Kenneth Williams was born on 22 February 1926 in Caledonian Road, North London, to Charlie and Louisa Williams. Although he was good at English, and enjoyed poetry and drama, Ken's father discouraged his son's ambitions to become an actor, and at the age of fourteen, he was sent to Bolt Court - School of Lithography in Fleet Street. Williams first apprenticed as a draughtsman, and then at the age of 18, he joined the army. It was as part of the Royal Engineers survey section in Bombay that he had his first experience of going on stage, with the Combined Services Entertainment. This was alongside Stanley Baxter, who was to become a lifelong friend as well as a famous actor/comedian himself.
Following his discharge from the Army in December 1947, Williams initially returned to draughtsmanship before turning to the stage professionally. His career began with a number of roles in repertory theatre, but it was not until 1954 that he achieved his first big break. It was whilst appearing as the Dauphin in George Bernard Shaw's 'St Joan' that he was spotted by radio producer Dennis Main Wilson, who decided that Williams would be ideal to perform character voices in the series he was then casting, 'Hancock's Half Hour'. Thus in October 1954, Williams was booked to appear in the show, and made his first appearance in the first of the new series, broadcast on 2 November 1954. In the show, he played the part of an old duke, whose house had been rented out by Sid to Tony for a first night party. It wasn't a particularly big part, but he was gradually offered more, and he was to remain with the team for almost its entire run, missing only the last few episodes, finally leaving the series in June 1959.
Williams vocal versatility ensured he wasn't off the radio for long, and in 1958, whilst still in the cast of 'Hancock's Half Hour', he was asked to join another popular radio series, 'Beyond our Ken', which starred Kenneth Horne. The series became a success and led to the better known sequel, 'Round the Horne', which ran until 1968, ending only with the death of Kenneth Horne. Many of the memorable characters and voices in these series were played by Williams.
Kenneth Williams also worked extensively in television and British films, most memorably starring in 26 of the 'Carry On' film series. Despite not enjoying theatre - long runs of which he found boring - he also appeared in a series of West End revues in the 1960s, including 'One over the Eight' and 'Pieces of Eight', and 'Share My Lettuce' with Maggie Smith. Whilst on stage, he would often break out of character and start talking to the audience. He was also a regulart panellist on programmes such as 'Just a Minute' and 'What's My Line?', and also regularly presented the children's story-reading series 'Jackanory'. Later on in life, he came to rely mainly on chat and game shows, also doing voice-overs for advertisements. He also turned his hand to writing, and wrote several books, including his autobiography 'Just Williams'.
In the final years of his life, Ken was dogged by ill health. He also suffered from bouts of despondency and depression, as is apparent in his posthumously released diaries. On the morning of 15 April 1988, Ken was found dead in his flat in Camden. He had been undergoing treatment for stomach ulcers, and shortly before his death, he had been told that he would need emergency surgery for a gastric ulcer.
The cause of death was an overdose of barbiturates. Following an inquest, the coroner recorded an open verdict, saying it was possible (but unlikely) that he had taken an overdose of sleeping pills, in addition to his regular pain killers, that had caused a lethal cocktail. Williams' own father had committed suicide in 1962, by drinking a bottle of disinfectant, but many considered it unlikely that Ken would have taken his own life whilst his mother, to whom he was devoted, and who lived in the flat next door to his, was still alive. Kenneth Williams was cremated at St. Marylebone Crematorium.