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Literary spotlight falls on life of Welsh legend Richard Burton

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

Professor Chris Williams working on the Richard Burton Diaries

Professor Chris Williams working on the Richard Burton Diaries

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ONE famous actor will be talking about another when the spotlight falls on the legendary Richard Burton this weekend.

Swansea University professor Chris Williams, who has edited The Richard Burton Diaries, will be appearing at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Saturday.

He will be in conversation with actor Robert Hardy, a close friend of the Pontrhydyfen-born star, and with Burton’s niece Rhiannon James Trowell.

They will discuss how Richard Burton’s personal diaries reveal a very different man to the one recognised as a distinguished actor, international film star, and jet-set celebrity — as famous for his celebrated marriages to Elizabeth Taylor as he was for his stage and screen presence.

Professor Williams said: “I’m really looking forward to talking about Richard’s life and writing with two people who feature in his diaries.

“He grew up with Rhianon and he was at Oxford with Robert Hardy, so they both knew him before he became famous and they were friends for the rest of his life.” The handwritten diaries, which Richard Burton (born Richard Jenkins in 1925) began in 1939 and ended just before his death in 1984, were donated to Swansea University in 2005 by his wife Sally Burton.

The diaries and other personal papers, known as The Richard Burton Collection, form a central part of the £1.2 million Richard Burton Archives facility at the University’s library, which was formally opened in April 2010.

Over the past four years Professor Williams has painstakingly edited more than 450,000 of Burton’s words.

The resulting 704-pages diaries, in which entries appear in their original sequence, with annotations to clarify the people, places, books, and events he mentions, are published this month by Yale University Press.

Professor Williams is professor of Welsh history and director of the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities (RIAH), which is home to The Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales.

He said the event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival marked the UK launch of The Richard Burton Diaries and would be followed by other events and talks in the US and Asia.

“Richard Burton was, and remains, a global name and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak internationally about his personal diaries, which reveal the deeply cultured, widely-read, intellectual man he was.

“And I think he would have been very pleased as well.”

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