The great Kenneth Williams reading The Wind in the Willows

I am so excited (writes Sam).

My MA in Children’s Literature has restarted after the Christmas break, and we’re looking at how children respond to books. I expect I will share my reading and findings on here and / or on my ChildtasticBooks Masters blog, as well as trying out things on Holly (poor, unsuspecting child). But I wanted to share something that has got me smiling.

One of the books we have as essential reading is the classic The Wind in the Williams by Kenneth Grahame, published in 1908.

Mole and Ratty ‘messing about in boats’. Image courtesy of

I was first introduced to this marvellous book when I was a child. My mother gave me a copy of the audiobook, read by the brilliant Kenneth Williams, and it soon became a most prized possession.

Image courtesy of

I listened to this over and over. It was particularly comforting when I was off school ill, or just needed something to listen to, to relax. My version was a double set of audio cassettes – before the days of CDs! Holly I don’t think has ever seen a tape.

I kept it safe but unfortunately, after much travelling over the years, I couldn’t lay my hands on it when I looked for it recently. I logged on to amazon, convinced I would find it there, but discovered to my horror that it wasn’t available. More recent versions have been done, including one that Holly has read by Alan Bennett, but that wouldn’t do. It had to be Williams’ recording.

In despair, I turned to ebay and managed to track down a copy. It was on cassette again; this version doesn’t exist – as far as I know – on CD. Thank goodness I still have my grandfather’s old stereo which has a cassette player on it! I won the bidding and was hopping with excitement when the postman dropped my valuable package through the door.

So, why do I love this so much? For me, no one has come close to capturing the characters in the story as evocatively as Kenneth Williams. More known for his bawdy, camp humour, Williams was a wonderful and varied actor, with brilliant timing in his delivery. He doesn’t just read the story – he brings it to life in a way that is rarely heard even by the most talented of readers. He was a real storyteller. I might even dare to say that I like the audiobook of this story better than the words on the page. As I read the words I hear his voice in my head and everything comes to life.

I want to play it to Holly to see if she will fall in love with this like I did. Though I worry somewhat. What if she finds it boring or it just doesn’t captivate her like it did me? Will it spoil my enjoyment? She isn’t the biggest fan of the book as it stands, finding the Weasles too scary in particular. She does like Kenneth Williams though, having seen him in one of the Carry On films, so perhaps I can win her over. It’s best done on a long car journey when she’s not distracted in the house but for that I will need to transfer the book onto CD or MP3 format.

I will let you know how we get on. Wish me luck!

Have you heard Kenneth Williams’ version of The Wind in the Willows? What is your favourite audiobook?

PS – if you’d like to enjoy hearing Williams’ talent, have a look at this video on You Tube of him singing Ma Crepe Suzette, and him explaining on a chat show his thoughts on accents – very funny and I think goes some way to showing why I like him reading The Wind in the Willows. A slight warning – there’s a little strong word (nothing offensive) towards the end of that second clip.



  1. I’vebeen looking for that recording for years! I wore out my cassette and its unplayable. have you managed to record the tapeonto MP3? if so I’d be interested in buying a copy. If thats illegal ( I think it is! although its been out of print so long I’m not sure who would sue), I would happily donate to a charity of your choice


    • Unfortunately I haven’t yet worked out how to do that. Not sure if it’s legal or not to record, not that I can anyway! One piece of advice is to keep looking on ebay – that’s where I found mine. Good luck!


  2. I loved this recording too as a child and wanted to share it with my children so similarly found a tape on eBay. If you like that you would probably also enjoy the Kenneth Williams recording of Just William stories. I had a tape in the 80’s but ave yet to find it again on CD.


  3. Hi there. I too had the tapes of KW reading Wind In The Willows as a child, and I converted them to MP3 a couple of years ago. Drop me an email to dandare007 at hotmail dot com if you’d like a copy. Don’t want any money for it – happy to share! Once you’ve heard that version nobody else’s will do…


      • Haha, Hi Wendy. Yes, no problem. I’ve got the files in a Dropbox account so I’ll send you the link. I’m also gradually putting it online on a Tumblr page (go to Tumblr and look up ‘kennethwilliamswillows’), for anyone else that’s interested. Maybe in future people could either contact me there or at the email address I left below – I don’t want to hijack Childtastic’s thread here!


  4. So the legend of Kenneth Williams lives on! I’ve just been converting my husband’s old tapes of Just Williams to MP3 format for our boys to listen to. Although I am having all sorts of issues with side 4 of More William Stories as it seems to have been overplayed in years past! Clearly it’s an extra funny story so I am persevering. And next up will be this glorious version of Wind in the Willows which I recently found on eBay!

    My husband (as did I) adored Kenneth Williams growing up. What a voice! What delivery!

    My other books on tape that rather like Sam, I listened to over and over again in good times and bad, were 3 Asterix books read by Willie Rushton. Impossible books to read out loud but somehow wonderful adaptations were done and brought to life by the impressive Rushton. Having just replayed these tapes after a 25 year break, all the lines are rushing back to my mind and are as familiar and comforting as they were back then.

    I guess that Imelda Staunton reading some of the Julia Donaldson stories may have a similar impact on story telling for the children of today as did these chaps with their readings of some of our favourite books of our youth.


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