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"Charles Hawtrey 1914 1988" by Roger Lewis

Charles Hawtrey 1914 1988 - Roger Lewis

This is a very short, affectionate and touching biography of Charles Hawtrey who, whilst best known for his roles in the British Carry On films of the 1960s and 1970s, made his first stage appearance in 1925 at the age of 11 and continued to have a career of sorts through to the 1980s. In 1972, after he was dropped by the Carry On producers, he slipped into the relative obscurity of pantomime and provincial summer seasons, whilst his alcoholism had steadily increased from the mid 1960s until his death in 1988.

As Roger Lewis acknowledges, as much as we love the Carry Ons (and I do) our affection isn't based on their artistic merits. Part of the pleasure of this 98 page monograph is reading Roger Lewis's obvious love for Hawtrey's abilities and comedic skills ("the positive joy of Hawtrey's performances imply the possibility of happiness"), coupled with his forthright opinions on some of the other Carry On regulars. His fiercest criticism is reserved for the two Kenneths: Kenneth Connor ("what a pain in the arse") and Kenneth Williams ("an appalling actor, affected, caustic, shrieking like a peacock and with no sense of dramatic rhythm").

Ultimately though, this is the tragic tale of a very lonely man: "Poor old Charles Hawtrey, he had a craving for the things that wouldn't come - superstardom, wealth, the love of naked sailors - and so developed a drinking habit, to put it mildly". 

This may well be the perfect little book to sum up one of the sadder stories of British showbusiness, albeit one about a natural comedian who, like a select few (e.g. Eric Morecambe and Tommy Cooper), was funny even whilst doing very little.