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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Nicky Smith

Hugh Williams


The Guardian newspaper had a long article at http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,786755,00.html about Hugo Williams, poet, brother of Upstairs Downstairs star Simon Williams and son of OOOAIM cross-dresser Hugh Williams. It gives an excelent insight into the everyday life of posh theatrical folk -


Williams was born in Windsor in 1942. Laurence Olivier telegrammed his congratulations to the parents and suggested that the boy be called Torquemada. The telegram is in the black-and-white scrapbook. Four years later, the Williamses had another son, Simon, now a well-known actor and (like the parents) occasional playwright. Next came a girl, Polly, now married to the actor Nigel Havers. Conscious of a surrounding glitter, while he scrapes by on poet's wages, Hugo Williams sometimes feels that the roles have been reversed between him and his younger brother. "I know he thinks that", says Simon, who beams admiration for Hugo and his works. "But he was very much the elder brother. He was a sort of god. He'd tell me what music to listen to, what clothes were in fashion, what to read. I'd always play Friar Tuck to his Robin Hood." Even now, he says, "Hugo won't come down to the country to visit me at all. Lunch has to be at his place, not at mine, even though I have a schedule and he doesn't."

"Williams's childhood is depicted in his writings as sunny, on the whole, though acted out beneath perpetually looming shadows. The first cloud was the war, and his father's absence while serving in the army. Williams says, "He didn't really have to go. He could have stayed at home and done his bit by making morale-boosting films or something, but he insisted on it. I think their marriage never fully recovered. They only had a few years of real happiness together." His mother had a love affair and his father returned from service to find himself hounded by the Inland Revenue. "That disgusted him and almost broke him", says Williams, producing a newspaper clipping about the actor's financial problems from the scrapbook. His father's tax debt stemmed from money he had made starring in Michael Powell's war-effort film One of Our Aircraft is Missing. It was only after a long interval that the revenue claimed more than 1,000, an enormous sum at the end of the 1940s, and Hugh Williams was forced into bankruptcy. "He threatened to leave the country, so they confiscated his passport", Hugo explains. Simon takes a typically more cheerful view. "Looking back, I found it rather exciting, all the moving house at the time of our father's bankruptcy. It must have been clever of them to disguise the tremendous difficulties they were facing, and make it seem like fun to us."

"Then there was the shadow cast by school. In 1955, after a miserable time at a prep school in Hemel Hempstead, Hugo Williams took up a place at Eton. Wasn't his father broke? "He borrowed the money from Michael Astor. When he turned up at Eton, the housemaster said, 'Oh, I read about your trouble and took your son's name off the list.' Dad said: 'Well, you'll just have to put it back on again.'" Williams has written much about his schooldays in his fortnightly column in the TLS, "Freelance", which functions as a clearing-house for whatever is happening in his head. Recently he recalled passing a shop called Thomas's in Eton, which "used to have a display of canes arranged criss-cross in the window... I was once sent down to Thomas's to buy a suitable cane with which to be beaten."

His time at Eton was not unhappy, he says, "though one tends to blame it for all sorts of mess in one's life at present". His formal education ended, without much in the way of paper qualifications, when he was 17. Inevitably, he embarked on life with certain attitudes. An acute and funny early travel book, All the Time in the World (1966), has the 20-year-old setting off round the globe carrying "dressing gown, slippers, dinner jacket, typewriter", looking for a bed in a youth hostel."

Presumably my life could have been very different if the evil Inland Revenue had never made my parents pay any taxes...


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