Novelist and poet Emyr Humphreys, described as ‘one of Wales’ greatest cultural heroes,’ dead at 101

Emyr Humphreys. Picture by Bernard Mitchell

The novelist and poet Emyr Humphreys, described as one of Wales’ greatest cultural heroes, has died at the age of 101.

Regarded as one of Wales’ most important English language writers, he died at his home in Llanfairpwll.

He published over twenty novels, including A Toy Epic (1958) and Outside the House of Baal (1965). He also wrote plays for stage and television, short stories, a cultural history of Wales, and poems.

Writing for Nation.Cymru ond Humphreys’ 100th birthday last year, Professor M. Wynn Thomas said that he was one of Wales’ “greatest cultural heroes” but ignored for too long by the Welsh public.

“Humphreys’ masterpiece, Outside the House of Baal, remains in the eyes of many the greatest English-language novel yet to have been produced in Wales,” he wrote.

“His novella A Toy Epic, about three very different boys growing up in the 1930s in the north-east corner of Wales, won a prestigious British prize and has remained a particular favourite among readers.

“His seven-novel sequence, Land of the Living remains a remarkable tour de force, encompassing almost the whole of Wales’ twentieth-century history.

“All that (and there is very much more) should have assured him a royal acclamation by his own people on the occasion of his hundredth birthday.”

 

Life

Humphreys was brought up in Prestatyn, and learnt to speak Welsh while at school at secondary school Rhyl.

He studied history and Welsh at Aberystwyth University but World War II ended the course before he could graduate. He was registered as a conscientious objector and worked on farms in Pembrokeshire and Caernarfon, before training as an aid worker and doing humanitarian work in refugee camps in Egypt and Italy.

He joined the BBC in 1955 producing radio dramas for a decade. He translated many plays into Welsh and worked with prominent actors such as Richard Burton, Hugh Griffith, Siân Phillips and Peter O’Toole, and playwrights Wil Sam Jones and Saunders Lewis.

In the 1970s he was jailed for refusing to pay the license fee as a protest against the lack of Welsh on television.

He was then a lecturer in drama at Bangor University before concentrating solely on writing in 1972.

He published his final volume – a collection of short stories – to coincide with his retirement and 90th birthday.

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