I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Odd One Out: Not Kenneth Williams

Well, it's time to reveal all...

1. True. I used to work in publishing, and occasionally had to shepherd round celebrity authors on publicity tours. The publisher I was working for at the time, J. M. Dent, had published 3 witty, autobiographical books by Kenneth Williams - Acid Drops, Back Drops and Just Williams, all bestsellers - and he was much in demand for bookshop signings, and radio and TV appearances.
One particular morning I had to meet him and Liz Newlands, Dent's publicity director, at the Grand Hotel in Birmingham and take him to BRMB Radio and the BBC Pebble Mill studios for interviews, then on to Hudson's bookshop in the city centre for a book signing. Before we left, we had coffee in the lounge and attempted The Times crossword - which I believe Williams did regularly.
Whenever I met him - which I did several times - I was struck by what a lonely and neurotic figure he was. Before a group of people, in front of an audience, he would effortlessly turn on the charm and put on his act, captivating us all with his stock repertoire of anecdotes and funny voices. But one-to-one he could seem rather serious and depressed (like a lot of comedians). I think Williams saw himself as much more than just a comic, an entertainer and a funny man. He was quite erudite and well read, and had intellectual pretensions. Though how comfortable he would have felt amongst a group of high-minded, academic intellectuals I'm not sure.
Whenever he saw me I always felt he was mildly disappointed, as really he only had eyes for Ernie, a muscular, swarthy Gibraltarian publisher's rep from the south-east. He overdosed on barbiturates on 15 April 1988. His diaries later revealed a conflicted and self-tormenting character, mulling on feelings of underachievement, and struggling to reconcile Christianity with his own homosexuality.

2 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Very sad character wasn't he, Robert - so often true of the really funny mean like Tony Hancock.

gleaner said...

It reminds me of a recent comedy sketch from John Cleese - it was disturbing because the fine line between his comedic anger and his real anger and depression seemed to show itself. He did the whole sketch on his bitter divorce from his wife and how he was left destitute "from the hag"...it didn't work for me as it was uncomfortable to see he really was quite depressed and angry.