Kenneth Williams’s death location


While visiting London for a few days I went to find the location where Ken had lived and died. I’d just visited his boyhood home on Marchmont Street (click on the last photo) and the location of his final home wasn’t far away. He’d been born in a one-bedroom dingy flat near Kings Cross Station and spent the rest of his life never more than half a mile from Euston. He always lived alone in a series of small sparsely-furnished flats. The flat where he lived his final years was on Osnaburgh Street and even though the block had been demolished I still had to take a look.


He lived the last sixteen years of his life in a mansion block at Marlborough House. Using his actor’s wages he’d bought mum a flat on the second floor and when the flat next door came up for sale in 1972 he bought it. He was 46 and moved his few possessions in – top priorities were the diaries, the radio, writing accoutrements and the Parker Knoll (no television.) He was initially quite happy but down the years he found an unfulfilled personal life. The diaries referred increasingly to suicide. His final years were spent dealing with the pain of an ulcer, regret at never becoming a serious actor and anger that he’d given himself away in the manic persona the public loved. He could ignite laughter in others but never in himself. Despite a terrific brain it never yielded him the contented mental footing he sought.


Aged 62 he died of a heart attack in his single bed in the early hours of Friday 15th April 1988 having swallowed too many barbiturates. His mum let herself into the flat and found her lad cold and unresponsive, an arm resting across his forehead. Whether the overdose was an accident is something we’ll never know. Some friends said he’d been aching to die for years and didn’t want to pass 65. Others said he wouldn’t leave his mum (the only woman he loved), wouldn’t have made an appointment the following day and wouldn’t have left his full stock of painkillers unconsumed. Somehow that night Ken had taken double his dosage of antacid (the coroner generously recorded an open verdict.) He was cremated at East Finchley Cemetery and his ashes were scattered in the memorial gardens. He left an estate worth about £1.5 million in today’s money.


Returning to the hotel in Hampstead I made sure I walked up busy Euston Street and turned right onto the quieter Osnaburgh Street. I was hungry and had an hour’s slog back uphill to the hotel (I’d already been out walking all morning.) To boost my energy levels I was hoping to see a blue plaque bolted onto the glass office block monstrosity that’s replaced Marlborough House. No plaque, though….there’s one at a nearby theatre but I’m a geek and wanted to see a blue plaque exactly marking the spot where Ken’s flat had been. A Japanese digital advertising company called Dentsu Aegis Network occupies the space nowadays. I looked up at its gleaming façade and wondered if the people who use an office, meeting room, toilet or stationary cupboard know it was once the private retreat of one of Britain’s most popular comic actors. He’d spent years there reading, writing, educating himself, entertaining friends, eating, sleeping and finally turning cold after his heart stopped beating. I doubt anyone there had given it a thought. I did a hearty salute for Ken and left.



Pointing down Osnaburgh Street where Marlborough house once stood…