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
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
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

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

Systems Build Engineer (Development) - Peterborough

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?