Tuesday 23 February 2016

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.

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