Monday 22 February 2016

Kenny at 90: Kenneth and Louie

I couldn't devote a week of Carry On Blogging to Kenneth Williams without writing about the very special relationship Kenny had with his mother. Louisa, sometimes Lou, mostly Louie, was, I am quite sure the love of Kenneth's life. The pair were almost inseparable throughout Kenneth's adult life and it is clear to me that Kenneth's flair for comedy came from his mum.

Kenneth came from a very traditional, working class London family but right from the start he was different from all the rest. He spent most of his early life at odds with his father. Theirs was a troubled relationship and Charlie Williams was always suspicious and slightly disappointed with his erudite son. There was also Kenneth's sister Pat but they were never that close and she seemed to pop in and out of his life. 

The powerhouse relationship within the Williams family was undoubtedly between Kenneth and Louie. She was always bursting with pride about her Kenneth and loved his decision to pursue a career in the arts. She was nearly always found in the audience when he appeared on stage or at a radio recording and clearly loved the circles in which he mixed. Louie was even a visitor at Pinewood Studios when Kenneth was knee deep in innuendos making the Carry Ons.

The basis for Kenneth and Louie's closeness was their shared sense of humour. I can picture them always giggling with rude, childlike glee and I think in their prime, they relished each other. Louie even accompanied Kenneth on Barbara Windsor's honeymoon but all did not end well. Too many powerful women on that trip! I'd still have loved to have been a fly on the wall. Louie was always first to stand up for her boy, quick to defend him and completely loyal. 

Many of Kenneth's acting friends met and socialised with Louie and they clearly also loved her. She would get to know the likes of Maggie Smith, Hattie Jacques, Stanley Baxter and Gordon Jackson very well indeed. Joe Orton was also a frequent visitor and reveled in Louie's lack of airs and graces and her working class bravado. I wonder what she made of him, not to mention Kenneth Halliwell. 

Charlie Williams' sudden demise in 1962 brought mother and son even closer. They would frequently holiday together, dine out together and spend lots of social time in each others' company. By 1972, they were neighbours as Kenneth moved into a flat directly next to his mother's home. They even shared a landing in the block at Osnaburgh Street, just off Great Portland Street. As Louie began to get older, Kenneth wrote more and more in his diaries about the struggle to cope with her as she became frail and started to lose her faculties. Even when he was at his lowest ebb with her, there was still deep-rooted affection and love for his mother which was touching to read. 

The last few years of Kenneth's life saw him become Louie's main carer as she spent longer and longer in hospital with various ailments. This period also saw Kenneth's health deteriorate and the diary entries make for very bleak reading. In many ways Kenneth replaced Charlie and this fact must not have been lost of Kenneth. I doubt it was the old age he had imagined for himself. Despite all this, they remained close to the end. Many friends and commentators dispute the fact that Kenneth may have ended his own life because his mother was still alive at the time of his death. Their closeness, they claim, would have meant Kenneth would never have chosen that way out.

It is a sad fact that Louie outlived her famous son. Louisa Williams would live on until 1991, being cared for by her daughter Pat. I will always find Kenneth and Louie's close relationship fascinating and love the stories he recounts about them both in his diaries. They were both true originals.

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