Heathcote Williams, radical British poet who helped form an anarchist nation, dies at 75


John Henley Heathcote Williams was born on November 15, 1941 in Helsby, Cheshire. Her father, Harold Heathcote Williams, was a lawyer who, to avoid confusion with another lawyer named Harold Williams, changed his first name to Heathcote (pronounced HETH-cut). His mother was the former Margaret Henley.

He attended Eton and studied law at Christ Church, Oxford, but left without graduating.

His first book, ‘The Speakers’, about four of the regulars who spoke at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, was published in 1964 to great acclaim. Playwright and novelist John Bowen, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called it “tremendously readable, immensely sad, immensely compelling”.

Harold Pinter, a fan of the book, commissioned Mr Williams to write and direct ‘The Local Stigmatic’, a one-act play about two men from a seedy part of London who argue over horse racing. greyhounds and commit a senseless act of violence. It was shown at the Royal Court Theater in 1966. In New York, the Actors’ Playhouse mounted a production in 1969 with Al Pacino in one of the lead roles.

Mr. Pacino later directed a film version of the play, which was never released for sale. He also appeared as a Heathcote Williams fan in “Every Time I Cross the Tamar I Get Into Trouble” (1993), a mockumentary about Mr. Williams.

After ‘AC/DC’ was produced at the Royal Court in 1970, Mr Williams wrote the plays ‘The Immortalist’ and ‘Remember the Truth Dentist’, which were staged at the Royal Court in 1974.

The squatter movement, with its anarchic fervor, its theatricality and its social vocation, put him in his element. The mini-state of Frestonia, which at one time had its own theatre, art gallery and film institute, lasted nearly a decade. In the meantime, Mr. Williams discovered spray paint as an effective means of communication. Slogans like “Housing is a right, freedom is a career” started appearing on neighborhood walls.

Although crumpled and scruffy, Mr. Williams had a plum accent and a melodious speaking voice which has served him well in a surprisingly busy film career. His first major role was Prospero in Derek Jarman’s experimental 1979 production of “The Tempest.” Vincent Canby, reviewing this film in The Times, described it as “a fingernail scraped along a blackboard” and called Mr Williams’ performance “sometimes intelligible”.


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