Kenneth Williams’ candid diaries unearthed: His attack on Joan Sims and Sid James

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
5 Min Read

Kenneth Williams stands as an enigma wrapped in comedic brilliance. Unbeknownst to many, his personal musings are tucked away in a secret diary. These entries chronicle the tumultuous relationships and inner demons that fueled the genius behind the iconic Carry On star. Unearthed by the Mail on Sunday in 2015, these entries offer an unprecedented peek into Williams’ psyche, laying bare the love, loathing, and unrelenting loneliness that defined his turbulent life.

From the early days of 1942 to his final chilling entry on April 14, 1988, the night of his overdose at 62, Williams’ diary serves as a chronicle of a man perpetually at odds with himself and the world around him. An open verdict on his overdose leaves lingering questions, but his diaries present a vivid picture of a tortured soul who found solace in the written word.

Kenneth Williams, the son of a Cockney hairdresser, wielded his diary as a weapon, a threat to friends and foes alike. “You’ll be in my diary,” served as a warning to those who dared to annoy him. The 42 volumes, approved for preservation by the British Library, unfold a narrative of Williams’ scorn and wit, often bordering on libel.

The Bitter Beginnings: 1942-1965

The diary entries from 1950, during his understudy days in Swansea, reveal a discontented Williams watching Richard Burton’s lacklustre Seagull and later lamenting his own engagement in provincial repertory. His biting critiques extend beyond the stage to politics and cinema, disdain dripping from his words as he dissects the resignation of Sir Anthony Eden and skewers David Lean’s direction in Dr. Zhivago.

On August 21st, 1950, he wrote: “Dreary day spent watching the lousiest production of ‘Seagull’ in rehearsal. It was monumentally boring. Can’t see it EVER being a success…Performance in evening bad. Lousy house.”

Carry On Chaos: The Height of Williams’ Bitterness

Williams, surrounded by Carry On co-stars, unleashed his venom. Sid James bore the brunt of his criticism, described as “looking as bad as his acting.” Joan Sims faced Williams’ fury with her patronage and assumed authority, leading to a heated shouting match during the filming of Carry On Camping.

On April 15th 1969, he wrote: At lunch I had the great shouting match with Joan Sims. Her patronage & assumption at times that she should tell me what to do, is intolerable. I shouted ‘You cow c****d mare’ and Hattie intervened and told me to stop it. Afterwards, Joan apologised and then of course, I apologised as well. I loathe her standards & her mouldy respectability but not her personally. Oh! I don’t know tho. I don’t like her either. Not anything about her really.’

Loneliness and Demons of Kenneth Williams: 1966-1988

As Williams’ career soared, so did his inner turmoil. His diaries laid bare the deep unhappiness plaguing him, the loneliness palpable in entries like June 29, 1984. Walking the streets of London, he reflected on the unchanging darkness and the hollowness of his existence.

‘Did the accounts for the month and walked home via Aldwych. Reflected that nothing really changes. I’m still walking about this city dragging my loneliness with me, putting on a front, whistling in the dark. It is getting darker all the time. Went to Tesco’s and got fish and ham and tomatoes and had that at 5.30.

‘Tried doing a bit more writing but my heart, it isn’t in it. Think I’ll have to leave it for a bit. Feel more like weeping.’

The contents of the diaries, unearthed after his death, depict a man who battled with his sexuality, finding fleeting comfort in friendships like the one with Joe Orton and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell. The revelation of his close companions, Tom Waine and Clive Dennis, adds a layer to Williams’ complex persona.

The Final Entry: “Oh, what’s the bloody point?”

As the diaries progress, the reader witnesses the descent into despair that culminated in Williams’ tragic end. The final entry on April 14, 1988, echoes with a poignant question, “Oh, what’s the bloody point?”

Christopher Stevens’ authorised biography, Born Brilliant, delves deeper into Williams’ life, unravelling the untold stories, friendships, and unique writing styles encapsulated in the diaries. The book introduces us to the Babes in the Woods, Tom Waine and Clive Dennis, shedding light on a friendship that spanned decades.

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