Obituary: Meredith Edwards

MEREDITH EDWARDS was one of those Welsh character actors who, during the post-war years found parts in the comedy films largely associated with Ealing Studios. In A Run For Your Money (1949), an affectionate but stereotypical view of the Welsh in which a group of rugby-loving miners spend an international day in London with uproarious results, he starred alongside the wild-eyed, dissolute harpist Hugh Griffith and the handsome dimwit Donald Houston who is fleeced by a West End tart played by Moira Lister - the sort of woman, as one collier puts it, who paints her toenails.

Now the Welsh are notoriously difficult to please when it comes to seeing themselves on film and many found A Run For Your Money, which Ealing intended to be the Welsh equivalent of Whisky Galore, too simplistic and, at worst, patronising. The film does have some nice comic touches, however, as when a voice over the loudspeaker at Paddington asks Mr Thomas Jones and Mr David Jones to come to the stationmaster's office, and a horde of leek- bedecked fans answer to these archetypal Welsh names.

It was characteristic of Edwards that, offered a chance to work in Hollywood on the strength of his memorable performance, he turned it down and chose to stay at home. He was never to regret his decision, for he was rarely out of work thereafter.

Although he had no formal training - his first job after leaving Ruabon Grammar School was that of laboratory assistant at the Courtaulds factory in Flint - he had become a professional actor in 1938 when he joined the Welsh National Theatre Company which the quixotic Lord Howard de Walden was trying to found at Plas Newydd, the former home of the Misses Butler and Ponsonby, "the Ladies of Llangollen". This touring group, although it made little headway as a national company, taught him the rudiments of his trade and inspired in him the ideal of a permanent home for the theatrical profession in Wales, for which he was to campaign long and hard, but to no avail.

Edwards's acting career proper began at the Liverpool Playhouse, where he played in Julius Caesar, but it was interrupted in the war when, as a conscientious objector on Christian pacifist grounds, he was set to work as a fireman in Liverpool, Chester and London, and later drafted into the Non-Combatant Corps, where he entertained the troops with amateur theatricals sponsored by Ensa.

He spent most of the war years in Palestine. His stage career was resumed after the war at the Old Vic, where he played Glendower in Henry IV and, less predictably, John of Gaunt in Richard II; of his Churchillian rendering of the "happy breed" speech in the latter play the London Evening News commented, "After hearing Meredith Edwards's impassioned delivery of John O'Gaunt's speech, every schoolboy who has got it from memory will go back and get it by heart."

Edwards was born, a collier's son, in 1917 in the hill-top village of Rhosllanerchrugog, near Wrexham, in industrial north-east Wales. The district has a robust Welsh-speaking culture and a tradition of radical politics which left an indelible mark on him. He spoke Welsh fluently, delighting in the local peculiarities of Rhos speech, including its retention of the familiar ti (thou) with which its inhabitants habitually address friend and stranger alike, and he wrote it with panache in his autobiography, Ar Lwyfan Awr ("On an hour's stage", 1977).

The language was at the heart of his patriotism and he worked tirelessly on its behalf, contributing generously to such causes as the Welsh Schools Movement, in particular the Welsh School in London (now at Willesden Green) in the days when the LCC was refusing to fund it. He was also a political nationalist and left-wing member of Plaid Cymru, serving as a member of the Flintshire County Council and standing as the party's candidate in the West Denbigh constituency at the General Election of 1966. During the referendum on the National Assembly in 1997 he played a prominent part in the Yes campaign.

In demand as a specifically Welsh character actor throughout the 1950s, Edwards made about 50 films in all, notably The Blue Lamp (1950), which led to the television series Dixon of Dock Green, Where No Vultures Fly (1951), Girdle of Gold (1952), The Cruel Sea (1953), The Long Arm (1956), and Dunkirk (1958). In the last, he insisted on delivering the dying words of his character, a Welsh Tommy lying wounded in an orchard, in Welsh. "Who the hell's going to understand?" asked the exasperated producer, Leslie Norman. "I have the feeling that when someone is dying," Edwards replied in his eirenic way, "they go back to their childhood, and if I went back to mine, it would be a Welsh-speaking one". So he expires in Welsh, while John Mills, with stiff upper lip, tells his men they will have to leave him and push on.

Returning permanently to Wales in the early 1960s, although still making forays to London for work with Z Cars, Coronation Street and Softly Softly, in which he made regular appearances, usually as the affable Welshman with homely features and a mischievous grin, Edwards settled in the village of Cilcain, in Flintshire, so that his children could be educated in Welsh. One of the best theatres in Wales, Theatr Clwyd, was situated nearby and he returned to the stage with great success, particularly in Chekhov's The Three Sisters.

Among his finest cameo parts was as the stern clergymen in Only Two Can Play (1962), based on the Kingsley Amis novel That Uncertain Feeling (1955), who presses the hapless Peter Sellers, a candidate for a librarian's job, about his knowledge of Welsh literature. He was much in demand on Welsh television, initially with Granada (where Sian Phillips was his co-presenter) and especially after the advent of S4C, the Welsh-language fourth channel, in 1982.

He appeared in Welsh versions of plays by Moliere and Pinter, and was one of the German generals plotting against Hitler in Saunders Lewis's Brad ("Treason"). His last film was Bride of War (1997), a tragic love- story set in occupied Poland and directed by his son Peter, now Head of Drama at HTV; both his other children, Ioan and Lisa, also work in television.

In addition Edwards worked with Amnesty International, CND Cymru, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) and Equity, the actors union, of which he was a Life President. In 1996, as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of cinema, he was chosen to unveil the plaque at Rhyd-y-main, where Emlyn Williams's film The Low Days of Dolwyn had been made in 1949, an acknowledgement of his contribution to the theatre, cinema and television of Wales over more than half a century.

Gwilym Meredith Edwards, actor: born Rhosllanerchrugog, Denbighshire 10 June 1917; married 1942 Daisy Clark (two sons, one daughter); died Abergele, Denbighshire 8 February 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own