Tuesday, 17 May 2011

My Crêpes Suzette

On Sunday I met a friend for lunch prior to him attending an event in the Bristol Festival of Ideas. With little persuasion, I agreed to join him to hear Christopher Stevens discuss the life of Kenneth Williams, whom he's written a biography of. 

Over the course of around an hour and a half he talked freely about Williams' life, peppering the narrative with anecdotes and quotes from those he interviewed during his research. There were also a number of clips of Williams, including this one of him sing Crêpes Suzette as part of his An Audience With.... 

The afternoon was entertaining and informative - for example, I wasn't previously aware of Williams' years as a cartographer or in Rep in Newquay. Given the hours of research Stevens had obviously done and his enthusiasm for his subject, I'd be inclined to buy this book (it's now on my Amazon Wishlist) and to recommend it to those interested in finding out more about the man behind the Carry On façade.

My friend has written a fuller review and Christopher Stevens' book "Born Brilliant" is out now.


1 comment:

Raybeard said...

I'll have to buy this book too. It sounds really informative and could provide me with facts I hadn't known about this most enigmatic and contradictory of personalities.
Although I was an avid follower of 'Round the Horne' (currently being repeated Mondays on 'Radio 4 Plus') and its predecessor 'Beyond our Ken' on their first broadcasts in the 1960s, I thought the Julian and Sandy 'Bona' sketches were hilarious even though I didn't then quite grasp that they were actually playing a couple of queeny gays. For this portrayal Williams was much-vilified by the burgeoning Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970s as he and Hugh Paddick were showing gays to be just effete, bitchy clowns. His riposte was that this was the only way in which gays at that time (when it was totally illegal, or had just been given very limited de-criminalisation) were allowed to be noticed in the media at all. This was true up to a point, though we were also seen as the very epitome of evil, capable of doing anything, and certainly not to be supported.
Unfortunately he didn't do himself any favours either, a few years later when, in a major interview with 'Gay News' (then the only gay publication of serious news), he said words to the effect that "it was obvious that men having relationships with men was 'unnatural' and ought to be discouraged". I may not have got the words exactly right but that was certainly the tenor of them. I remember it well, causing widespread outrage in the gay 'community'. And we knew, even then, how reactionary his own political views were. But (as though it's a valid excuse?) he wasn't exactly a man in good health, either physically or mentally.
Having said all that, in my view he absolutely does deserve a place of significance in this country's history of gay awareness - and, at least in his publicly-presented persona he was always funny or VERY funny, as in this clip from his act.