Recently a Facebook friend posted this shot of a menu at a restaurant in London along with the query: Do you think those first two desserts know each other?
My rejoinder to this rather “Carry On A La Carte” question was: “Ohhh I’d love some spotted dick. I’ve come all over queer just thinking about it.*” said in a Kenneth Williams voice. It was only later that I realized that my friend, being young and American, probably had no idea who Kenneth Williams was. Aside for making me feel old it made me feel a bit sad when I realized that a whole generation was growing up not knowing the glorious performances of the whole Carry On gang – Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Sidney James, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor et al. Sure they know Benny Hill, John Inman, Frankie Howerd and a raft of British comedians from various PBS series but of that mad combination of Music Hall and naughty Seaside Postcard that was the Carry On series they know little. And in particular the campy (in the best sense of the word) carry on of Kenneth Williams.
But Williams’ career was more than pop-eyed shock at the advances of Joan Sims or Hattie Jacques and pursed-lipped disgusted at the lechery of Sidney James. He was a popular radio and television performer appearing with Tony Hancock, Kenneth Horne, and on countless UK variety programmes as well as frequent stage appearances in the West End. He and Hugh Paddick created Julian and Sandy on Round the Horne: two gay slightly over the hill chorus boys who spoke polari, a gay slang used in and around London. It baffled most of the listeners but they were adored throughout the U.K. at a time when homosexuality was still outlawed. He also became known as a raconteur, and appeared on Parkinson on eight different occasions including a classic session with his good friend Maggie Smith. He also hosted and told stories in almost 70 episodes of a popular BBC children’s series. And he was always welcome as a panellist and host on quiz shows on both radio and television.
He was know for his wide range of voices and accents and though cockney born spoke with what his father once disdainfully referred to as “a plum in your bloody mouth”. Here are two examples of the that talent for voices and timing that took him well beyond any sort of Carry On!
Here’s the quintessential French chanteur in a little love song made up entirely of French words expropriated into the English language.
One thing that Williams had going for him on shows like Round the Horne were writers Marty Feldman and Barry Took who’s slightly off-the-wall humour led to characters like Rambling Syd Rumpo, a collector of obscure folk songs which he insists on sharing with us.
Much was made after Williams death in 1988, the result of an apparent overdose, of the often tortured private life he led. However I prefer to think of him as the brilliant performer he was. So let’s end with one of my favourite scenes from the many Carry On movies. Kenneth Williams with Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey and the double entendres tripping over each other.
*Yes I know: I’ve come all over queer! is a Charles Hawtrey line but it fit at the time.
On this day in 1431: Judges’ investigations for the trial of Joan of Arc begin in Rouen, France, the seat of the English occupation government.