Did we like it?
It was hard to avoid being depressed by this tears-of-a-clown tale (with all the tears and little of the clowning) but it was easy to be impressed by another fine drama from BBC4 (our new favourite channel thanks to dramas like this, Mark Steel, Charlie Brooker, folk music, Time and reruns of The Avengers)
What was good about it?
• Mesmerising Michael Sheen as Kenneth – just as good as his Tony Blair in The Deal. He lost two stone for the part and every cake refused was worth it for the scenes in which an emaciated Williams laid straight on his bed, wearing unappealing but spotless white Y-fronts, trying hard to resist the temptation to masturbate.
• Cheryl Campbell as Kenneth’s clingy mother Louie who defended her son from her working-class husband and lapped up his performances on BBC Radio, in the Carry On films and, in his later years, as a chat show stalwart. Campbell almost stole the show as she showed how Louie declined into dementia.
• The clip of Mavis Nicholson interviewing Kenneth. We used to love her, with her twinkly eyes and lovely Welsh lilt.
• Kenny Doughty was irresistibly sexy as Joe Orton, the playwright who dabbled in promiscuous homosexuality while Kenneth remained buttoned up on the sidelines.
What was bad about it?
• Even the good times seemed bad for Kenneth – with haemorrhoids, homophobia (from Carry On co-star Sid James in particular) and jealousy (from Tony Hancock) marring his triumphs. If there was some joy in his life, we never got to see it in Martyn Hansford’s unhappy portrait based on the meticulous diary he kept to chronicle his self-loathing (“The thing that I am is the thing that I despise.”) and loneliness (“This queerness seems to become more and more frightening”).
• The sadness that no-one at the time could help Kenneth cope with his obsessive compulsive disorder (Cellophane covered his gas hob; his toilet was out of bounds) or his fear of medical treatment
• The sadness that when Kenneth did pick up a hunky soldier, he refused to have sex because the man had grubby fingernails