Urien Wiliam

Welsh-language populariser


Urien Wiliam, teacher and writer: born Barry, Glamorgan 7 November 1929; married 1955 Eiryth Davies (two sons, one daughter); died Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan 21 October 2006.

Urien Wiliam was unusual among Welsh academics in that he wrote for the common reader. He had received his education almost entirely through the Welsh language and insisted on the highest linguistic standards. But his penchant was for writing detective novels, light verse, soap operas, cartoon scripts and books for children.

His uncommon first name - Urien Rheged was king of the Old North (the north-west of England around Carlisle) in the sixth century - was given him by his father, Stephen J. Williams, Professor of Welsh at the University College, Swansea. He was born in the city in 1929.

Like his father, he had a special interest in the grammar of Welsh, and wrote it with precision and a simple elegance that won him many admirers. He published two grammar books and was an acknowledged expert on the finer points of a language that requires a good deal of attention to be written correctly; he believed in reforming the most conservative rules of the written language and making it more flexible and akin to the spoken forms. This interest is shared by his brother, Aled Wiliam, also a writer and translator.

His first degree was in Welsh at Swansea, after which he took an MA in Education and then a doctorate in Psychology at Liverpool University. Refusing to do military service on grounds of conscience, he taught for a few years at Pembroke Dock before taking up a research post at the Children's Clinic in Colwyn Bay. From Trinity College, Carmarthen, where he had been a lecturer in Welsh, he moved to the Barry College of Education, which was later merged with the Glamorgan Polytechnic (now the University of Glamorgan), where until his decision to turn freelance in 1981 he had been senior lecturer.

I first came across him in the 1960s at a late-night session of the Welsh Academy, at which he shone as a raconteur and reciter of funny verse. He had an inexhaustible repertoire of tribannau, the four-line stanzas popular in Glamorgan in which the last syllable of the third line rhymes with the third in the last line. Aficionados will know of a good example in the opening verse of the song " 'Twas on the good ship Venus". Here is another:

Three things I cannot relish:

A woman who is peevish,

To meet a parson without wit

And Llantwit's broken English.

The form is extremely difficult to do in English, though not as difficult as the englyn, that other gem of the Welsh alliterative tradition, but it was from Urien Wiliam I first heard an englyn in French:

Déjà nous sommes à Dijon,

Jolie ville, je la vois en vallée,

Et viens, Bill, le vin est bon,

Et la bière nous la boirons.

He came to prominence in 1969 when his farce Cawl Cennin ("Leek Soup") won the main prize for drama at the National Eisteddfod; it was followed by Y Ffin ("The Border") which took the prize in the year following. The competition was upgraded shortly afterwards and in 1972 and 1973 he won the Drama Medal with his plays Y Llyw Olaf ("The Last Prince") and Y Pypedau ("The Puppets") - the only playwright to win in successive years.

After turning freelance he was able to work more for radio and television. Perhaps his greatest success, at least in popular terms, was writing scripts for Wil Cwac Cwac, a winsome duck who is as familiar to Welsh children as Mickey Mouse. The character had been created by Jennie Thomas and J.O. Williams in the early 1930s but Wiliam breathed new life into it. He also scripted the soap opera Coleg ("College"), about a group of students and staff at a fictitious campus somewhere in South Wales.

Coming as he did from a bookish, highly intellectual background, and seeing what was happening to the Welsh language outside academic circles, Urien Wiliam chose to join those who strive to extend the language's domains by writing material that is more entertaining than educational, and thus he made an important contribution to its survival as an everyday language that is yet capable of a wide range of modes and registers. We need quizzes, cartoons and pop-songs in Welsh as much as we need philosophical treatises and historiography.

Among his novels, about a dozen in all, is Breuddwyd Rhy Bell ("A Dream Too Far", 1995), which connects the French landing near Fishguard in 1797 - "the Last Invasion of Britain" - with the arrival of French ships in Bantry Bay in Ireland and the part played by Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the United Irishmen. He also wrote plays for radio and translated others into Welsh, notably Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.

Urien Wiliam's chief means of relaxation was caravanning. With his wife and three children he travelled to many parts of Europe, usually finding some place or incident to write about. In one essay, translated as "Hi-ho!" in the anthology Illuminations (1998), he gave a spirited defence of caravanners against the charge of being "middle-class gypsies", in prose as polished in its style as it was genial in outlook.

Meic Stephens

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree is to be made into a series of films
film

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree really is being made into a film

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
books

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London