John Henley Heathcote Williams
15 November 1941 – 1 July 2017
Heathcote Williams, was an English poet, actor, political activist, artist, magician and dramatist. Born in Helsby, Cheshire, and brought up in Fulham, London, he was sent to Eton and then Oxford to read law - despite his protests and a period spent in a Franciscan monastery.
Escaping to London from school he became fascinated by Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner, and developed a particularly close friendship with the charismatic Irishman Billy McGuinness, who retained a huge influence on him throughout his life. Out of these observations came his first book, The Speakers, gaining a rave review from Harold Pinter, and also an introduction to Soho, which led him to his first job as editor of Transatlantic Review, and a broad entry to London’s counter-culture of the time.
This was his main period of playwriting – he wrote his first full-length play, AC/DC (1970), an exploration of the mental health industry, inspired by his own stay at Springfield Mental Hospital following a breakdown. Other plays included Hancock's Last Half Hour, and The Local Stigmatic, (an attack on fame that fascinated the American actor Al Pacino and of which he made a film), The Immortalist and Remember the Truth Dentist directed by Ken Campbell.
Williams then went on to be a leading activist in the London squatting scene in the 1970s and, with Nicholas Albery, ran the Ruff Tuff Cream Puff estate agency for squatters. In 1977 he was part of a group that established the Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia in west London.
For much of the 1970s and early 1980s Williams collaborated with his friend the graphic designer Richard Adams, with whom he established Open Head Press, publishing a wide range of anarchist propaganda, radical pamphlets, books and booklets, posters, post cards and magazines.
In the mid-1980s he retreated to Cornwall, initially to finish his poem Elephants and to help his friend Peregrine Eliot organise the first Elephant Fayre, where he remained for over a decade and wrote a number of other polemical poems including Autogeddon, Falling for a Dolphin and Whale Nation.
Williams appeared in a number of films – most notably playing Prospero in Derek Jarman’s Tempest, and also wrote lyrics, collaborating with Marianne Faithfull among others. Williams was also a magician and member of The Magic Circle.
For the last 25 years of his life Williams lived in Jericho, Oxford with his life-long partner Diana Senior whom he had met at Oxford and with whom he had two daughters, China (1968) and Lily (1979). He also had a son, Charlie (1989) from a short relationship with Polly Samson.
In these last years he wrote prolifically, writing poems on a wide range of subjects from politics to nature, literature and art. When he died he was putting the final touches to Jesus the Anarchist (a lifelong fascination) and an epic investigation into public protest: Fiery Tongues; The Peasants Revolt; The Invisible Captain Swing; Occupy Wall Street and Worldwide Revolution.