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On Nicol Williamson: “Most of what is written about his unreliability is tosh”

The Guardian, 29th January 2012

Nicol Williamson (obituary, 27 January), like John Osborne, was everything you didn’t expect: very funny, sophisticated, subtly affectionate, wickedly observant, as interested in other people as a brilliant mimic has to be. His work was electrifying, of course, self-lacerating but deft, technically awesome - and ferociously disciplined. Most of what is written about his unreliability is tosh. He could and did play Hamlet on a couple of bottles of wine without dropping a stitch; and, on another occasion, a few hours after quite a serious car crash. He could be scary in the part but almost the best of it was his generous, humorous scene with Roger Livesey’s Gravedigger. He was everything a certain kind of bolshie young actor wants to be: resentfully romantic, oddly nonchalant, but heroically committed to his job. I played Laertes to his Hamlet and fought the duel with him a couple of hundred times without a scratch. I also drank with him and dealt the cards till dawn: I kept up pretty well, but eventually took another turning and I suppose a less self-punishing one. But I’m forever grateful for his heart, his grit and the unforgiving standards he set.

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