While staying in a hotel in Hampstead I looked on the map to see how far Bloomsbury was by foot. It was about an hour. Iíd be filling my stomach at the self-service restaurant later so I thought Iíd walk it off in advance. I put on an audio book and walked down to Marchmont Street. This was the childhood home of Kenneth Williams. Iíve got all the books about him but had never been to number 57. I went to have a look.
Iíd grown up watching Ken in the Carry On films (which he considered them below him) and as a quick-witted and hilarious entertainer. He didnít sing, dance, tell jokes, juggle or do magic yet he touched the funny bone of the nation with his highly-charged acting. It started here. Marchmont Street seemed to have a buzz about it the moment I stepped onto it. Iíd passed The British library where the streets were less busy but Marchmont Street seemed to be hub for locals. It must have been a respectable address in recent history as I think passed about four blue plaques before I saw Kenís. I knew Iíd got the right plaque before I was close enough to read it as the bottom floor was a barbers shop (currently called CV Hair Beauty.) Kenís no-nonsense dad worked in there doing mostly ďsbsĒ (short back and sides.) He was fiercely homophobic and wasnít the kind of man whoíd furnish a lad with a blow wave or a perm. He didnít seem to be part of the family either even though he lived there above the shop with his wife and two kids.
Ken lived here from age 9 to 30. Aged 14 he was taken out of school by his dad to learn a trade. Being a sensitive neat boy he wasnít suited to many trades and worked as an apprentice draughtsman for a map-makers. He left temporarily when he was called up for the army aged 18. He became a sapper (building/repairing roads Ė canít see him wielding a pick-axe somehow) and was then transferred to the Combined Services Entertainment. When London was bombed Kenís family took refuge in the basement under the shop (they didnít have a bunker or Anderson shelter.) He returned to the flat after the war aged 22 when his acting career began and was 30 before he finally left. Itís good to see itís still a salon (itís been one since 1910).
In the shop Kenís dad Charlie did the cutting his mum Louie did the shampoos and worked the till. Charlie used to treat nits with paraffin but I doubt they use this treatment nowadays. Ken was happy here but avoided his dad who he didnít like. Later his dad would die an agonising death after drinking cleaning fluid stored in a cough-mixture bottle (Ken went on stage an hour after hearing of the death.) Many years later the US refused Ken a visa when they discovered the English police held a file that pointed to that possibility that Ken had poisoned his dad.
While strolling along the street I saw an almost-motionless hunch-backed old lady with her back to the world and asked if she wanted any help but she shooed me away (see photo.)
Ken on a visitÖ
The Williams family went down into the basement when London was bombedÖ
This hunch-backed lady shooed me away when I asked if she wanted any helpÖ