Monday, 30 November -0001

Radio Review: 10 July

Charlie Williams: a warm tribute that does him proud

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176Charlie Williams was a remarkable man. Best remembered as a stand-up comic, he was originally a professional footballer of some distinction. Moreover, he was mixed race at a time when black faces were a rarity on television, the son of a Barbadian father and a Barnsley mother. Poet and fellow Barnsley man Ian McMillan was responsible for a kind, warm documentary about Williams on Radio 4 last week. He recalled his family’s pride watching Williams hosting

The Golden Shot. Colour didn’t figure. Williams was talking in a Barnsley accent on national television. Between him and Parky, Barnsley owned the world. McMillan met Williams’ childhood friends, the producers who made him a television star and his widow. The portrait painted was of a lovely, gentle man who became a massive star. His widow explained that he eschewed gag writers. Material came from his experiences, maybe exaggerated just a little. Williams joked about prejudice by telling audiences he’d move in next door if they didn’t laugh.

Dotun Adebayo, always terrible on Up All Night, made good points about black children in the 1970s enduring playground taunts prompted by Williams’ selfdeprecating humour, but I could have done without him emulating the tormentors’ shrieks of laughter.

In an archive interview, Williams argued that prejudice was as old as humanity, that the only race that mattered was the human race and that his gags were intended to make everyone laugh, hopefully at themselves. It’s easy now to criticise him for not being confrontational, but it was a different time. In the long term, I feel he did a lot of good for harmony and understanding. He was trapping flies with honey rather than vinegar, and this programme largely did him proud.

Looking for Charlie Williams, BBC Radio 4, on BBC iPlayer.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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