked forward to Baxter popping up in Kenneth's diaries. To finish, here is one of my favourite Stanley Baxter sketches, sending up the Glaswegian way of speaking. Parliamo Glasgow is just wonderful. 

If you want to read more about Stanley, there is a rare and interesting interview with him for The Scotsman newspaper, available here.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook