Tuesday 25 October 2016

Kenneth Williams, Going Places


Kenneth Williams was a Londoner through and through. He spent his entire life, bar a period of evacuation during the war and his time posted abroad as part of the Combined Services Entertainment, living and loving London. Born and raised in the Kings Cross and Bloomsbury districts, he adored his working class roots but hated the exposure to his curious public in later life. As he pointed out in his diary, he was a star without star money.

After leaving the family home in the 1950s, Kenneth inhabited a series of small, rather ordinary little flats, all pretty much within walking distance from one another. He moved quite regularly in his early years before spending the last sixteen years of his life, rather infamously, sharing a landing with his ageing mother Louie in a block of flats in Osnaburgh Street near Great Portland Street station. I found the video below online during an evening of internet rambling and although I was aware of the programme, I don't think I'd seen it in it's entirety before. 

The programme sees Kenneth tell the story of his London, sharing stories from his own life in Bloomsbury as well as telling the history of the area. He also passes comment on the modern London, circa 1975. As usual Williams is on terrific form, blending his fierce intellect with touches of his comedic persona and relishing his working class roots. It's also a fascinating insight into the London of the past, even of the recent past. I love seeing footage of old London, particularly if it's an area I know well.

And I confess I know Bloomsbury very well. For six years I worked three streets away from Kenneth's family home on Marchmont Street. indeed there is still a hairdressers shop in the same spot Charlie Williams had his shop for many years. There is a blue plaque to mark the fact Kenneth lived there and I remember vividly spotting it the day I came to the area for my job interview. I'm also familiar with some of Kenneth's other residencies in the local area, including his flat on Judd Street and at Endsleigh Court. It seemed like fate that I would spend so many years of my working life in a part of London one of my heroes knew so well. 

The video below is certainly worth a watch. In it, Kenneth is seen decrying the recent development of new office blocks near Russell Square. One of those was the office I inhabited for six years. I shared Kenneth's loathing of the building for much of that time but looking back on it, I don't mind it so much these days. I wonder what Kenneth would make of it all now?

I hope you enjoy the programme.

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