Celebrating LGBTQ+ Icons - Kenneth Williams
Throughout Pride month, our S & W Pride members will release a series of articles on LGBTQ+ Icons. These individuals have created a lasting impact and influence on society and possess unique combinations of talent, charisma and the ability to inspire and resonate across generations. The second article in the series, written by John Grady, will focus on one of Britain’s most famous television personalities, Kenneth Williams.
Kenneth Williams was born in Kings Cross in 1926, (long before it was the upmarket district it is today). He died in 1988. His lasting impact on society is not represented by buildings, great monuments or libraries of books. But his lasting impact is no less profound. He brought joy and laughter to millions.
It was in the Army that his comedic talent was spotted. He was transferred to the Forces’ Combined Services Entertainment, touring Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore. Back in Britain, he started in reparatory theatre, before he got a wide range of roles in television and radio which led to him becoming one of Britain’s best loved television personalities.
Kenneth Williams had an amazing range, from serious theatre to comedy, and could entertain people of all ages and backgrounds. He had a unique vocal range and array of facial expressions. “
He was a critical part of almost all of the Carry On films, and appeared in over 26. Aficionados of this series of films will remember his famous catchphrases, such as “Infamy! Infamy, They’ve all got it in for me” (as Caeser in Carry on Cleo).
He was one of the most regular panellists on the Radio 4 programme, Just a Minute. He was also one of the most accomplished panellists. It is a tall order to speak on a subject for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition, but Williams could manage this with aplomb.
He was an accomplished serious actor and also read stories for children on BBC’s Jackanory with captivating flair.
After his death, his diaries were published as well as being serialised on Radio 4. William’s diaries themselves are a great piece of work. They are, page by page, hilarious, heartbreaking and cruel. They are, too, handwritten with perfection. Williams was a map-maker and a trained engraver, and his diaries were written in many different styles of calligraphy. As someone who can only handwrite badly in one style, there is something for me to learn here.
Williams brought joy to millions, but his diaries show that in private he was a desperately unhappy man. His last entry in his diary before he died was “Oh what’s the bloody point”, and it remains a point of debate today as to whether he took his own life.
Williams was gay. He was born in 1926, long before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. He lived at a time when homosexuality was viewed by most as profoundly wrong. His diaries, and a biography written after his death by Christopher Stevens illuminate the struggles he had with his sexual identity – a struggle that illustrates the terrible personal costs of homophobia in society to LGBTQ+ people.
John is a partner in Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Regulation and Markets team and a member of the firm’s PRIDE Network.