Saturday, September 18, 2010

Carry on specialising

Some time last year, I wrote a piece for LC’s short-lived but fondly remembered Pamphleteer, about the end of that remarkable generation of polymathic raconteurs (your Peter Ustinovs and your John Mortimers) who could be injected into a TV chat show, apparently with no preparation and, more significantly, nothing to sell. Only Stephen Fry carries on the tradition, and even he fails to keep up the second part of the bargain. In the comments box, Boz sensibly pointed out that I’d omitted Kenneth Williams from the list; but it’s only now that I come upon a pertinent remark by Williams himself, made appropriately enough on a chat show in 1987. On the subject of increasing specialisation, he said:

Everyone’s becoming better and better at less and less; eventually someone’s going to be superb at nothing.
Which inevitably makes one think of the likes of Katie Price and Paris Hilton, whose most obvious talent is for being themselves. But, honestly, can’t the same be said for Williams?


Clair said...

I think Williams, out of neccessity, made a talent of being himself, but then so did Orson Welles at the end of his career; both of them largely unemployable as actors because their personalities had totally subsumed any believability they had.

I also wonder if Katie Price would have been in the Carry Ons if they were still around now.

Madame DeFarge said...

I think it's one of the many reasons why I rarely watch TV these days. No-one says anything, it's just an extended infomercial. But KW's talent was to sound interesting saying nothing. Being superb at nothing is a talent KP and PH can only aspire to.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Quentin Crisp also made a talent out of being himself 'When you know what your style is, then you will know who you are.'

But a sublimely talented and amusing creature at being himself, just like Kenneth Williams.

Katie Price and Coleen Rooney et all, do not even have a personality of that ilk going for them.

And I'm afraid I find Stephen Fry a bit of a yawn these days. Just too overexposed.

Steerforth said...

Couldn't agree more (a superb article, by the way).

Like Laura, I find Fry less endearing than I used to, but I'm measuring the man by his own standards. Compared to most people, he is a Colossus.

I'd also add Diana Rigg, John Sergeant and George Melly to the list.

Tim F said...

True, Clair. It’s interesting watching KW in some of the very early Carry Ons – the persona is there, but he’s still acting, not just being the KENNETH WILLIAMS EXPERIENCE. (His best role was on Jackanory, IMHO.)

Good point, Madame: his real skill in later years was as a performance, not as a performer.

Agree with both Laura and Steerforth about SF’s over-exposure; if there were more Ustinovs and Welleses about to take up the burden, perhaps he’d be less visible.

LC said...

I thought The Pamphleteer was the best idea ever when I started it, but then I realised that trying to get bloggers to write stuff when there is no money involved is like trying to put a dozen greased weasels into a sack.

Anonymous said...

Oh no - Price & Hilton as this season's line in Ustinov and Mortimer. Time to drink the poison.