BBC Radio 4, 29 November - 3 December 2010
Read by Nicholas Boulton, this biography (based on Williams' complete archive) told us little about the comedian that we did not already know; his modest upbringing in London's King's Cross; his desire for self-education; his self-destructive streak that often prevented him from taking plum jobs that might have established him as a serious actor. The self-destructive streak also led him to leave long-running successes on radio and the theatre at the height of their popularity (for example, Hancock's Half Hour). Despite his enduring popularity in television, radio and the cinema, Williams was at heart a lonely man who shunned company and wilfully refused to open himself up to others. He had everything - stardom, money, a loyal fan-base - yet chose to lead a monastic life in a series of squalid one-room apartments, never moving far away from the parental home.
Williams was obsessively attached to his mother Louie; the only woman he really loved, despite numerous futile attempts to form relationships with other women (Joan Sims, for example). Williams' homosexuality was well known, but he lacked that bohemian streak characteristic of his close friend Joe Orton. It is highly likely that Williams never had penetrative sex, preferring the delights of masturbation (euphemistically described in his diaries as 'having a barclays,' using cockney rhyming slang).
Boulton's reading was interspersed with recordings of interviews with Williams himself - despite his love of the radio medium, it was evident that he did not like talking about himself; whenever he did, he gabbled his words as if wanting to finish as quickly as possible, so that listeners might not grasp the import of what he was saying.
His diaries reveal him as a rather unpleasant man, fond of complaining and treating other people with contempt. While providing him with a sounding-board to let off steam, they also reveal him as someone largely responsible for his own fate. If he had been more accommodating, then perhaps his life would not have been so unsatisfying.
Christopher Stevens' biography told the tale in chronological form, without too much fanciful speculation on Williams' psychology. There was one noticeable factual error: Stevens claimed that Williams could have joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1952 under the direction of Anthony Quayle. The RSC did not come into being until nine years later when Peter Hall took over - at the time Quayle was in charge, the company was known as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.