British actor Kenneth Williams preferred movies and theater to contact sports while growing up in London. Though performing appealed to him, Williams didn't want to become a professional actor. Instead, he aspired to a career in art, and to that end studied at the Bolt Court School of Lithography. His artistic talents were modest at best, but his skill and range as a comic actor were remarkable. While serving with the Royal Engineers during World War II, he regaled uniformed audiences as a performer with Combined Services Entertainment. He made his professional stage bow with the Newquay Repertory in 1948, then toured the provinces in a variety of stock companies. In 1954, he joined the cast of comedian Tony Hancock's immensely popular radio and TV series, essaying dozens of sharply etched comic characterizations. He achieved even greater fame as an ensemble player on Kenneth Hornes' BBC radio weekly Round the Horne. In 1959, he attained stardom as a member of filmdom's zany "Carry On" team, appearing in all but four of the popular Carry On comedies of the 1960s and 1970s. His standard characterization was that of the effeminate, condescending twit, given to such catchphrases as "Oh, stop messing about," "Matron!" and "Trouble with the bum, you know." During and after his tenure with the "Carry On" bunch, Williams sustained his popularity as star of his own television series, and also headlined such 1980s TVers as Willow the Wisp, Galloping Galaxies and Whizzkids Guide. A classic example of the clown with the broken heart, Williams was dissatisfied with his fame, yearning to play complex, dramatic roles. In 1988, Williams died of a barbiturate overdose, which his staunchest fans still insist was accidental. Kenneth Williams penned his autobiography, Just Williams, in 1985, but a fuller and sadder portrait of this gifted farceur can be found in The Diaries of Kenneth Williams and The Letters of Kenneth Williams, both edited by Russell Davies.
by Hal Erickson biography