The Richard Burton Diaries

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Overview

Irresistibly magnetic on stage, mesmerizing in movies, seven times an Academy Award nominee, Richard Burton rose from humble beginnings in Wales to become Hollywood's most highly paid actor and one of England's most admired Shakespearean performers. His epic romance with Elizabeth Taylor, his legendary drinking and story-telling, his dazzling purchases (enormous diamonds, a jet, homes on several continents), and his enormous talent kept him constantly in the public eye. Yet the man behind the celebrity façade ...

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Overview

Irresistibly magnetic on stage, mesmerizing in movies, seven times an Academy Award nominee, Richard Burton rose from humble beginnings in Wales to become Hollywood's most highly paid actor and one of England's most admired Shakespearean performers. His epic romance with Elizabeth Taylor, his legendary drinking and story-telling, his dazzling purchases (enormous diamonds, a jet, homes on several continents), and his enormous talent kept him constantly in the public eye. Yet the man behind the celebrity façade carried a surprising burden of insecurity and struggled with the peculiar challenges of a life lived largely in the spotlight.

This volume publishes Burton's extensive personal diaries in their entirety for the first time. His writings encompass many years—from 1939, when he was still a teenager, to 1983, the year before his death—and they reveal him in his most private moments, pondering his triumphs and demons, his loves and his heartbreaks. The diary entries appear in their original sequence, with annotations to clarify people, places, books, and events Burton mentions.

From these hand-written pages emerges a multi-dimensional man, no mere flashy celebrity. While Burton touched shoulders with shining lights—among them Olivia de Havilland, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Laurence Olivier, John Huston, Dylan Thomas, and Edward Albee—he also played the real-life roles of supportive family man, father, husband, and highly intelligent observer. His diaries offer a rare and fresh perspective on his own life and career, and on the glamorous decades of the mid-twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

The Bookseller

"Full of surprises and revelations."—The Bookseller
Good Housekeeping

“Burton kept a private journal for four decades; the entries show him to be smart, kind, slyly funny—and utterly besotted with costar and wife (twice) Liz Taylor.”—Good Housekeeping, December Book Pick
Emplyn Williams

"Diaries? Autobiography? Time will tell, and may surprise."—Emlyn Williams, at Richard Burton's Memorial Service, London, August 1984
Newyorksocialdiary.com - Liz Smith

“Fun, fascinating, and sad.”—Liz Smith
The Times - Simon de Bruxelles

"The words reveal someone who is reflective and thoughtful and someone who engaged intellectually with the world around him. It's not just the ale-and-women kind of image… His diaries reveal a man who thought deeply about the world - past, present and future. Richard Burton was in search of 'what it all meant', but found little comfort in the lessons of history… In 1970 he wrote: 'I love the world but if I take it too seriously I shall go mad.'"—Simon de Bruxelles, The Times (London)
Daily Mail - Sam Marsden

"Richard Burton's private diaries are being published for the first time, including passionate descriptions of Elizabeth Taylor as 'a wildly exciting lover-mistress' and 'beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography.'"—Sam Marsden, Daily Mail (London)
Daily Telegraph - Christopher Wilson

"Stand back! Sally Burton just lit a literary firecracker and tossed it into the room. The widow of Britain's greatest film actor is presiding over the long-awaited publication of her late husband's diaries and they are beyond explosive."—Christopher Wilson, Daily Telegraph (London)
Wall Street Journal - Terry Teachout

“One might well suppose that Mr. Burton had no interests other than gossip, money, drink and sex. In fact, there's quite a bit more to ‘The Richard Burton Diaries’ than that. Among other things, Mr. Burton turns out to have been an exceedingly literate man who had shrewd opinions about the many books that he read.”—Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal
NBC Today - Matt Lauer

“I have to say that, even in this culture when we seem to get too much information on celebrities, there’s something about the words on these pages that’s really fascinating.”—Matt Lauer, NBC TODAY
Buffalo News - Jeff Simon

“How many other working actors, epic drinkers and chronicled jet-setters would have offhandedly used the word “sanguicolus” (living in the blood) in a diary? Here in what is, hands down, one of the great entertainment books of 2012, you’ve got the enthralling results of more than two years of hard labor by editor Chris Williams melding the on-again, off-again diary of his era’s most fascinating failure, a man almost universally lamented by peers for never fulfilling his extraordinary gifts, simultaneously a genuinely poetic intellectual and just as genuine vulgarian.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News (Editors Pick)
The New York TImes - Dwight Garner

“It’s hard to imagine a midcareer actor working today whose diaries will be half as literate or lemony.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
New Yorker

“[Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor] made ‘a lovely charming decadent hopeless couple,’ as Burton notes, in a characteristically wry and graceful phrase. . . . A captivating story of misplaced success: Burton was a voracious and astute reader who nurtured unfulfilled literary ambitions. Even his greatest acting triumphs were a blow, representing ‘the indignity and the boredom of having to learn the writings of another man.’”—The New Yorker 
NewYorker.com - Hilton Als

"The Richard Burton Diaries. Just great fun, and written out of an engaging, often comical bewilderment: How did a poor Welshman become not only a star, but a player on the world stage that was Elizabeth Taylor’s fame? As a kind of celebrity Pilgrim’s Progress, it is very tender without missing the fact that show business is hard."—Hilton Als, NewYorker.com 
The New Republic - David Thomson

“He left just this partial, riveting diary, one of the great book left behind by anyone in the acting profession, and piercing evidence that the very famous, the very rich, the men with jewels and yachts may be haunted outcasts who recognize their own type.”—David Thomson, The New Republic 
The New York Review of Books - Fintan O'Toole

“His diaries are not those of a man afraid to take a harsh look at himself . . . he is much more likely, in dealing with his fights with Taylor, to record his own bad behavior than hers. Conversely, the diaries are remarkably free of self-congratulation, either for his achievements as an actor or for his great generosity with money.” —Fintan O’Toole, The New York Review of Books 
The San Francisco Chronicle - Carrie Rickey

"What was [Burton] thinking, this man widely considered his generation's pre-eminent interpreter of Shakespeare? His thoughts come alive in The Richard Burton Diaries, an epic of erudition;” —Carrie Rickey, The San Francisco Chronicle 
The Wall Street Journal - Christopher Bray

“The Richard Burton who emerges from these diaries is a far better man than even his wildest fan might have expected. He’s so sensitive, intelligent, deeply well-read and supremely well-informed that you can almost kid yourself he’d have been fun to have to dinner. It would be absurd, of course, to call his a model life. But nobody who has read this book could call it a wasted one.” —Christopher Bray, The Wall Street Journal
The Los Angeles Times

“These diaries offer a delightfully unvarnished glimpse at the actor's life, from his reading habits and jet-setting to his tumultuous relationship with Elizabeth Taylor.” —The Los Angeles Times 
Newsday - Daniel Bubbeo

"Burton's charisma comes across clearly in The Richard Burton Diaries, a lively collection of the star's diary entries written between 1939 and 1983 and compiled by Chris Williams. . . . The daily musings of Taylor's hubby Nos. 5 and 6 also reveal a profound thinker who read as heartily as he drank, was devoted to his family and loved politics.” —Daniel Bubbeo, Newsday 
Booklist

“This mammoth, unsanitized, and handsomely presented collection of Burton’s innermost thoughts, along with the fascinating minutiae of a huge star’s day-to-day existence, should restore his reputation as one of the most original Hollywood stars of all time.” —Booklist, Starred Review 
People magazine

“A natural storyteller who didn’t care much for getting dates or punctuation exactly right, [Burton] offers a heartfelt inside view of the glamour and tumult that was Liz and Dick.” —People magazine 
Daily Mail - Michael Seamark

"It reveals somebody who is much more reflective and thoughtful and someone who 'engaged intellectually with the world around him. It's not just the ale-and-women kind of image.'"—Michael Seamark, Daily Mail
Belfast Telegraph - Sarah Crompton

"Burton records his life like a gripping drama, where ‘tomorrow is always a surprise’. You miss him when you put the book down. His is a voice that lingers."—Sarah Crompton, The Daily Telegraph
Sight and Sound

"Irresistible… [Burton’s] diaries offer a rare and fresh perspective on his life and career, as well as on the glamorous decades of the mid-20th century."—Sight and Sound
The Financial Times - Roger Lewis

"Burton loved literature, and how proud he’d have been to know that in his diaries he demonstrates considerable literary gifts. His observations about his peers are brilliant… This indispensable book is meticulously edited by Professor Chris Williams."—Roger Lewis, The Financial Times
The Lady - Matt Warren

"These memoirs reveal remarkable new detail about two of history’s most enigmatic stars."—Matt Warren, The Lady
Good Book Guide

"The new publication of [Richard Burton’s] diaries, the first-ever single volume… leads us to the heart of Burton, as a warm, passionate man of deep insecurity and powerful perception emerges."—Good Book Guide
The Daily Express - Christopher Silvester

"The Richard Burton Diaries… offers a compelling insight into the mind of a major film star."—Christopher Silvester, Daily Express
Literary Review - Frank McLynn

"There is plenty of red meat here for anyone interested in cinema, the phenomenon of fame and gigantic riches, or even in delicious, high-grade gossip."—Frank McLynn, Literary Review
The Independent on Sunday - Christopher Fowler

"Forensically detailed, uncynical and unsentimental… The Richard Burton Diaries is an addictive, articulate compendium that dazzles and delights throughout its immense length… Most present day actors would read this and weep at the level of sheer damned glamour and sexiness flooding his daily life… Every page provides a glittering revelation. It is the cinema book of the year."—Christopher Fowler, Independent on Sunday
The Sunday Times - Jonathan Dean

"This is an absolute treat. Burton’s mass of meditations is swamped by his love for Elizabeth Taylor." —Jonathan Dean, The Sunday Times
Weekend Australian - Peter Craven

"The Richard Burton Diaries… will fascinate a wide range of readers. These journal jottings are, in their way, highly articulate and will thrill people who are captivated by the way the mystery of private life can be illuminated by the intimate voice of one of the more notable performers in recent memory, one who was equally famous as a lover, a drinker and a classical actor." —Peter Craven, Weekend Australian
Finches Quarterly Review

"Oh, what a pleasure reading Richard Burton’s diaries has proved! Not only packed with soundbites… they also demonstrate what we first knew from Melvyn Bragg’s 1988 biography: that if Burton had not chosen to be an actor he could easily have enjoyed a flourishing career as author, critic or even academic… Chris Williams, the editor, is a Welsh academic, and it shows… He nails even the most obscure Welsh allusion."—Finches Quarterly Review
Times Literary Supplement - Frederic Raphael

"Vivid and curiously touching, Burton’s diaries are a telling, often painfully truthful addition to the social history of the years between 1960 and 1974."—Frederic Raphael, Times Literary Supplement
The New York Times - Alexandra Jacobs
“The most salient part of The Richard Burton Diaries (now out in paperback from Yale University Press and a far superior 'beach read' to any Revenge Wears Prada folderol) is not the great Welsh actor’s fabled love of language, his stage fright or his splurges on private airplanes and pedigreed jewels for the love of his life, Elizabeth Taylor.”—Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times
The Independent

“Inevitably, there’s a ton of ego in these journals, but also intelligence, tenderness, good taste (‘I’ve always refused to talk to Jeffrey Arthur’), keen observation and honesty.”—The Independent
The New Yorker's "Page-Turner" blog - Mary Hawthorne

“In these pages—which Burton began when he was fourteen and continued until the year before his death—he strips away the larger-than-life abstraction that he became for the public to reveal a human dimension more complex than any biographer could ever hope to capture. He is sensitive, intelligent, literary, outwardly and inwardly curious, tender, sometimes boorish and spiteful but conscious of fair play, wickedly discerning and funny, surprisingly modest, wildly generous, a delightful gossip, and virtually never boring—something that would have frightened and appalled him.”—Mary Hawthorne, The New Yorker’s “Page-Turner” blog
The New York Times Book Review - John Simon

“Of real interest is that Burton was almost as good a writer as an actor, read as many as three books a day, haunted bookstores in every city he set foot in, bought countless books on every conceivable subject and evaluated them rather shrewdly. . . Apt writing abounds. . . His love of language is also displayed dazzlingly in the recurrent loving tributes to Elizabeth. True, he also records their fights, but these are quickly forgotten by him after a good walk, and by both of them after a night’s sleep. Much more frequent and pertinent are the love declarations.” —John Simon, The New York Times Book Review
More magazine - Judith Stone

"The broody Burton was ambivalent about acting and really wanted to be a writer. He was.” —Judith Stone, More magazine
londonwired.co.uk

"Richard Burton diaries reveal actor's passion and shame. He was the boy from the Welsh valleys whose rugged looks and voice of gold made him a star of stage and screen… He is frank about his drinking, his ambivalent feelings towards his own talent and the career that brought him such success."—londonwired.co.uk
The New York Times
Burton's diaries…are filled with…pocket-size delights…But I admired this complicated and fairly remarkable book for its deeper and more insinuating qualities as well. First among them is that Richard Burton, a maniacal reader his entire life, was handy with the English language. He was unpretentious and aphoristic…It's hard to imagine a midcareer actor working today whose diaries will be half as literate or lemony.
—Dwight Garner
The New York Times Book Review
Rarely have there been acting couples with both spouses equal stars. Even rarer is it that one partner is also a gifted writer. Yet just that is the case of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor…Burton was almost as good a writer as an actor…
—John Simon
The Times

"The words reveal someone who is reflective and thoughtful and someone who engaged intellectually with the world around him. It's not just the ale-and-women kind of image… His diaries reveal a man who thought deeply about the world - past, present and future. Richard Burton was in search of 'what it all meant', but found little comfort in the lessons of history… In 1970 he wrote: 'I love the world but if I take it too seriously I shall go mad.'"—Simon de Bruxelles, The Times (London)

— Simon de Bruxelles

Daily Mail

"Richard Burton's private diaries are being published for the first time, including passionate descriptions of Elizabeth Taylor as 'a wildly exciting lover-mistress' and 'beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography.'"—Sam Marsden, Daily Mail (London)

— Sam Marsden

Newyorksocialdiary.com

“Fun, fascinating, and sad.”—Liz Smith

— Liz Smith

Daily Telegraph

"Stand back! Sally Burton just lit a literary firecracker and tossed it into the room. The widow of Britain's greatest film actor is presiding over the long-awaited publication of her late husband's diaries and they are beyond explosive."—Christopher Wilson, Daily Telegraph (London)

— Christopher Wilson

Wall Street Journal

“One might well suppose that Mr. Burton had no interests other than gossip, money, drink and sex. In fact, there's quite a bit more to ‘The Richard Burton Diaries’ than that. Among other things, Mr. Burton turns out to have been an exceedingly literate man who had shrewd opinions about the many books that he read.”—Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal

— Terry Teachout

NBC Today

“I have to say that, even in this culture when we seem to get too much information on celebrities, there’s something about the words on these pages that’s really fascinating.”—Matt Lauer, NBC TODAY

— Matt Lauer

Buffalo News

“How many other working actors, epic drinkers and chronicled jet-setters would have offhandedly used the word “sanguicolus” (living in the blood) in a diary? Here in what is, hands down, one of the great entertainment books of 2012, you’ve got the enthralling results of more than two years of hard labor by editor Chris Williams melding the on-again, off-again diary of his era’s most fascinating failure, a man almost universally lamented by peers for never fulfilling his extraordinary gifts, simultaneously a genuinely poetic intellectual and just as genuine vulgarian.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News (Editors Pick)

— Jeff Simon

New York Times

"So many lurid and appalling books have been written about Burton and Taylor that it’s hard to see them plain. The Richard Burton Diaries is, however, true to why tabloid writers flocked to them: It’s a love story so robust you can nearly warm your hands on its flames."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

— Dwight Garner

The New York TImes

“It’s hard to imagine a midcareer actor working today whose diaries will be half as literate or lemony.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

— Dwight Garner

People Magazine magazine
“A natural storyteller who didn’t care much for getting dates or punctuation exactly right, [Burton] offers a heartfelt inside view of the glamour and tumult that was Liz and Dick.” —People magazine 
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300197280
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 7/9/2013
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 155,264
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Chris Williams is professor of Welsh history, director of the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, and deputy director of the College of Arts and Humanities, Swansea University. He lives in Swansea, Wales.
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Read an Excerpt

THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES


YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2012 Swansea University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-18010-7


Introduction

He is a deeply educated and remarkably unself-conscious man. He combines education with intuition to an unusual degree. He is a brilliant actor (in fact, he is all actor), but he is also an enemy to vulgarity and a man at war with boredom. He does not believe in a social elite nor will he take lodging in an ivory tower. He is a worker with a mind, but the worker remains. Happily, he is not snobbish in any direction.... He sincerely likes all manner of humanity, and I envy the characteristic. He is sophisticated without being cynical. He is generous without aggrandizing himself. He is a first-class acting companion, and I admire his personality without reservation.

William Redfield, writing about Richard Burton, 1964

Diaries? Autobiography? Time will tell, and may surprise.

Emlyn Williams, speaking at the Memorial Service for Richard Burton, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, 30 August 1984

This introduction to Richard Burton's diaries performs a number of functions. First, it offers a sketch of the life of Richard Jenkins, later Richard Burton, from his birth in 1925 through to the beginning of what may be called the 'diary years', in 1965. During these first four decades Burton did keep two diaries which are reproduced in this volume: one in 1939/40, when he was still Richard Jenkins, and one in 1960, when he was married to his first wife, Sybil. Both are interesting, but neither offers anything in the way of a continuous narrative which might replace a broader overview of the subject's life in these years.

Once we arrive at the beginning of 1965, however, the diaries are sufficiently substantial and sequential to render any biographical sketching redundant. Linking passages, situated chronologically amidst the text itself, perform the vital function of connecting those parts of the diaries kept between January 1965 and March 1972 with each other.

After March 1972 the diaries are more fragmented. Further passages, also situated in the text, contextualize the primary materials for 1975, 1977, 1980 and 1983, and the last months of Richard Burton's life.

The second section of this introduction addresses the question of the provenance and purpose of the diaries. Why did Burton keep them? Who was their intended audience? To what extent can one explain the lapses in making entries, or even the many months and years that separate some of the diaries that have survived?

The third section extends this analysis by considering the value of the diaries, particularly when set against the context of the many biographies of Burton and of Elizabeth Taylor that purport to tell the story of the same period of time. To what extent, one has to enquire, do they represent a corrective to previously published accounts? Is it possible to see the diaries as harbouring a greater 'truth' than the many interviews given by Burton, or are they exercises in self-deception, no more reliable than any other source?

Finally, the principles by which these diaries have been edited and prepared for publication will be explained.

Richard Burton: A Biographical Sketch, 1925–1965

Richard Walter Jenkins was born on 10 November 1925 at the family home, 2, Dan-y-bont, Pontrhydyfen in the Afan valley, Glamorgan, Wales. His father, also named Richard Walter Jenkins and born in the same place in 1876, was a collier. His mother, born Edith Maud Thomas in 1883, had been a barmaid, and was originally from Llangyfelach north of Swansea, six miles to the west. Richard Sr and Edith had married in 1900. Their eldest child, Thomas Henry, had been born in 1901, and by 1925 there were four more sons – Ivor (born 1906), William (born 1911), David (born 1914) and Verdun (born 1916) – and four daughters: Cecilia (born 1905), Hilda (born 1918), Catherine (born 1921) and Edith (born 1922). Two other daughters, both named Margaret Hannah, had died in infancy (in 1903 and 1908, respectively). So Richard junior was the twelfth child and the sixth son of a prolific union, even by the standards of coal miners' families in the early twentieth century.

Pontrhydyfen was a mining village. The coal industry was the primary employer, although a greater diversity of industrial jobs existed a few miles to the south at Cwmafan and Port Talbot. At its immediate pre-war peak there had been a large pit in Pontrhydyfen and an associated drift mine together named the Cynon colliery, employing around 700 men, as well as the Merthyr Llantwit and the Argoed collieries, both of which employed around a hundred men each. Smaller concerns employing about twenty men operated at Graig Lyn and Wern Afon. There were other collieries within relatively easy travelling distance to the north, around Cymmer, and to the south, at Cwmafan.

The steep valley sides were, and remain, the dominant landscape motif and give the area an Alpine feel. The dramatic atmosphere is enhanced by two large viaducts: a seven-arch railway viaduct of red brick, and, looming above the Jenkins family home, what had originally been the Bont Fawr aqueduct, powering waterwheels at the long-closed Oakwood ironworks. This four-spanned structure in Pennant sandstone by 1925 carried a minor road.

Pontrhydyfen enjoyed the standard facilities of South Wales mining communities. There was a pub (the Miners' Arms), a Co-operative store, a primary school, an Anglican church (St John's) and two Nonconformist chapels. Bethel Welsh Baptist was the one favoured by the Jenkins family. Welsh was the language of the home, although all but the youngest children would also have been fluent in English.

By 1925 the South Wales coal industry was on the cusp of decline. South Wales coal had always been high in quality but also high in price, owing mainly to geological factors. Many of its favoured export markets had been lost during the First World War, or were now threatened by competitors able to undercut prices. Long-standing structural difficulties were exacerbated by Britain's return to the Gold Standard in 1925, which raised the prices of exports, by the facility given to Germany to pay some of its reparations under the Paris Peace Settlement in the form of coal, and by a succession of industrial disputes, including a three-month stoppage in 1921. A major dispute was narrowly postponed in 1925, but a showdown between the coal industry's notoriously intransigent employers and its equally robust trade unions appeared inevitable.

The crisis in the coal industry would have profound consequences for the Jenkins family, for not only did Richard Sr work underground but so did sons Tom, Ivor, Will, David and Verdun. The year after Richard's birth, 1926, was a profoundly traumatic one in the coal industry. A seven-month-long industrial dispute wrought havoc in areas such as South Wales, and plunged many families into serious poverty and debt. Richard Jenkins Sr's colliery closed, along with most in the immediate area, and he was forced to seek employment in a series of casual jobs.

But whatever the troubles in coalfield society at large, a more profound tragedy would befall the Jenkins family in 1927. Richard's mother Edith gave birth to her thirteenth child, Graham, on 25 October. Six days later she was dead, aged forty-four, having succumbed to septicaemia.

The response of the Jenkins family to this catastrophe revealed both its strengths and its weaknesses. Richard Sr – always a heavy drinker, a gambler and someone who was incapable of exercising control over his spending patterns – appears not to have had the sense of responsibility that, fortunately, his older children did possess. New baby Graham was sent to live a few miles away in Cwmafan with brother Tom and his wife Cassie. Two-year-old Richard moved further again: to Taibach, a district of Port Talbot, on the coast, and into the home of sister Cecilia ('Cis' or 'Cissie') and her husband Elfed James.

Cis was twenty years older than her brother. She was old enough to be his mother, and in many respects embraced that role. She and Elfed had been married for only four months when Edith died, and they were living in a terraced house in Caradog Street, Taibach. Elfed James was, like so many others, a miner, working mainly at Goitre colliery, just to the north of Taibach. He and Cis had met at Gibeon Welsh Independent (Congregationalist) Chapel, where Elfed's father was a deacon. Elfed, it seems, though competent in Welsh, was happiest speaking English, and this was the language of the James household, as it was of much of Taibach and Port Talbot generally. A year after taking Richard in, Cis and Elfed's first child, Marian, was born, in November 1928. A second daughter, Rhianon, followed in December 1931.

Although Richard would become most closely associated in the public mind with his birthplace of Pontrhydyfen, it is more accurate to see him as a product of Port Talbot, as this was where he lived from the age of two until he left South Wales altogether at the age of twenty-one.

Port Talbot took its name both from docks that were opened in 1839 and from the Talbot family that had lived at the nineteenth-century Tudor-style home of Margam Castle, further to the south. It embraced the older village centre of Aberafan, and was home to tinplate works and (from 1907) steelworks. The docks served both industries, as well as the copper works of the Cwmafan area and the coal mines of the Afan valley. The Great Western Railway passed through the town on the South Wales Railway, providing easy connections to both Cardiff (30 miles to the east) and Swansea (12 miles to the west), while the Rhondda and Swansea Bay railway line brought coal from the upper Rhondda Fawr through the Rhondda Tunnel (the longest in Wales) down the Afan valley to the docks. New docks were opened in 1898. The main occupations for men were in the metal industries, mining and transport. Women comprised less than a sixth of the officially recorded labour force, and most were to be found in the personal service, commercial and financial sectors, although there were some jobs for women in the tinplate industry. The majority of women were fully occupied in the home.

The 1921 census recorded Port Talbot's population as 40,005. That it grew to only 40,678 by 1931 indicates a certain amount of economic stagnation, although given that the population of the county of Glamorgan in which it stood declined in the same decade from 1,252,481 to 1,225,717, one might say that it fared better than settlements uniquely identified with the coal industry. Like many of the industrial towns of South Wales, it was characterized by leftwing politics. The Member of Parliament for Aberavon at the time of Richard's birth was Labour's J. Ramsay MacDonald, the former, and future, Prime Minister, while another scion of the town was George Thomas, who would become a long-serving Labour MP for the constituency of Cardiff West and, eventually, a famous Speaker of the House of Commons. Labour voting rested on strong traditions of trade unionism. William Abraham ('Mabon' to give him his bardic name), the leader of the South Wales miners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had been born at Cwmafan, while Clive Jenkins, born in Port Talbot a few months later than his namesake Richard, would become a leading light of the Trades Union Congress in the 1970s.

Neither the strength of such working-class credentials, nor the fact that Port Talbot society was increasingly dominated by the English language, inhibited the flourishing of Welsh national sentiment in the town. The National Eisteddfod, the major cultural festival of Wales, visited during Richard Jenkins's time in primary school – 1932 – and the suggestion was even advanced in 1943 that Port Talbot be made the capital of Wales, given that half the population of the country could be found within a 30-mile radius. Notwithstanding the economic difficulties of the inter-war years, this was still a proud, self-confident society.

At the age of five Richard began attending the Eastern Primary School. At eight he passed on to the Eastern Boys' School. He was an able, if not exceptional, pupil, with strong interests in sport (particularly rugby union) and in books. He made great use of the local public library on Station Road. Richard's interests were encouraged by one of his teachers at the Boys' School, Meredith Jones, and in June 1937 he passed the scholarship examination that would take him to Port Talbot Secondary School, one of two grammar schools in the town (the other being the 'County'). This was a significant achievement: most boys, especially working-class boys as Richard undoubtedly was, did not take this step, even if they had the ability.

Richard appears to have continued to develop and flourish in his new environment. Academically he had potential, but it was probably his sporting talents that were most apparent in his early years in the 'Sec'. His qualities as a wing forward in rugby union were recognized, but he was also an able cricketer. The first of his diaries provides ample evidence of his sustained focus both on his studies and on his attainments on the playing field.

School, of course, was just one element in a boy's life. Richard was being brought up in a household where religious observance was taken seriously, and where attendance at chapel on a Sunday was expected, often more than once. In 1933 a split had occurred in Gibeon Chapel: Cis and Elfed had followed their disgruntled pastor, the Reverend Dr John Caerau Rees, to a new cause named Noddfa ('Refuge'), initially in his own home but subsequently located in the library in Taibach. In 1939 Noddfa had finally opened its own premises, on Station Road, and the 1940 diary reveals that this would be regularly visited by Richard on most Sabbaths. Chapel-going involved much more than theology, of course. In many respects it was more important as a vehicle for social and cultural activities. Richard learned to play the organ and developed a talent for singing and recitation, which could be exhibited in the many Eisteddfodau that were staged in the Afan and nearby valleys.

Money was, it seems, an issue in the James household when Richard was a boy. The family moved a couple of hundred yards up Caradog Street, to a more attractive, semi-detached house, entirely their own, at the start of the 1930s. Their previous home had been rented accommodation: this was now on a mortgage. But regular and well-paid employment was not easy to find or to keep and finance was often difficult. In order to provide himself with pocket money Richard pursued a number of avenues. He delivered newspapers, and collected old papers to wrap fish and chips, and he collected animal dung from the hillsides above Taibach for sale as garden fertilizer. He spent his income on almost weekly visits to the cinema (there are forty-two recorded in his first diary), on books, and on clothes.

If 1940 catches Richard at a time when he is looking forward to a brighter future, despite the war that is raging in Europe and in the skies above Port Talbot, 1941 was to be much more disruptive. For in April of that year Richard suddenly left the Port Talbot Secondary School and, temporarily at least, abandoned his academic ambitions. His intention of taking the School Certificate examinations in June was put aside, and instead he began work in the men's outfitting department of the Taibach Co-operative Wholesale Society, just across the road from both the library and Noddfa chapel in Station Road. What prompted this appears to have been a financial crisis in the James household occasioned by Richard's brother-in-law Elfed falling ill and being out of work, although it is possible that it was partly explained by the disruption in the coal trade brought about by the fall of France in 1940. The James family had influence in the Co-op – Elfed would later serve on its management committee – which was a powerful institution with over 6,500 members in the locality and nine different premises.

Fortunately for Richard, this hiatus in his scholarly progress was temporary. His old teacher Meredith Jones continued to watch out for him, and urged him to return to school. Other supporters included County Councillor Llewellyn Heycock, a governor of the Port Talbot Sec and also chairman of the Glamorgan Education Committee, and Leo Lloyd, drama director of the Taibach Youth Club. Headmaster C. T. Reynolds was not enthusiastic about welcoming Richard back, but he did so in September 1941.

It was in this last phase of Richard's schooling that the influence of the English teacher Philip Burton became most profound. Richard had encountered Burton before – he is mentioned in the 1940 diary, most notably in connection with Richard's participation in the school production of George Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart – but it was only after his return to school in the autumn of 1941 that the two began to work closely together.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES Copyright © 2012 by Swansea University. Excerpted by permission of YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations....................vii
Acknowledgements....................viii
Note on the Print Version....................x
Introduction, by Chris Williams....................1
1939....................23
1940....................25
1960....................69
1965....................77
1966....................91
1967....................152
1968....................189
1969....................248
1970....................339
1971....................419
1972....................561
1975....................592
1980....................618
1983....................643
Bibliography....................655
Index....................664
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 1, 2013

    Richard and His Elizabeth

    In his wonderful introduction Chris Williams, synopsizes this book as: "Burton watching his weight, watching his drinking, watching other men watching his Elizabeth." He also seems like a wonderful father too by his caring comments about the many children in their combined families.

    Richard Burton's very forthright in his contributions, and you get some tasty bits about some very famous people. Some standout stories involve actors, Rex Harrison and his wife Rachel Roberts. Their escapades - or more specifically Rachel's - are outrageous and downright hilarious. In Taylor and Burton's orbit, the drinks never stopped coming, and Rachel turned into a raving maniac when intoxicated. Other fun stories involve: Princess Margaret, Tennessee Williams, Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Maria Callas. On the more mundane side, you get travelogue like descriptions of people, places and food, being the couple was constantly traveling. Some find this boring, but not me. Richard's writing engages throughout, and reading this makes me yearn to have been part of one of their cocktail parties.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Great Book if you are interested in Richard Burton

    These diaries are a good read and provide some insight into Richard Burton's reading and work habits. After finishing this book, my conclusion is that he was not a naturally happy person. But in addition to acting, he also had a gift for writing. This is not a book for those who want something titillating or very gossipy. It is the diary of an intelligent, mature, and thoughtful man living a life that was bizarre by the usual standard.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2014

    Burton was a first-rate writer as well as actor. He is insightfu

    Burton was a first-rate writer as well as actor. He is insightful, humane, and funny. He demonstrates an intimidatingly good knowledge of poetry and of English literature, and his writing style puts that of most professionals to shame. It's really a loss that he did not pursue his writing ambitions. Anyway, the diaries are a marvelous read.

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  • Posted September 30, 2013

    WAY too many footnotes. They could have been a book alone. Oth

    WAY too many footnotes. They could have been a book alone. Otherwise, an okay read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2013

    Firesteel to Iceshard

    I remember the time Chaos was destroyed... you changed your name... we defeated Chaos and Toxin... where are you?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2013

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