I spent the afternoon working at home in front of the computer, and listened to Kenneth Williams – a well-known British actor, comedian and diarist – reading from his autobiography, Just Williams.
Apart from the stories of his acting career and mentions of many famous co-stars, I was struck by Williams’ occasional references to personal opinions. Opinions which were so obviously written in the moment as a personal diary entry, but about which he felt unashamed to share with the public as part of his autobiography.
At the close of the three-hour audio recording, his closing words in the monologue, re-telling an interview with a reporter in 1975, struck me as those of someone who gave a huge amount of thought to his course through life. Knowing that he is often referred to (or formerly known as) a melancholic man, the fact that his “second chance” was as a diarist – a change of tack which came after the section of his life in this reading – must’ve pleased him greatly. Particularly because popular opinion has it that he was disappointed with the fact that his most recognised work was in the base comedy of the Carry On films.
Reporter: Would you like to do something else?Extract from “Just Williams”; Kenneth Williams’ autobiography
Kenneth Williams: The odd magazine article and a column for the Radio Times has given me a few ideas. Perhaps I will tackle something more substantial.
R: Become an author?
KW: Oh, I don’t know about that. We’re in 1975 now; next year I’ll be 50. Too late to start another career. People think of me as a performer, not a writer. They tend to put you in a pigeon-hole.
(Narrative): “You can always fly out of it”, she laughed, “it’s’ never too late”.
When she’d gone, her words stayed with me. I think she was right. It is never too late; just because you’ve made your bed, you don’t have to lie on it. You can get up and re-make it.
A lot of maxims are lies; or at any rate, misleading. Watched kettles do boil, and rolling stones can gather moss.
The man who cannot change his mind is in danger of losing it altogether. There is not only one second chance: there are thousands of second chances, just as long as we wonder at the sunset, the numberless stars in the heavens, and the glory of a new day.
(Edit November 2011: the video is no longer available on YouTube.)