Previously on “Another 80 Gays”: 75) Gaius Maecenas (68 BC-8 BC) was the patron and lover of 76) Bathyllus (c.60 BC- ?c.2 BC), a performer of Roman pantomime which evolved into British pantomime, in which form “Cinderella” is a popular story, a film version of which earned an Oscar nomination for 77) Angela Morley (1924-2009), musical arranger for the radio series that made a star out of 78) Kenneth Williams (1926-1988).
78) Kenneth Williams was one of the most well-known and popular comedy actors
in the UK. He began his acting career during his National Service in the army,
performing in army concerts. On leaving the army he went straight into
repertory theatre in which actors were required to take on many characters,
often in more than one play every week.
Kenneth’s ability to mimic
and portray very different characters helped him to develop the many vocal
skills that came to the attention of BBC radio. In 1955 he was invited to join
the cast for the second series of the radio comedy series “Hancock’s Half Hour”
to provide character roles. 77)
Angela Morley, who at that time was billed as Wally Stott, had been the
musical director of the series since its inception. The eponymous star of the
series, Tony Hancock, was an insecure man in private life and after several
series in which he believed Kenneth Williams was getting more laughs than
himself he asked Kenneth to leave.
By this time Kenneth had a
couple of other comedy series which would secure his status as a British comedy
legend. Both began in 1958. One was the BBC radio series “Beyond Our Ken”.
Despite the title, Kenneth Williams was not the star of the show. That went to
another comedy legend, Kenneth Horne.
“Beyond Our Ken” and its
rebooted version “Round the Horne” have been favourite radio comedies since my
childhood. In the previous “80 Gays” article last week I mentioned how both of
Angela Morley’s radio series are being repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra. So, too,
is “Beyond Our Ken” (celebrating its 60th anniversary).
In 1965 the creator and
lead writer of “Beyond Our Ken” left the BBC, taking the rights to the title
and characters with him. The BBC decided on an immediate reboot. The cast
remained intact but the show was retitled “Round the Horne”. The junior writer
of “Beyond Our Ken” was asked to write the new series with new characters in
the same format of sketches and spoofs, once again linked together by Kenneth
Horne. “Round the Horne” became a bigger success than “Beyond Our Ken”.
Perhaps the most famous,
and surprisingly popular, characters was Julian and Sandy. For a look at their
significance in radio comedy and gay rights read this article
“Round the Horne” ended in
1968 when Kenneth Horne died suddenly. The BBC decided on another reboot, this
time with Kenneth Williams in the central role, called “Its Ken Again”. It
didn’t work well, and didn’t last long.
But Kenneth Williams
didn’t need another radio comedy series because he was by now a regular cast
member in the “Carry On” films which began in 1958 with “Carry On Sergeant”.
There wasn’t any intention of making a series of films with the title “Carry
On” but the first was so successful that another was made, then another, then
another, and another, until 30 had been made up to 1978 (in addition to “Carry
On Columbus”, made in 1992, one television series, 4 Christmas specials and
several stage shows; there are also 4 unofficial films that don’t have the
“Carry On” title). There have been several attempts to revive the series but
they’ve all failed.
The regular “Carry On” gang
numbered in the dozens. There was a core group of lead actors and many regular
supporting actors. Sadly, we lost three this year – Liz Fraser, Fenella
Fielding and Carole Shelley, who between them appeared 7 “Carry On” films (only
one together – “Carry On Regardless” in 1963 [Update 30th December - we lost another, Dame June Whitfield, shortly after this was posted]).
One of the other regular
main “Carry On” leading stars was 79)
Charles Hawtrey (1914-1988). Charles starred in 23 “Carry On” films (compared
to Kenneth Williams’ 26). Sadly, problems with alcoholism dogged Charles in
later years and he was often drunk on the set of some “Carry On” films. One of Charles’ best performances is in
“Carry On Spying”, the first ever James Bond
Unlike Kenneth Williams
who began acting in the army Charles Hawtrey was a child actor, making his
stage debut at the age of 6. In 1931 he joined the cast of the annual “Peter
Pan” production at the London Palladium. Below is the cast list from the
official 1932 programme. I’ve underlined Charles’s name.
Charles Hawtrey became
more widely known when he began appearing in film comedies. He was often a
“juvenile” foil (when he was in his 20s) to Will Hay, a popular radio and film
comedian. However, once the “Carry On” films took off people began to forget
Charles was already an established star.
Let’s go back to that
“Peter Pan” cast list above. If you look at the name immediately above Charles
you’ll see the name 80) Graham Payn
(1918-2005) (spelt wrongly, with "E" on the end). Graham was born in South Africa. He was privately educated
in England where he began acting. His stage debut was in the 1931 production of
“Peter Pan”, also Charles Hawtrey’s first year.
While he was still only 14
years old Graham appeared in a revue called “Words and Music”. His main role
was as a busker outside a cinema during the introduction to the song “Mad About
the Boy”, sung by four of the female singers in the show.
Graham appeared in 164
performances of “Words and Music” and went on to appear in many other stage
production while the “Mad About the Boy” writer went on to have his own many,
many successes. In 1945 the two met again after nearly ten years. This was the
start of the relationship that lasted until the death of that songwriter. If
you don’t already know who wrote “Mad About the Boy” let me say that my trip
“Around the World in Another 80 Gays” ends here, because he was none other than
1) Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973),
the man with whom we began our journey back in January. He and Graham Payn
remained partners until Sir Noël’s death.
It has given me a great
amount of satisfaction to research and write this series. It does not end here.
All being well I’ll will write another “80 Gays” series for 2020. I hope you
will stay with me through the less frequent 2019 posts to learn more about the
many connections the lgbt community has though time and location.