Culture

Tenby Museum celebrates centenary of Welsh star Kenneth Griffith

10 Oct 2021 3 minutes Read
Plaque erected in association with the British Film Institute in Tenby. Photo Spudgun67, licensed under CC SA 4.0

Tenby Museum has launched a cinema exhibition called Forged in Wales, featuring archive material celebrating Welsh actor and documentary film maker Kenneth Griffith

It was officially opened by his daughter, Dr Eva Griffith, to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth

According the museum archive, Griffith was born in Tenby on 12 October 1921 as Kenneth Griffiths. He dropped the s from his surname as his school headmaster advised it was an Anglicisation.

He was brought up by his paternal grandparents, his parents having separated when Kenneth was about six months old. Kenneth recalled, ‘My grandparents were Victorians with Victorian values, and anything decent about me I owe to my non-conformist Protestant upbringing.”

He bookended a brief career in the RAF – during which he gained a reputation for being a troublemaker – with forays into acting, which were largely uncredited until he had a breakthrough role, sharing the screen of with with Diana Dors in 1947.

He appeared in over 100 film and TV roles and made historical documentaries which were often “controversial and deeply opinionated” exploring his fascination with Britain’s imperialist past and its involvement in South Africa, and Ireland.

Among his most famous works are Lucky Jim, two films with Peter Sellers, I’m Alright Jack and Only Two Can Play, The Lion in Winter opposite his old friend Peter O’Toole, Revenge with Joan Collins, The Wild Geese with Richard Burton, The Sea Wolves with Gregory Peck and a notably cantankerous cameo in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Censorship

His documentary career was significant and almost as prolific as his film career and well known for his troublemaking streak.

Documentaries about South Africa were labelled as anti-British and accused him of being “too obviously pro-Boer and unnecessarily sarcastic towards the British cause”, propaganda, even, but other critics declared that his films offered an important counterview to those who celebrated the makers of war.

His documentary work on the subject of Ireland tackled difficult and contentious issues like the 1916 Easter Rebellion and the Irish fight for independence. Again met with criticism, further accusations of propaganda and even bans and censorship.

He continuously battled to reject censorship and remained undeterred in his pursuit of presenting viewers with the truth about difficult subjects and people.

Fascinating

Mark Lewis, the curator of Tenby Museum writes: “Tenby Museum has a large collection of Kenneth Griffith memorabilia, all of which was donated to the museum.

“This collection includes scripts, handwritten letters, copious notes and journals, photographs, a book signed to Griffith by his friend Peter O’Toole, pairs of glasses and other personal items.

“It’s a fascinating collection and shows the dedication and determination of this filmmaker that The Independent described in his obituary as ‘one of the most distinguished troublemakers of his time’ even if you did not wholly agree with his point of view.

“In a documntary about his life, The Tenby Poisoner, he states, ‘I wrote to Huw (Wheldon), would you please make it public within the BBC that I hope that I will never ever stoop so low in my life as to be objective about anything’ – he at least had the courage to stand up and say what he believed in.”

Decribing himself, he said: “I am an actor but what I am now is a Welsh Puritan preacher – I preach sermons about history through my documentaries.”

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
13 days ago

I thought he was brilliant as the Reverend Robert Jones in ‘The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain’

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
13 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Was he also in ‘Four Weddings…’? He was was superb in ‘The Wild Geese’ – hilarious!

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
13 days ago

An icon, a maverick, a trouble maker, a genius, an artist, a warrior, a legend. Will pop to see this. Thanks for the heads up!

Gill
Gill
13 days ago
Reply to  Ed Jones

Defo, admired the man

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
13 days ago

His Michael Collins documentary was superb. Banned by the state broadcaster for a number of years.

Mary Simmonds
Mary Simmonds
12 days ago

He was also brilliant in the TV drama, ‘Bus to Bosworth’, produced and directed brilliantly by the late John Hefin for BBC Wales, who based the film on the true story of his father who was a school teacher. Griffith plays the role of an inspiring primary school teacher who takes his Year 6 pupils every year on a bus trip from Dale to Bosworth following in the steps of Henry Tudor who became the first Welsh Tudor monarch, King Henry V11, after defeating Richard 111 at the Battle of Bosworth. All children should learn history this way. I hope… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
12 days ago
Reply to  Mary Simmonds

Thank you for the heads-up, I would love to see that.

Any chance of a Welsh TV channel featuring something of his work tomorrow night…

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