Awarded the Papal knighthood well into his struggle with cancer and days before his death, British actor Michael Williams responded to the honor with typical zeal and sincerity, "This has been one of the best days I have had. Could I have a match replay?" A respected and versatile actor of stage and screen as comfortable with Shakespeare as with sitcoms, Williams was well known to U.K. television audiences through his role in the popular sitcom A Fine Romance, though his tireless on-stage career is a testament to an actor with a great love for classical roles.
Born in Manchester in 1935, and attending Liverpool's St. Edward's Christian Brothers school in his youth, Williams was a devout Roman Catholic who maintained a close relationship with the church throughout his life, serving as an enthusiastic and supportive member of the Catholic Stage Guild for a number of years. Gaining popularity through his powerful roles in such productions as The Taming of the Shrew and perhaps most notably in Troilus and Cressida (opposite Helen Mirren's Cressida), Williams married actress Judi Dench in 1971. Remaining close friends long before matrimony (not unlike their fictional counterparts on Romance), Dench and Williams remained together until Williams' death in 2001, often appearing together on stage (The Pack of Lies) and in film (Tea With Mussolini). In 1972 Williams and Dench had their only child, actress Finty Williams (The Secret Rapture) (1993). His other popular television parts included that of a brilliant Oxford scholar reduced to hamburger slinging in Double First, and a co-starring role opposite actress Gwen Taylor in the mid-life marital drama Conjugal Rites (1993).
Taking a cue from his Shakespearean stage roles, Williams' film roles were often geared towards the more classically dramatic. After making an early appearance in Marat/Sade (1966), Williams appeared with other well-respected classically trained actors such as John Gielgud (Eagle in a Cage, 1971), and Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, 1989). Williams was widely praised for his dramatic abilities and the remarkable depth of character he brought to his portrayals.
In the 1990s Williams teamed with wife Dench and fellow Shakespearean actor John Moffatt for a charitable series of comedy, song, drama, and poetry under the title Fond & Familiar, one program of which was broadcast live on Radio 4. Retaining much of the same remarkable charisma on the radio as in his film and stage appearances, Williams other radio roles included that of Watson on a late-'90s adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles and a monologue performance titled The Packer which was written for him by Peter Tinniswood.