Saturday 14 July 2018

My Top 20 Favourite Carry On Actors: Number 4 - Kenneth Williams

This is part of a series of blogs where I will take a purely personal look at my favourite Carry On actors. I will be doing a countdown of my top twenty actors and actresses in this, the sixtieth anniversary year of Carry On. So why top twenty? Well top ten didn't allow me to include all my favourites and any more than twenty and I'd be at it forever, as it were.

This top twenty will be a mix of regular top team actors and many of those instantly recognisable supporting actors who popped in and out of the series, adding superb cameos here and there. You will probably agree with some of my main choices and be vehemently opposed to others, but it's meant to encourage debate! 

So we are now half way through my countdown of my all-time favourite Carry On actors. The first half of the list featured mainly supporting actors who popped in and out several times throughout the films, from the likes of Joan Hickson and Cyril Chamberlain to Margaret Nolan and Peter Gilmore. Now obviously the Top Ten is going to focus on the main team members as there aren't any I can conceivably leave out.

So here we go with Number Four: An actor who appeared in more Carry On films than any other actor, quite a feat. Yes it's the legendary, nostril-flaring Kenneth Williams. 

Yes I know, before I start, it's a little lower down the list than you might expect to find Mr Williams and although I do love him dearly, this is purely a personal list and to be honest, there are actors in the team I slightly prefer. It's a hard decision to make but there you have it.  Kenneth, along with Sid and Barbara, is probably the most famous Carry On actor there ever was. Such was his appeal, unique talent and singular appearance that he's very much a case of once seen, never forgotten. Of course he's also very famous for his private life, his much heralded diaries and sadly, the way he died.

Kenneth, along with Connor and Eric Barker, is the only actor to appear in the first and last Carry On of the original run. Williams was a stand out performer in the National Service comedy Carry On Sergeant in 1958 and he rather painfully carried much of Emmannuelle twenty years later. Such was his loyalty to Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas. He was often rather tetchy about being pigeonholed as a Carry On actor and it did inhibit casting directors elsewhere which is a shame as he was a bloody fine actor in his own right. 

I loved Kenneth's early roles in the Carry Ons in particular. In Nurse in late 1958 he was even given a few scenes of genuine romance opposite the young Jill Ireland. Other films like Teacher, Constable and Cruising focussed less on the over the top camp persona which would later come to dominate. That's not to say his more innuendo-laden roles later in the 1960s don't appeal. Quite the contrary, I think Kenneth's Julius Caesar in Carry On Cleo is a work of genius; his Citizen Camembert in Don't Lose Your Head is a memorable turn, paired so beautifully with Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth and his Dr Tinkle in Carry On Doctor is a sublime tour de force.

I think Kenneth hit his Carry On peak with both films he made in 1968. As the rather dubious finishing school head master Dr Soaper in Carry On Camping, Kenneth is on barnstorming form in the company of real life close friends Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques. Yet for me, his best performance was already in the can by the time the team assembled in the freezing cold Pinewood orchard. In the Spring of 1968 Kenneth took on the role of the Khasi of Kalabar. It's a full on nostril snorting camp portrayal of pantomime baddie proportions. There are so many beautifully scripted, memorable Rothwell one liners delivered with aplomb by Williams. Surely even he enjoyed making that one?

As a child I was ever so slightly scared of Kenneth Williams. By the time I was a teenager, I was obsessed with his diaries, his life and career. And to an extent I still am today, despite some of the more painful aspects of his life. I treasure his performances in the Carry On films and he'll always be one of my favourites. The question is, who is further up my top twenty list of favourites?

The first of my top three favourites is coming next! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

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