The Meredith Edwards Papers, [c.1910-1999]

Inspired by a new exhibition at the National Museum of Wales entitled Becoming Richard Burton, which tells the story of how the boy from Port Talbot became an international star of stage and screen and uses Burton’s diaries, papers and personal objects from the Richard Burton Archives held at Swansea University, the North East Wales Archives (Ruthin branch) are turning the spotlight onto the Meredith Edwards papers which are a fascinating collection of records for anyone interested in the history of great Welsh actors.

Great Welsh Actors

Gwilym Meredith Edwards, born 1917, was a Welsh character actor and writer. He was born in Rhosllanerchrugog, near Wrexham in industrial north-east Wales, the son of a collier and educated at the Ruabon Grammar school. In his obituary for the Independent in 1999, Meic Stevens writes that Meredith was born into a ‘robust Welsh-speaking culture and a tradition of radical politics which left an indelible mark on him’ a mark which is seen running through this collection of papers.

DD/ME/201 Miscellaneous photographs 1938-86.

His interest in theatre was sparked by a combination of visits to the Liverpool Playhouse and amateur dramatics at Ruabon Grammar School but he first emerged from the wings to perform himself as a member of the Courtaulds factory amateur dramatics society in Flint. In 1938 Meredith began his professional career by joining the newly created, but sadly short-lived, Welsh National Theatre at Plas Newydd in Llangollen. After the outbreak of war in 1939 he found himself touring with the Army Tropical Theatre to the Middle East, Italy and Israel, before returning home to tour Britain with the Pilgrim Players.  After the war he began to pursue his acting career in earnest, including a spell at the Liverpool Playhouse as a member of the repertory company there.  Initially he did no more than “walk on” before graduating slowly from small parts to title roles including Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

After a season with the London Old Vic Company and a stint working with the BBC’s first Welsh repertory company, his ‘big break’ came in 1949 with a role in a feature film called “A Run for your Money” where Edwards plays “Twm” Jones who after winning a prize makes his first journey to London to watch a rugby match along with his brother “Dai”. This marked the beginning of a long and happy association with Ealing Studios and the start of a successful film and television career which included another 50 films and numerous television productions.

An Ordinary fellow.

In the words of Sir Michael Balcon, celebrated English film producer, it was Meredith’s ordinariness that made him so out of the ordinary. In a testimony entitled ‘the stars of tomorrow’ Balcon names Meredith Edwards as a particular player among the many promising newcomers to the screen. This was written in 1950 after Meredith had appeared in his first two films for Ealing Studios, the second being The Blue Lamp, a film about 1950’s policemen starring Dirk Bogart. Although no mention is given to Meredith you can listen to a review of The Blue Lamp on the  National Archives website. Balcon’s testimony goes on to say, ‘Edwards-a Welshman, is by no means the conventional screen actor. The secret of his appeal is that he is an ordinary sort of a fellow. He is not even handsome. He has what he himself calls an awkward nose. He has a natural charm and likeability. I think he will go a long way’.

Included within his collection are letters written to Meredith from members of the public or ‘fan mail’. On the 26th March, 1950, Norah Mooney wrote a letter to Meredith following his performance in ‘A Run for your Money’ in which Meredith appeared alongside Donald Houston and Alec Guinness. In her letter she complimented Meredith and told him that ‘out of the English male stars I prefer you’, she went on to say that ‘your face is very nice, just ordinary’. Amongst the newspaper cuttings in the collection is a review of ‘A Run for your Money’ written in the Liverpool Daily Post who described Meredith as having a long, fair, humorous looking face and easy screen manner.

Politics.

The collection of Meredith Edwards papers held at the Ruthin Branch of the North East Wales Archives also documents his later work in Welsh politics, including his campaigns to enrich the quality of life in rural Wales and support Welsh culture. The Welsh language was at the heart of his patriotism and he worked tirelessly on its behalf. In 1959 he joined the campaign for a Welsh language T.V. channel along with famous playwrights namely John Osborne and Christopher Fry and a list of other actors including Harry Secombe, Sian Phillips and Richard Burton. 

After returning to wales permanently in the early 1960’s, Meredith and his family moved to Cilcain, Flintshire where Meredith served as a member of Flintshire County Council. ‘He was a political nationalist and left-wing member of Plaid Cymru’, writes Meic Stevens ‘serving as the party’s candidate in the West Denbigh constituency at the General Election of 1966’. Within the records highlighting his life in politics are a number of newspaper articles including one with the headline, Actor fights for Plaid Cymru seat. In the article Meredith is quoted as saying ‘If my nation died-as surely it will if no political action is taken-then I would have no identity’. Meredith’s political life also saw him working with Amnesty International, CND Cymru, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and Equity, the Actors’ union.

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